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Copper Chimney Pots

Updated on December 22, 2015
Copper chimney pots are winter focal points of this full house elevation.
Copper chimney pots are winter focal points of this full house elevation. | Source

I spotted a remodeled split-level and wondered, "There's just something different about that house. What is it? I can't put my finger on it." I did however notice beautiful copper chimney pots.

Have you ever looked into livening up your roof with a chimney pot? Many types are available. I've been thinking about purchasing one for my house, but I'm flummoxed about which to buy.

"God is in the details," quoted architect Mies van der Rohe. He may be right. If little things make a difference, what is the true value of copper chimney pots for us homeowners?

I decided to discover what makes them special.

Close-up of copper chimney pot atop a masonry chimney on a clear winter's day.
Close-up of copper chimney pot atop a masonry chimney on a clear winter's day. | Source

Remodeled Split-level in Summer

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Roof lines and chimney pots add height, balance, & variety.The luster of soft copper complements colors & textures. This copper pot is geometry in motion: rectangles, trapezoids, triangles, and octagons.
Roof lines and chimney pots add height, balance, & variety.
Roof lines and chimney pots add height, balance, & variety. | Source
The luster of soft copper complements colors & textures.
The luster of soft copper complements colors & textures. | Source
This copper pot is geometry in motion: rectangles, trapezoids, triangles, and octagons.
This copper pot is geometry in motion: rectangles, trapezoids, triangles, and octagons. | Source

What Are Chimney Pots?

Let's establish a basis of terminology.

Fireplaces and Chimneys: A fireplace provides warmth and ambiance from its firebox where combustion occurs. The chimney expels smoke and exhaust fumes. Circulating air is key, cooler fresh air cycling in, warmer murky out. An efficient system balances draft. Uppermost is the top, where the chimney terminates.

Chimney Tops: Another structure attaches on top of the chimney for additional ventilation. Names for it are can (in Scotland), cap, corniced stack, cowl, crown, flue extension, hood, pot, shroud, tun, ventilation terminal, and so on. Sometimes they are called by their shapes (e.g., beehive, cannon, tall boy).

The term chimney cap is used interchangeably with chimney pot. To clarify, I'm referring to the latter, more decorative piece that draws up more air flow. In "Chimney Pots and Stacks" Valentine Fletcher (1994) describes one as "a cylindrical pipe of earthenware or sheet-metal, fitted on the top of a chimney" (p. 19) stack. Some styles are ornamental. For variety I'll also say terminal.

In short, chimney pots increase draft and vent smoke. Originally made of terracotta in 14th-century England, pots are now available in steel, color glazes, special polymers, and copper.

Noticing Chimney Pots in San Francisco

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rooftop of the historic Tobin House, built in 1915. The building boldly represents Gothic Tudor Revival architecture.Sunny side. Steep roofs typify this period.Shady side. Symmetrical chimneys are another characteristic.Copper chimney pots (10 in all) stand out in this Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Rooftop of the historic Tobin House, built in 1915.
Rooftop of the historic Tobin House, built in 1915.
The building boldly represents Gothic Tudor Revival architecture.
The building boldly represents Gothic Tudor Revival architecture. | Source
Sunny side. Steep roofs typify this period.
Sunny side. Steep roofs typify this period.
Shady side. Symmetrical chimneys are another characteristic.
Shady side. Symmetrical chimneys are another characteristic.
Copper chimney pots (10 in all) stand out in this Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Copper chimney pots (10 in all) stand out in this Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Source

Characteristics of Copper Chimney Pots

First, there's color. Ultimately copper seasons to a verde green. Initially, it tarnishes into a beautiful satin brown, rather than that dull rusty look other metals develop. It's a great choice if you have copper gutters and want to match materials.

Lightweight, in comparison to clay, a 36-inch copper terminal might weigh 27 pounds, whereas its terracotta cousin, 150. Thus, copper pots are usually easier to install.

Copper is pliable enough to be formed and assembled from sheeting (and still stay strong). This durability goes hand in hand with an ability to conduct heat. (Copper is used in lightning rods, too.) Copper terminals withstand elements of harsh, climatic conditions, including fierce winds and thermal variations.

Compared to aluminum, which is cheap but cannot handle high temperatures without warping, or titanium, which is far more expensive, copper does not depend on protective coatings and periodic cleanings. It is mold and mildew resistant.

Although more expensive than clay, a copper pot is a solid investment that embellishes your home for a lifetime. Curb appeal and resale potential are added bonuses.

All terminals protect, ventilate, and decorate chimneys. However, the distinction of a copper chimney pot overall is its lasting value.

Snapping Pictures of Your House

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Taking photos helps you picture a chimney pot on top of your house. Here's mine Zooming in reveals ventilator & rain cap.I have a masonry chimney with flues for gas furnace (l) & masonry fireplace (r).Shoot different angles. My chimney hardly shows. A terminal will add height.  Include colors & textures. Here is the stone on my house.
Taking photos helps you picture a chimney pot on top of your house. Here's mine
Taking photos helps you picture a chimney pot on top of your house. Here's mine | Source
Zooming in reveals ventilator & rain cap.
Zooming in reveals ventilator & rain cap. | Source
I have a masonry chimney with flues for gas furnace (l) & masonry fireplace (r).
I have a masonry chimney with flues for gas furnace (l) & masonry fireplace (r). | Source
Shoot different angles. My chimney hardly shows. A terminal will add height.
Shoot different angles. My chimney hardly shows. A terminal will add height. | Source
Include colors & textures. Here is the stone on my house.
Include colors & textures. Here is the stone on my house. | Source

Shapes, Sizes, Styles, and Scale

Take pictures of where you live (see mine above) to imagine how a terminal or two might look on top.

Search online, peruse magazines, and pay attention to rooftops, to get your eyes accustomed to chimney pots, in general, and copper ones, in particular. Glance at clay pots, too. (A few sources suggest this tactic, and later selecting a similar copper model.) Lots of shapes, styles, and sizes are available.

You'll come across models named for cities or regions (e.g., Edinburgh, Wellington, Luxembourg), reigns (e.g., Roman, Tudor, Windsor), architecture (e.g., English Tudor, French Provincial, Georgian), and chess (e.g., Pawn, Bishop, Queen). A lighthouse exists, originating from historic France.

Focus on details of top crown (e.g., rolled), center body (e.g., tapered), and base (e.g., square pedestal). Some pots have a rain (cap) cover for weather protection and a screen to deter animals and stop sparks. (To illustrate, below are photos and diagrams of the Tudor style.) If you want something unique, consider a custom project. Try to narrow to three selections, based on home architectural style and your personal taste.

Important: The terminal must fit over the flue opening and securely attach to the chimney crown or chase pan (see images of both under "Where is Your Chimney?" section). Pot base inner and outer dimensions (ID & OD) and chimney top calculations must accurately gel.

How high off the ground will the pot be mounted? This point refers to scale. Properly size a pot in proportion to the size of your dwelling and chimney. Take multi-flues into account. A pot that seems immense on the ground might appear minuscule from below. Eyeball aesthetics, too.

Day in the (Copper Chimney Pot) Life

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Copper beauty on the bench provides a frame of reference. Diagram with parts & views helps identify the photos.  The bottom lip called a flange attaches to the top of the chimney. Octagonal cap, attached with stainless steel screws.Lattice screen that emits smoke & gas & keeps animals out. A glimpse underneath. Soldered corners and fabricated bends & folds. Square inner & outer dimensions differ by one inch (ID/19-OD/20).Peeking inside, it's amazing what materializes from a flat copper sheet. This shiny number (on a forklift) lights up a masonry yard.
Copper beauty on the bench provides a frame of reference.
Copper beauty on the bench provides a frame of reference. | Source
Diagram with parts & views helps identify the photos.
Diagram with parts & views helps identify the photos.
The bottom lip called a flange attaches to the top of the chimney.
The bottom lip called a flange attaches to the top of the chimney. | Source
Octagonal cap, attached with stainless steel screws.
Octagonal cap, attached with stainless steel screws. | Source
Lattice screen that emits smoke & gas & keeps animals out.
Lattice screen that emits smoke & gas & keeps animals out. | Source
A glimpse underneath. Soldered corners and fabricated bends & folds. Square inner & outer dimensions differ by one inch (ID/19-OD/20).
A glimpse underneath. Soldered corners and fabricated bends & folds. Square inner & outer dimensions differ by one inch (ID/19-OD/20). | Source
Peeking inside, it's amazing what materializes from a flat copper sheet.
Peeking inside, it's amazing what materializes from a flat copper sheet. | Source
This shiny number (on a forklift) lights up a masonry yard.
This shiny number (on a forklift) lights up a masonry yard. | Source

Continuing the Selection Process

Be Prepared: Go online to research. Select a few local companies that specialize, so you can ask questions, get quotes, and develop relationships.

Who to Call: Masonry suppliers, roofing firms, metal fabricators, and fireplace dealers tend to carry inventory or represent manufacturers that do. A well-informed representative can help you decide what's right for your situation in design and functionality. Share your pictures.

Fireplace Factors: Knowing the parts of your ventilation system is pivotal. That means fireplace type (masonry/prefabricated), fuel (solid/gas), size & shape of flue (rectangular fireclay lining/round metal pipe), vertical chimney (masonry stack/wood-frame chase), and so forth. (See examples below.)

Certification: Does your selection have a UL certificate? This independent safety source (since 1894) tests for high standards. Their mark affirms your pot vents properly.

Cost: Copper chimney pot prices vary, depending on design and size. Material is high, but charges accrue for labor and shipping. Handcrafted items require time to make, especially custom work. (Watch the 2nd video below to understand why.) Shipping distances sometimes means building a crate and sending via freight. Dimensional shipping (package size) is a key factor nowadays. As a rule of thumb, allow for three weeks, two to fabricate and three to ship. Custom takes longer.

Inside Tip: Is the product label secure, clearly typed, and easy for shipping handlers to see? Handwritten tags that fall off can cause your terminal to be in limbo for a few months or lost altogether. This way your pot should arrive safely.

Where is Your Chimney?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Masonry (brick) chimney stack.Concrete crown of masonry chimney encasing fireclay flue.Vinyl chimney chase (box) framing prefab fireplace.Faux flue cap attached to metal chase pan.Stone veneer chase.Doghouse (abutment) for direct-vent prefab. A terminal atop might look silly.Masonry (stone) chimney bedecking clay chimney pot. Naked chases aching to be adorned.
Masonry (brick) chimney stack.
Masonry (brick) chimney stack. | Source
Concrete crown of masonry chimney encasing fireclay flue.
Concrete crown of masonry chimney encasing fireclay flue. | Source
Vinyl chimney chase (box) framing prefab fireplace.
Vinyl chimney chase (box) framing prefab fireplace. | Source
Faux flue cap attached to metal chase pan.
Faux flue cap attached to metal chase pan. | Source
Stone veneer chase.
Stone veneer chase. | Source
Doghouse (abutment) for direct-vent prefab. A terminal atop might look silly.
Doghouse (abutment) for direct-vent prefab. A terminal atop might look silly. | Source
Masonry (stone) chimney bedecking clay chimney pot.
Masonry (stone) chimney bedecking clay chimney pot. | Source
Naked chases aching to be adorned.
Naked chases aching to be adorned. | Source

Who Makes Them?

Metalworking acknowledges the decorative arts and hails our ancestors 10,000 years ago who worked forging (hammering) copper into objects. Generations past paved the way by smelting (heating) malachite copper ore in pits they dug themselves. (The above video demonstrates.)

Today architectural copper comes in nine categories of sheets or strips, graded by weight in ounces, ranging from 6 to 48. For chimney pot purposes 20 and 32 are viable, not 16 oz., which is rather thin.

Handcrafting copper is what coppersmiths do. They must be able to work with their hands and brains by designing templates (CAD, too), measuring layouts, preparing materials, and constructing projects. A refined skill set is necessary to carefully manipulate hand and power tools and technically solder, braze, rivet, and weld copper sheet metal. Even though the next video (below) covers the making of a small copper bowl, it demonstrates the necessary aptitude.

For chimney terminals, putting sections together takes forethought and concentration. True artisans try to improve copper's durability in work that is as seamless as possible. Appreciating fine workmanship frequently counteracts time-frame, material cost, and labor expenditure, in favor of working with experts.

Installing

Is the top of your chimney ready for supporting a terminal? Pot-to-flue fit and fireplace compatibility are paramount. Different conditions pose different challenges. Is the mortar crown cracked and leaking water? Is the chase pan corroded and rusty?

If this job is not DIY, hire an expert (e.g., mason). Staff where you purchase your copper chimney pots will provide recommendations. Get three, known to be knowledgeable, experienced, and reliable, to tackle technicalities (too many to report here).

Sometimes copper pots arrive with a protective coating. Pull it off before lifting. Although lightweight compared to clay, a pot's size and roof height might necessitate hoisting with more than a ladder. Renting logistics (for man basket or crane) is another reason for hiring an installer.

Below are helpful resources:

  • CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America)
  • NFI (National Fireplace Institute)
  • NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
  • YOUR LOCAL MUNICIPALITY (Chimneys & Fireplaces in Building Codes)

Mold Alert!

Good cleaning needed before bracing a terminal.
Good cleaning needed before bracing a terminal. | Source

Maintaining

A good motto for copper is: "No Care, Wear, or Tear." No need for cleaning or polishing = Low+ maintenance. The + represents cleaning that copper does itself, like preventing mold from growing.

Nevertheless, a chimney pot (copper or not) functions with an entire venting system. Annual inspecting, cleaning, and repairing is prudent, especially before installing a new pot.

Anything relating to combustion is serious. Once again consult CSIA, NFI, or NFPA for in-depth material about fire codes and safety tips.

In summary, long lasting, maintenance free, environmentally sound, and aesthetically pleasing come to mind as the overriding benefits of copper. In turn, the value to us homeowners of showcasing copper chimney pots is very much the same.

I reflect after completeting articles and projects. Affecting me this time was an ethical quandary, what coppersmith David Rich tabbed "planned obsolescence." Copper is a sustainable resource. Why build (otherwise, only) to trash?

Learning and writing about this subject is helping me decide what I want to do at my house. Hope it helps you, too. If anything, start looking up, up, up, and notice chimney pots dotting rooftops all over.

Chimney pots are blue sky wonders.
Chimney pots are blue sky wonders. | Source

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