Chimney collapse: what to watch at your house

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CBS 42) – Two little girls are recovering from serious injuries after the chimney at their grandfather’s home collapsed and trapped them under a pile of bricks.  We won’t know exactly what caused the chimney to fall until a structural engineer can come to the property later this week, but CBS 42 wanted to know if this could happen to someone else.

Rhea Batts, with Batts Chimney Service, met with CBS 42 at a restoration job in Vestavia Hills.  Batts explained that the company got the most calls around October–just before burn season, but that these problems can happen at any time.  “They’d be surprised, definitely,” she said, “because those problems are existing and a lot of them have been happening over a long period of time.  You know, they might not be a hazard at the beginning, but it’s good to catch them.  As with anything, if you catch the problem early, it costs you less to have it repaired.”

Batts said people in older homes need to keep a close eye on the chimney, because of the way they deteriorate over time.  Chimneys take the most beating of any part of the house, because they are exposed to extreme temperatures on all sides.  “Most people think it’s about the build-up, but our most important part that we look at is generally cracks, deterioration, and so forth, because those are your main concerns as to–not only starting fires in the home, but other issues.”

Batts explained that the most common problems you’ll find are around the top of the chimney.  If you see mortar chips falling, or if the white mortar becomes dark and discolored it could be a bad sign for your chimney.  “We’ve seen all kinds of crazy stuff, because as with anything, out of sight out of mind,” she said.  “A lot of people aren’t even using their fireplaces, so they think there’s no reason to keep up with it.  In those cases, usually by the time they call us, it’s because something pretty bad is going on that’s drawn it to their attention.”

Batts suggests having your chimney looked at by a certified professional on an annual basis if you are using it.  Even if you aren’t, she says you should still get it checked occasionally and keep an eye out for problem spots.



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