Chimney cleaning exposes cracked crown

Do-it-yourself replacement advised

Q: I have just had my brick chimney cleaned, and the chimney sweep said the crown -- the top layer of mortar covering the top of the chimney -- is cracked in several places and needs replacement. The sweep took a photograph and I can see what looks like smoke stains around one of the cracks. I don't have a cap, but would like to get one. My house was built in the 1970s, and I understand they didn't always put them on back then. I don't see why we can't just replace the mortar ourselves. But I'm concerned about the smoke. How did it get there if the flue is solid? Would the contractor do more than just fix the crown if there's smoke leaking through it? The estimate to replace the crown is $425. Does that sound reasonable? A: We suspect that over the years water infiltrated the mortar crown, causing it to deteriorate. But $425 sounds a bit pricey for simply replacing the crown. If you're comfortable on a ladder and walking around on the roof, by all means replace the crown y...