Changing Weather May Reveal Earthquake Chimney Damage

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Release date: 
January 23, 2012
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MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- Masonry chimneys and fireplaces are especially vulnerable to earthquake damage, and many Virginia residents experienced such damage firsthand.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) inspectors have visually inspected nearly 4400 homes and in nearly 30% of those visits, inspectors suspected chimney damage.

Chimney damage can be deadly and may continue to lurk in the homes of unsuspecting Virginians. Do not take a chance with the health of your household, and find a licensed inspector to assure the safety of your home.

Chimney damage can be identified. Masonry chimneys tend to be large, rigid and brittle structures.  During earthquakes the chimney will not generally move in unison with the home. The distinct difference in a chimney's motion will create the potential for significant damage to the chimney and the structure. Masonry chimneys may collapse, break, or crack. Also look for shiny areas on your metal chimney pipe. This means the chimney moved during the earthquake.

Damage to any part of the chimney opens the door to potential disaster.  Home owners need to pay close attention to large cracks and loose masonry.  Expansion from the heating and cooling of the masonry as well as water penetration during repeated freezing and thawing cycles can lead to structural problems.

Many of the older historic homes have brick chimneys without terra cotta or metal flue liners.  In these chimneys an inner course of brick acts as the liner.  Homeowners with this style of chimney should be very concerned finding brick or mortar in the ash box, on top of a damper or in the firebox. Evidence of damage on the inside the chimney is a serious concern. 

Damage to flues can remain undetected without a professional inspection because the damage is within the interior of the chimney. Flue damage can allow carbon monoxide, generally vented through the flue, to escape from the flue and possibly enter the home's living space. Inhalation of this gas can be deadly. Homes should have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors present in the home.

A broken flue has the potential of releasing burning embers into walls and attics creating the opportunity for a home fire. Such an event is known as a chimney fire.

Homeowners and business owners in the counties of Culpeper, Fluvanna, Goochland, Louisa, Orange, Spotsylvania and the City of Fredericksburg are encouraged to register with FEMA and may be eligible for benefits. Virginians have until Mar. 5 to register with FEMA.

To register, call 800-621-FEMA (3362), if you use a TTY, call 1-800-462-7585, if you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362 or go online to Phone lines are open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. EST, seven days a week. Online registration is available at any time. Those with smart phones or other mobile devices can register at

The deadline to register is March 5.

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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