Chimneys aren’t something that most homeowners or home buyers think much about until something goes wrong, like a stray ember causing a fire or a bird nesting in the flue.
There’s one easy-to-spot area that’s a simple way to increase safety and comfort (and spare unnecessary expense): the chimney cap.
In the collage above, the first chimney has no spark arrestor and no cap. In the second image, there is a wire mesh spark arrestor on all four sides plus the top. The wire prevents embers from getting out and small birds and other creatures from getting in. It does not, however, keep out the wind or the rain. In the last photo, we see a chimney that has both a spark arrestor and a rain cap. The cap helps to prevent water from going down the flue (and rusting the damper).
Many spark arrestors with rain caps look like this:
Some have less wire mesh and appear more solid, like this one from the Saratoga Oaks community in Saratoga. The rain cap makes a solid “roof” over the spark arrestor such that water cannot fall into the chimney (and rust out the damper). With more solid sides, it helps to keep the wind out too.
And here’s another which looks like a true cap or hood, found in the Belwood of Los Gatos neighborhood:
But what about your chimney stack, or your prospective chimney, if you’re a buyer? Does it look like one of these?
If so, now’s the time to call your friendly chimney sweep or fireplace mason. The weather’s good and the birds will be looking for a place to build a nest – better if it’s not in your flue! Make sure that you get a spark arrestor with a rain cap, too (not just the wire mesh) to keep the elements out of your chimney and allowing your damper to continue to operate well.