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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Masonry Chimneys v Earthquake

By Marge Padgitt

Just after 7:00 a.m. on September 3, 2016 parts of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Arkansas experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake which originated in northwest Oklahoma. The cause may be due to the practice of disposing oil and gas field wastewater deep underground. The temblor was similar to one experienced in the same location in November of 2011, although this recent earthquake lasted longer.

In Pawnee County, Oklahoma, the epicenter of the quake, reports damaged masonry structures, and one man was injured when part of a fireplace fell on him as he protected his child. In Kansas City, several reports have already been made by homeowners who noted that their brick chimney is cracked severely.

Masonry chimneys are particularly susceptible to damage by earthquake. Due to the nature of their rigid structure, chimneys are likely to crack while being shaken by a tremblor. Parts that can be damaged are mortar joints inside and out, bricks, stones, blockwork, flue liners, fireplaces, smoke chambers, and interior facial walls.

Photo by Brian Sherrod, United States Geological Survey - United States Geological Survey Multimedia Gallery, Public Domain,

As a matter of precaution, we suggest that homeowners inspect their chimney immediately after an earthquake, both inside and out, then call a professional chimney sweep to do a more thorough inspection with a chimney camera system and a keen eye trained to find things homeowners may miss.

  • Look for obvious fresh clean breaks in the mortar, bricks or stone on the exterior chimney and foundation
  • See if there are any pieces of masonry lying on the ground or on the roof.
  • Check the facial wall inside the house above and around the fireplace opening and note any fresh breaks
  • Examine the brick firebox (fireplace) and look for fresh cracks
  • Take photos of your findings and note the date and time
  • Have a professional chimney sweep examine the interior smoke chamber and flue liner for any fireplaces or the flue liner for the utility flue, and the entire exterior chimney after an earthquake
While the most severe damage will occur near the epicenter of an earthquake, chimneys in any location that experience shaking should be inspected, even if there is no visible exterior damage. The interior flue liner may be damaged with no indication of this on the exterior chimney chase.
Chimneys on commercial buildings, churches, and schools should be examined thoroughly by a professional immediately after an earthquake.

A damaged chimney can be a danger to occupants or passersby. If damaged badly enough a facial wall or chimney may partially or completely fall down. Cracks in the flue or smoke chamber can allow deadly Carbon Monoxide to enter the interior of the house or building. CO is odorless, tasteless, and silent.  CO alarms do not alert occupants if the air being checked is less than 9 ppm (parts per million), and it is known that low levels of Carbon Monoxide can cause long term irreversible brain damage. Visit for more information on Carbon Monoxide.

To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep in your area visit or In Kansas City visit

Marge Padgitt is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist, and is a 30-year industry veteran. She is an author and speaker, and CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City. Contact her at or 816-461-3665. 

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