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Chimneys, especially of the masonry variety, are not nearly as popular as they used to be, but if you have an older home, there are things you need to know about proper maintenance, particularly in regards to the flashing around where the chimney comes through the roof.
 
It’s an easy enough fix to reinstall improper flashing or to sure it up with a little roofing cement. Installing counter-flashing is also a common thing that is missed by some roofers. Even with these items in place, you might still have a water entry problem if you have a chimney that is more than 30 inches wide at the downhill side.
 

Why Is There A Leak At My Chimney?

 
A common thing I see missing on wide chimneys is a cricket. Cricket flashing is a miniature roof installed at the backside of chimney to divert water around it.
 
 
 
Without this simple design, the chimney acts as a dam and can hold water for a long period of time behind the chimney. That water eventually finds its way beneath the shingles, behind the flashing, and into the attic.
 
Here is an example of chimney in need of a cricket:
 

 

When is a cricket required?

 
The general rule is when a chimney is over 30″ wide, but it is possible for chimneys less than that to need one. If you are experiencing trouble with debris, puddling, or freezing water behind your chimney, a cricket may need to be installed. Hire a home inspector or a roofing contractor to inspect your chimney.
 
The process of installing a cricket is relatively simple and a good roofer will be able to do the job for you. It sure beats hiring someone to repair and replace roofing materials after a prolonged leak.
 
Check out this article from the Journal of Light Construction on how it’s done.
 
 
The crawl space. It’s the nether regions of a home that almost everyone wants to ignore. In the southeastern part of the US, they are quite common – especially in older homes – and the standard vented crawl space has been deemed an inferior foundation type. What do you if you have one?
 
If you live in a home with a crawl space, you can’t very well pick the house up and replace the foundation with a slab or a finished basement. But you can take steps to maintain your crawl space or drastically improve it.
 

Access Door:

Make sure it closes securely to keep out varmints, rain, and debris. Replace if decayed or doesn’t close tightly.

 

Vapor Barrier:

More accurately, vapor “retarders”, these can be polyethylene, roofing paper, asphalt, or even concrete. Poly sheeting is most common for those with a dirt or gravel floor. The vapor retarder should be installed with seams sealed together cover the soil completely, and be free of holes and tears.

 
Side Note: The crawl space floor should be free of storage and debris – keep it clean! Debris can attract unwanted pests, wood-destroying organisms, and/or microbial growth.
 

Ventilation: 

Codes vary, but generally in a crawl space with a vapor barrier, one sq ft of net venting is required for every 1500 sq ft, with one vent located within 3′ of a corner. Without a vapor barrier, it’s one sq ft of venting for every 150 sq ft of space.

 

Insulation:

If installed in the crawl space “ceiling”, the vapor barrier goes against the floor above with the fuzzy side facing down toward the crawl space. Also, the insulation should fill the full depth of the floor joists. A common improper installation is an R-19 batt (5.5″ thick) installed flush with the floor joists (9.25″ deep), leaving a sizable gap between the subfloor and insulation, allowing for condensation to build up. Insulation that is falling and looks like it’s raining down to the floor is indicative of a moisture issue.

 

Improvements:

  • “Smart Vents” open and close with water movement to prevent the build-up of hydro-static pressure.
  • Sump pumps are often installed to safely drain water from the outside or from a condensate line.
  • Replace the vapor barrier if yours does not cover the entire floor, is torn, or is less than 10 mil thick.
  • Encapsulation is by far the best way to improve your crawl space as it completely seals it off from the outside and effectively conditions the space. Here’s a look from a recent inspection.
 
A good first step to making any improvements is to get an inspection by a waterproofing specialist
At the start of each cooling season, a licensed professional should perform inspection of the Air Conditioning System. However, homeowners can do a lot of this work themselves.
 
Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit & Components
That large box on the outside of your home is the condenser unit. It is designed to move warm air from inside the home to the exterior. Coils of pipe are surrounded by thousands of tiny metal fins that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. Power off the unit and follow these tips:
 
Remove any debris from the unit’s exterior and trim back any vegetation several feet for proper airflow.
 
Remove the grill cover to clean out any debris from the interior – you can use a garden hose.
 
Straighten out bent fins with a fin comb.
 
Add lubricating oil to the motor – check your owner’s manual for instructions.
 
Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil – again, see your owner’s manual.
 
Replace the insulation on the refrigerant line if corroded or beginning to deteriorate.
 
 

Other tips include:

  • Inspect & clean the condensate line. If equipped with a secondary line, a clogged primary line will be evidenced by water coming out of the secondary line which may be connected to the overflow pan under the interior unit (air handler). If you don’t know where either of your condensate lines terminates, ask the technician when you schedule a routine tune-up. For systems with a condensate pump, clean the pump according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Replace the air filter once per month, or wash if reusable. Most households need to replace their air filter at least once per month, even for the filters that claim to be “90-day” air filters. Some units will have a washable filter at the main duct line that connects to the air handler. Clean according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Be sure to deactivate the cooling system in the winter. If you have a heat pump, this is especially important. If activated when the outside temperature is below 60 degrees F, the compressor can be damaged. You can also cover the outside unit during the cold months when it’s not in use to keep out debris and to further protect it from the elements.