Living in earthquake country, we’ve all seen the images of the damage after an earthquake hits. We see pictures of cracked walls, toppled fences and fallen chimneys.
But what happens to the chimneys that don’t fall over? One cannot assume that all is okay just because the chimney is still standing upright on the roof. Earthquakes, both large and small, move the earth, which in turn causes movement to all parts of a home. We see cracks in the ceiling and walls, but we can’t see the inside of the chimney.
Most fireplaces built in the late 1940’s and later have liners. The liners consist of 3 or 4 terra cotta ovals that sit one on top of the other with some type of adhesive material between each liner piece. During an earthquake these liners can become cracked and depending upon where the crack is located in the liner can cause a hazardous situation should a fire be lit in the fireplace. The cracks in the liner can allow fumes and embers to access the interior portions of a home, causing a fire or worse.
After any significant earthquake, to ensure that your fireplace is safe to burn, you should call a professional chimney sweep to inspect the interior liners of the chimney to make sure they are intact.
In the event the chimney inspection reveals the liners are cracked, or damaged in some way, there are solutions that will allow you to burn again short of completely rebuilding your fireplace, such as relining the chimney (See our section on chimney relining).