Chimney toppers or chimney caps are the highest point on a house. They arent going away, but they are commonly not used on modern homes because of the construction methods changing from clay tile sections of pipe to metal double walled pipe.

Most of the reasons why is due to cost, but if you go upstream, the cost is because artesian crafts like masonry are dying and homes are becoming more efficiently built. In times not far from current, youd have the foundation poured or blocked and the mason would stay onsite and create the fireplace and then the framer would complete only for the mason to return and pour the concrete hearth. All of those back and forth movements are streamlined now by the foundation being poured, framer coming onsite and the framer installing the fireplace insert and then either the framer taking the double walled pipe out to the roof or the HVAC contractor performing that.

When you view a house with a traditional masonry chimney, you need to understand as a homeowner, or buyer of that house that the system will need maintainence, either by chimney sweep annually or by mason doing periodic tuckpointing or re-capping.

Maintaining water at this upper most architectural detail of your house is important and below is a broad opinion of qualities to know when making this decision to maintain or to purchase.

Best Quality

2 flue exit

This is a 2 flue chimney which has symmetrical tapered and rain protected tops. It is unknown if this has wire preventing nesting of birds. The restrained but obvious taper is a fantastic compliment to this home in Terrace Park.

Custom Cover

Its not obvious from this photo how many flues exist, but they are covered with this fully custom metal roof which was most likely created by a roofer. One performance feature of this is that it protects the chimney crown and exposed flue exits from water. Aesthetically, its another place on a house to detail for those looking for ornamental detail.

2 metal flue exit

This is a 2 flue chimney which has more performance gains than aesthetic, show cases the precast concrete or limestone cap, with copper or metal flashing and metal heads which both dispense heat/ gas from pipes, but also have an anti-animal screening integral to the design. This photo is from a large home in Indian Hill, build circa 2007. To the trained eye, it shows either two stacked gas or wood burning inserts on that wing of the house, or furnace and hot water heater venting done with gravity instead of fans.

Better Quality

Fully Screened and Covered

This chimney cap has what I believe to be the most effective way for 90% of homes in Cincinnati. This is both utility, budget friendly and not terrible looking. Because of the statement – less is more : you’ve only got one unit that is fully protecting all of the flue liners and keeping direct moisture from holding on cap.

Utility Cap

This is a single flue exit on a utility chimney. This is from a house in Madisonville and is likely venting the hot water heater and/or the furnace. I put this in the “better” category for performance reasons only. Because of this topper, its my assumption that the original clay flue has been lined with a galvanized or stainless pipe and this cap was added to prevent water, debris and animals from entering.

2 clay flues with 2 metal caps

This 2 flue chimney is likely one flue for a fireplace and 1 for utilities- hot water and/ or furnace. This is within “Better” instead of “Best” because its protecting each flue from animals and water; but the cap is exposed.

Good Quality

Fully Screened and Covered

These dramatic flue liners look gorgeous on this particular cape cod home in Madisonville. The condition of them appears good. The reason why I put in the “Good” category is because I dont believe it has water or bird protections which expose the system.

2 flues 1 flue cap

This is either an error or a sign of damage from wind. Only one of the two flues is protected, so they are allowing water and debris into one but not the other. Forensically, this is either wind damage, or an original oversight by the owner in what the intended use of the flue cap is.

Screened but not water tight

This is far from ideal and not recommended, but it is protecting against animal intrusion, but zero effort for water. This chicken wire solution is not a method that I would recommend longterm and this Mariemont house deserves better…


Damage like this can not always be avoided, but it definitely can be managed better to give you more life of the top section of flue. This flue has delaminated and is now a major hazard and expense to the house. Because in this case, the house is a full masonry- brick on block house; the water is able to get between the flue liner and the brick, travel downward because of gravity and saturate the brick/ block below. Depending on ease, the water either goes towards the interior of the house or goes towards the exterior. If interior, the wall will sweat and get blisters overtime. If exterior, the brick will expand and contract with freeze thaw cycles and potentially pop the brick face off of the brick! The cover for this chimney is $25 material cost and $95 installed and the cost of restoration now is in excess of $1000! Because this is a utility vent chimney and not a fireplace, it would be cheapest to cover with metal and vent mechanicals with fans- high efficiency furnace and power vent hot water heater.

Trades people you should call

Masonry is an art – an art which is less skilled and less fulfilled in todays building environment. I generally shy away from those who advertise, but thats because I want a tradesperson, not a salesperson working on my house.

Roofers who can create the custom roofs are artisans and you’ll likely want an architectural drawing or picture and the roofer will create an estimate for your application. These are not cheap or fast projects…

Roofers can also measure and order the stainless or galvanized “toppers” which cover the individual flue or full cap protection.

This link will take you to a Google Sheet of Vendors. Look at details of Masons and Roofers.