Most chimney repair companies offer estimates at no cost or obligation to their customers. Because minor chimney deterioration, when left unaddressed, can quickly turn into a major and expensive repair, it's a good idea to take advantage of these estimates so that you can stay informed about the condition of your chimney and make appropriate decisions regarding its maintenance.
What will the repair technician look for during the bidding process?
The chimney repair technician will typically start the inspection from your roof, examining the exterior chimney structure. There he will look for signs of cracking in the crown, which would allow water to penetrate and inflict damage on the chimney interior. He will look at the condition of the bricks, checking for signs of spalling (peeling) or other damage. He'll push on the mortar between the bricks, another common entry point for water, to see if it's dry or crumbly, and if so, how deep that condition extends.
He'll also look closely at the flashing (the sheet metal that commonly forms an L shape where the base of the chimney meets the roof, which prevents water from entering at this intersection). Step flashing, so called because it resembles stairs, is particularly vulnerable to water entry, because of its many overlapping seams.
Finally, he'll take a peek down the chimney itself to check the condition of the flue tiles. If deterioration is evident visually, a closer, Level 2 inspection may be recommended to look for further signs of damage. Also, if your chimney does not have a chimney cap, the technician will recommend one, as an uncapped chimney is essentially a hole in your roof.
Down below, from inside your house, the technician will assess the condition of the firebox (a.k.a. the fireplace), again checking that the mortar and brick are intact. Any cracks bigger than the thickness of a nickel will need to be repaired with refractory cement, per Minnesota code.
What factors will affect the overall total of the final estimate?
Besides the obvious, like how much actual damage or deterioration your chimney suffers from, there are other factors that can play a role in the dollar amount indicated at the bottom of your estimate. One of those is the pitch of your roof. A higher-pitched roof means more risk and liability and could translate into a higher price tag. A related factor is how much scaffolding, if any, the technician will need to complete the job. Also, if your chimney is comprised of elaborate, expensive, or hard-to-find bricks, the cost may be reflected in your estimate, and in some cases, an alternate pattern may be suggested.
Should I plan to be present during the technician's visit?
Although not always necessary, it is ideal if the homeowner can be present during the inspection/bidding process, to allow for the back-and-forth that chimney repair discussions often entail. The technician can provide detailed explanations, work samples, photos, etc. more easily in person than through a screen. This interaction will also allow the customer to assess qualifications and the technician to build trust.
How long is a repair estimate valid?
The typical length of validity for a chimney repair estimate is no longer than a year. Once a chimney shows signs of deterioration, unaddressed that deterioration worsens over time and becomes more costly—thus the expiration date. But more importantly, with every freeze-thaw cycle, chimney damage is significantly amplified, because of the expansion and contraction of water during this process, and the extremely detrimental effect it has on the integrity of the bricks, mortar, and flue tiles.
Chimney repair work is seasonal, of course, and companies tend to get busy fairly early in the spring, so if you want to be the first on the list, consider calling them later winter to get on their schedule.
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Many thanks to our chimney repair technician Joe R for lending his expertise to this article.