The concrete crowns of masonry chimneys often crack with age, allowing water to leak in. This article explains how the crown works, what it should look like and what to do about leaking problems.
A newer chimney crown should be several inches thick, reinforced with rebar and caulked to the clay flue. Older crowns may not be this solid, but if they're basically sound they can be repaired with polyurethane caulk.
The crown of a masonry chimney is a concrete top that ideally looks something like the one shown. It has an angled top to shed water and it overhangs the brick to keep drips off the chimney sides. It surrounds the clay flues but doesn't encase them. A 1/4-in. gap allows the clay flues to expand and contract from repeated heating and cooling without cracking (or cracking the crown). (The flues “float” inside the brick chimney walls; that is, they're supported by the brick but not attached to it.) A high-quality polyurethane caulk seals the flue/crown gap and prevents water penetration.
In truth, few chimneys built before the mid-1980s have crowns built this well. Many early crowns were simply sloped washes of leftover mortar. Most have cracked and deteriorated, opening gaps around the flues. If you feel safe and confident about walking on your roof, climb up and inspect the crown. If it's sound, caulk cracks and gaps with polyurethane. Otherwise, hire a chimney builder (search online or for “Chimney Builders and Repair” in your yellow pages) or a chimney sweep (“Chimney Cleaning”) certified by the Chimney Safety Institute to evaluate the condition of your chimney and fix it. Flue caps will help reduce water coming down the flue itself, but they won't help much if you have a bad crown.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.