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The liner of a chimney is also called the “flue.” An undamaged liner is the most crucial safety component of the heating system. By-products of combustion from a fire travel up through the flue before exiting into the outside atmosphere. The substances which are produced by a wood-burning fire include smoke, gases, water vapor, hydrocarbon, tar fog, and unburned wood particles. Any type of opening or flaw in the liner, even a small crack or seemingly minor tear, exposes combustible parts of the home to these substances and can create serious risks for your home and family. A chimney liner will virtually always need to be replaced before other major parts of a chimney need to be rebuilt.
Causes of Chimney Liner Damage
Deterioration caused by use and age
Most fireplaces are built with clay tile liners because the tiles are extremely durable and yet inexpensive compared to other types of liners. Over time, exposure to the heat and combustion products from fires causes the tiles to deteriorate. The natural aging process can be accelerated if the flue isn’t regularly cleaned; a buildup of creosote and soot deposits has a damaging effect, especially when mixed with moisture. Creosote is a flammable tar from wood smoke and soot is a fine carbon powder.
Lack of maintenance and cleaning
Every time a fire burns in the fireplace, creosote is deposited on the chimney lining. Burning wet and/or green firewood causes a lot more creosote to be deposited in the flue than clean-burning fuels. Whatever type of fuel is burned, chimney liners need to be cleaned; an annual inspection is recommended. During an inspection, one thing chimney professionals determine is whether the flue is due for a cleaning. An inspection can also reveal that animals have entered a chimney and damaged the lining.
When chimneys are not cleaned regularly, the highly flammable creosote built up in the flue can cause chimney fires. The high temperatures in a chimney fire can burn hot enough to melt mortar, crack tiles, and even cause liners to collapse. Once a chimney fire burns in any type of chimney liner, it is usually damaged beyond repair and must be replaced, whether for a masonry chimney, a factory-built metal chimney, or a wood stove. Thousands of homes burn down every year because of chimney fires in damaged flue linings.
New clay tiles built in a fireplace can usually last about half a century. If the flue is built incorrectly, however, it can become cracked and deteriorate much more quickly.
Replacement Chimney Liners
Clay Tile Liners
Although clay tiles are ideal for new fireplaces being built, it is usually cost prohibitive to install a clay tile liner when it’s time for a replacement. Before a new tile liner can be installed, the old one must be torn out, which requires removing pieces of the chimney every few feet. If there is only a small amount of damage at the very top of a tile liner, it can make sense to replace just the damaged portion; but complete replacement will usually be needed before long.
Flexible Metal Chimney Liners
The most popular and most practical method for replacing a chimney liner is with a flexible metal liner. Technology has produced durable, lightweight, flexible chimney liners which have the capability of withstanding harsh gases and high temperatures. Stainless steel liners cost more than standard metal liners; but they are the most durable and usually come with lifetime warranties, as long as they are installed by a professional. Flexible metal liners are installed inside of existing damaged linings.
Chimney Liners for Fireplaces and other Appliances
When a fireplace insert or wood stove is installed and a chimney is used to expel the combustion gases, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the flue is the correct size for the appliance. It’s highly recommended that a professional chimney technician install wood-burning appliances in order to ensure that they are properly installed and can be safely used. There are very specific requirements as far as what size a flue can be for particular fireplace inserts or stoves. For any change in a fireplace system, the liner may need to be realigned in order to work properly and safely.