Chimney Safety and Earthquakes

Chimney safety should be a high priority

Many chimneys are built of unreinfocred brick or stone. During and earthquake, these can collapse or break and fall on the roof

In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, approximately 60,000 masonry chimneys were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Most chimneys tend to break at the roofline and fall away from the home. However, some chimneys can fall into the home, causing serious injury and death.

When the chimney fails, the falling stones and bricks can:

  • Cause injuries
  • Damage the house
  • Damage cars

Tell your friends and family members to get away from chimneys and fireplaces during earthquakes! Do not locate patios, play areas, or parking spaces near a questionable chimney.

How to identify

  • Check the mortar between the bricks or stones with a screwdriver. If it crumbles when you pick at it, the chimney may be a hazard
  • Inspect the attic and floor spaces for metal ties that should be holding the chimney to the house
  • Determining whether a chimney is susceptible to earthquake damage is not always easy. When in doubt, consult a licensed engineer or contractor.

Take action to protect your family

Tear down your old or damaged chimney and replace it with a newly constructed chimney

Several steps can be taken to reduce the risk of damage from falling chimneys, depending upon the type of chimney you have:

  • Add plywood at the roof or above the ceiling joists to prevent brick or stone from falling into the house. This can be done by layering plywood above the ceiling in the attic, or nailing plywood under the shingles when reroofing.
  • Replace the upper chimney with metal flues
  • Strengthen the existing chimney under the guidance of a professional engineer

Consult your local Building Department and obtain necessary permits first.

Resources

FEMA Repair of Earthquake-Damaged Masonry Fireplace Chimneys
ATC Recommendations for Mitigation of Chimney Hazards
Last updated: 12.16.2016