FEMA: Changing Weather May Reveal Earthquake Chimney Damage

January 24, 2012

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) inspectors have visually inspected nearly 4,400 homes and in nearly 30% of those visits, inspectors suspected chimney damage. Masonry chimneys and fireplaces are especially vulnerable to earthquake damage, and many Virginia residents experienced such damage firsthand.

Chimney damage can be deadly and may continue to lurk in the homes of unsuspecting Virginians. But FEMA officials say chimney damage can be identified. They say 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.

Earthquake Chimney Inspection/Repair

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.

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 DisasterAssistance.gov. Phone lines are open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. EST, seven days a week.

The deadline to register is March 5.


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