If you’re unhappy with the look of your chimney cap, chimney crown, or any other parts at the top of your flue, one logical fix may be to simply cover it up. …right?
Can’t I just hide it? The answer, it depends. Chimney shrouds are an option that many have turned to over time, and still turn to today. But, if improperly installed or utilized they can result in a structure fire that may cost you your home, and possibly your life or the lives of those you love.
What is a Chimney Shroud?
A chimney shroud is essentially a decorative cap that is meant to cover any unsightly chimney parts installed at the top of the flue. And after they first landed on the market, many were pleased to invest in one! Unfortunately, while these components looked great and did in fact improve aesthetic appeal, they didn’t have a solid reputation for being properly tested to ensure the fireplace was still safe for use after installation and in fact, led to many structure fires.
In the late 80s and early 90s, when fires consistently started occurring in homes with these shrouds installed, further investigations were done, and it was discovered that the shrouds were indeed the cause of the fires. In fact, the size and design were putting homeowners at great risk! They were often too small, blocking important pathways for cooling the chimney or fireplace system, and increased the likelihood of home and chimney fires significantly. In short these shrouds often changed the heat signature of the fireplaces, chimney piping, and terminations to the structure. These changes resulted in structure fires.
Nowadays, shrouds are still used now and then, but there are much stricter regulations in place when it comes to installation. In fact, both the International Residential Code (IRC) and the International Fire Code (IFC) state that no shrouds should be installed at the termination of a factory-built fireplace or chimney system unless specifically listed and labeled for use with that specific fireplace system (and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions), or constructed on site per the specifications in the applicable manual. If no mention of shrouds are made in the fireplace or chimney piping manual then no shrouds should even be considered. Here are the specific code sections below.
2021 International Residential Code (IRC)
R1004.3 Decorative shrouds. Decorative shrouds shall not be installed at the termination of chimneys for factory-built fireplaces except where the shrouds are listed and labeled for use with the specific factory-built fireplace system and installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
2018 International Fire Code (IFC)
603.6.3 Decorative shrouds. Decorative shrouds installed at the termination of factory-built chimneys shall be removed except where such shrouds are listed and labeled for use with the specific factory-built chimney system and are installed in accordance with the chimney manufacturer’s instructions.
603.7 Discontinuing operation of unsafe heating appliances. The fire code official is authorized to order that measures be taken to prevent the operation of any existing stove, oven, furnace, incinerator, boiler or any other heat-producing device or appliance found to be defective or in violation of code requirements for existing appliances after giving notice to this effect to any person, owner, firm or agent or operator in charge of the same. The fire code official is authorized to take measures to prevent the operation of any device or appliance without notice when inspection shows the existence of an immediate fire hazard or when imperiling human life. The defective device shall remain withdrawn from service until all necessary repairs or alterations have been made.
Needless to say, while decor and aesthetics are important when it comes to fireplace and chimney care, nothing should compromise the safety of your home and family!
Shrouds & Structure Fires: How Does it Happen?
So, how exactly did these chimney parts trigger a full-on structure fire?
Well, untested and incorrectly constructed shrouds can inhibit proper airflow within the air cooled channels of the system, alter the heat signature of the fireplace, piping or termination, and alter the rate at which heat exiting the system can dissipate. If heat and fumes cannot escape, they may become trapped inside the shroud, and radiate or conduct heat through the shroud and chase cover back into the supporting combustible materials beneath. Over time these combustible can bake, overheat, and ignite.
Shrouds are also known to be able to cause pyrolysis to the combustibles beneath, supporting, or attached to them, which when overheated experiences a chemical change that makes it more susceptible to start on fire at a lower temperature (as low as 200-degrees) than it otherwise would have.
Along with all that, there can be problems with birds and other critters nesting in or around the shroud. The flammable materials they bring in can cause clogs and blockages, which can then trigger poor performance, overheating, and eventually structure fires.
In the end, even if a fire does not occur, you still risk significant damage to your fireplace or chimney components as they are now operating outside of how they were designed, as well increasing the likelihood of carbon monoxide entering your home.
Your Role as a Homeowner
If you have any suspicion that a chimney shroud is adorning your flue, don’t hesitate to reach out to a CSIA-certified sweep and have them check things over. The sweep can help you determine if the shroud meets all proper regulations and compliances or if it should be removed. And if it does check out okay, your tech can scan for any nesting materials or buildup that may be putting you at risk.
Now, let’s say you’ve determined (with the help of your sweep) that you do not, in fact, have a shroud on top of your flue. That said… you still don’t like the look of your system. What can be done in cases where you want to change things up without compromising the peace of mind you desire whenever lighting a fire?
Just know that there are solutions out there. Whether that means searching out a shroud that meets the requirements of your factory built fireplace or chimney, replacing an old outdated chase cover with a new stainless steel one, or getting the piping and chase cover painted with high temp chimney paint, or powder coated, we can take steps to ensure you’re left with a chimney you’re proud of. In the end though we are limited in what can be done by the appliance or piping manufacturer requirements and what is allowed or permitted inside the manual. Remember, that while aesthetics are important your safety comes first.
Above all else, be sure to invest in an inspection every single year, as this will ensure any issues are promptly spotted and addressed before the start of your annual burning season.
Choose Us for All Things Chimney
Homeowners continue to rely on us year after year because we are committed to providing high-quality services at prices that are fair and honest. We hold ourselves accountable for all of the services we perform, and we’re always straightforward and transparent about your chimney needs.
We also take training and education seriously. Our technicians are certified by several organizations including the Chimney Safety Institute of America, the National Fireplace Institute, and the National Chimney Sweep Guild, not to mention that we’re members of both the International Code Council and the National Fire Protection Association as well.
Combine that with our years of experience, and you’ve got a team you can trust in with it all. We’re confident that we can address any and all of your chimney-related needs.
Ready to get started? Give us a call! We’d love to speak with you soon.