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Advice on chimney repair on a house we bought

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by brianp6621, Oct 29, 2009.

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  1. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    I was directed here for advice by a member of another forum.

    We purchased a house earlier in the year knowing the chimney needed work and we are looking to have that work done now.

    First the details...

    Single story house built in the late 60s with a 13"x13" pre-cast concrete chimney in the SF bay area of California.
    The original chimney inspection done by the sellers said

    1) Has large vertical exterior cracks and also inside the firebox which is very normal for a fireplace/chimney like this. All flue liners cracked. Recommends installation of SS flue insert ($$) No idea how thorough the inspection was.

    Since then we have received 2 more inspections and quotes from other companies recommended by our realtor (trusted family friend)

    2) Concrete stack cracked, vertical stack unsafe, recommends rebuild with red brick from the shoulder up. ($$$$) He also stated a SS flue insert was a band-aid and he didn't like/do them. He did not look inside the chimney from the top, only the exterior and in the fireplace.

    3) Use a product called Emberlock 3000 to seal cracks on flue liners from the inside ($) Spent by far the most time looking it over, even took off the spark arrestor to thoroughly look inside the upper stack. Mentioned that rebuilding top half of a pre-cast concrete chimney was a relatively crazy idea/way labor intensive and not necessary and that these things are "built like a tank" Said a liner would reduce the diameter too much on this relatively small chimney.

    ($,$$,$$$$ are in relation to one another, $ doesn't necessarily mean cheap)

    We love fire in the FP but mostly for smores/looks not for actual heating so I would estimate 1-2 fires a week for just about 2 hours each, during the winter.

    The area I live in isn't that cold so freezing/harsh conditions aren't as big of a concern.

    What do you guys think since these quotes/approaches cover the whole spectrum?

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  2. Wet1

    Wet1 Minister of Fire

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    Any pictures that show what you're talking about? Also, what's the internal I.D. of the flue?
  3. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    I can take some pictures.

    I don't know the ID. Can I determine it without climbing up on the roof and removing the spark arrestor again? All I know is the top damper (which I also need) is listed for a 13"x13".
  4. Wet1

    Wet1 Minister of Fire

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    Pictures would help so we can see what you're working with and the extent of the damage.

    I wouldn't assume anything as far as the size goes based on what one of those guys told you might or might not need. The best way to inspect and measure it would be to get up on top and see whats actually going on up there. You might be able to take a measurement from the bottom, up through the fireplace, but make sure you can verify that it's the same size all the way up.
  5. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    Here are the pictures.

    [​IMG]
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  6. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Also consider tearing it down and replacing with a pipe and manufactured fireplace, called a zero clearance FP. You live in quake country and having a rigid chimney that is very massive and tall is just asking for trouble. I wouldn't spend a dime trying to polish that turd. I tore down my masonry chimney/fireplace because of cracks and am very glad that I did.
  7. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    That isn't an option for us at this time. We'd like a functional fireplace but it depends on the $$. And a full rebuild is certainly out of the question.
  8. budman

    budman Minister of Fire

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    There is no other way from what i see,but to knock it down and start over.
  9. Wet1

    Wet1 Minister of Fire

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    I'm glad you posted pictures. The cracking looks to be structual and based on the band(aids)s someone has placed on it, it's in bad shape. If it were mine I'd rip it down and rebuild (the proper way) or replace it with Class A. That thing looks like a hazard as it stands. I'm sure you could stick a liner down it and/or epoxy the cracks, but that would be yet another short term fix for a gross problem.
  10. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    The plumber's tape is mint! Rip it down and replace with class A pipe. You will be surprised at how cheap this is. There is no good reason to rebuild any chimney out of masonry except if you insist on the look of real brick outside your home. It's totally aesthetic. You can built a wooden chase around the outside pipe if you'd like something that looks less like an exhaust pipe and more like a chimney. The inside fireplace can be built however you want it.
  11. cj-8_jim

    cj-8_jim Member

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    OMG! The prior owner wrapped the chiminey with metal band to keep it together!

    Regardless of where you live, you need to tear the chimney down right away (probably replace with a manufactured fireplace & chimney since it's cheaper).

    All you need is a little tremor and that is going to come down on it's own... then you will have problems:
    - serious injuries to anyone nearby inside or outside
    - huge holes in roof
    - home deemed unfit for occupancy by building inspector until it is repaired
    - even higher cost to replace since you can not bid the job out, those bidding will know you are desparate/have no choice, et.
    - Longer delay in getting the chimney, roof, etc fixed so you can move back in (the contractors will have other jobs to do besides yours after a tremor)

    Don't let yourself be a nominee or award recipient of the Darwin award http://www.darwinawards.com/
  12. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    To be fair, we see a lot of hokey things used on chimneys to hold them together and to hold them vertical in our part of the country. It is not uncommon to see angle iron strapped to the outside vertical corners of the chimney with SS band clamps, or to have hokey stabilization bars between the home and the chimney to hole a leaning chimney up.

    There are so many reasons that a masonry chimney is inferior.
  13. cj-8_jim

    cj-8_jim Member

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    I imagine you WA do get quakes from time-to-time. He's in SF Bay area, CA ... earthquake country.

    Pay now or pay later in a lot more in time, money, inconvenience and possibly personal injury.

    Knowing you have a problem and not correcting the problem is called negligence.

    Here's another risk: It won't take a very smart personal injury lawyer to determine and prove the HO had knowledge of the problem but chose not to do anything.

    All a plaintiff's attorney needs to do is contact and interview the prior owner on whether there was knowledge of an unsafe condition at time of sale. The prior owner (and their chimney inspector) will willingly sing the plaintiff's song for fear of becoming a target themselves for not disclosing. Plus there is the buyer's agent. Yes, the buyer's agent is a family friend, but if you were contacted by a plaintiff's lawyer, would you risk your professional certification and livelihood? I think not. The least you would do is tell the plaintiff's lawyer that your recommended two contractors -- they then would also get a visit by the plaintiff's attorney.

    I don't need to say anymore.
  14. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    Yikes, not exactly what I wanted to hear.

    I guess I'm a bit surprised as 2/3 of the on-site inspection said it was structurally sound (including the one before purchase) and that the cracks were surface cracks.

    Just to be clear this is NOT a masonry chimney (as long as I understand the meaning of that term). It is a solid block of cast concrete. All brick appearance is fascia.

    Why would 2/3 experts in this area (both in chimneys and local) not be concerned about it structurally? Wouldn't they stand to make more money if they recommended me tearing it down completely?

    I'm just trying to reconcile all the information from all the sources.
  15. dougand3

    dougand3 Minister of Fire

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    You're killing me!
    I agree with others....what if you have a roaring fire and chimney tumbles? Draft really suffers then.
  16. cj-8_jim

    cj-8_jim Member

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    Guess which expert the plaintiff's attorney will call before a jury. If I was sitting on a jury, I know who I would listen to.

    Or look it another way. Let's pretend everyone who posted here is representative of the opinions each juror would render.

    All you have in your favor is one guy saying it's not good, but not necessarily unusual in WA. The rest of us say take it down.

    If you can't afford to rebuild, then just put up a wall in it's place and go buy a $150 patio metal patio fire pit from your favorite local retailer... much cheaper and safer to do the occasional marshmellow roasting you want to do.
  17. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    I'm not in the "leave it up" crowd, I already recommended removal and what is not unusual is the external braces though I have never seen anything as hokey as plumber's tape. Nobody here seems to be liking that chimney. Oh and what qualifications do your inspectors have? There might be a licensed civil engineer in the room here suggesting you remove it. When you find cracks like this on a bridge or crane do you see them being ignored?

    I don't see how your inspector stands to gain financially by recommending for or against tear down. You don't see many inspector/contractors due to the obvious conflict of interest. What you typically see is an overly conservative inspector who would recommend repairs to almost anything suspect since he doesn't want you the buyer calling him up later and asking him to pay for something that he deemed OK. Trouble is, if that inspector blows the sale by being too safe then he won't get hired anymore.

    Your precast chimney is indeed an odd method of building a chimney. It is best described as precast concrete with a masonry veneer. The fact that the veneer is blown out tells us that the precast structure must also be moving and cracking which is no surprise given the huge temperature differential that it is exposed to.

    If you insist on keeping the chimney, get an actual professional engineer to certify it as sound and let his liability insurance protect you. Then get a hard hat.
  18. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    I should clear up that all three people that have looked at the chimney are licensed contractors, not "inspectors" per se. The is why I was curious what they would gain from under-recommending the work to be done.
  19. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Most contractors aren't going to be capable of replacing a masonry chimney nor qualified to assess its condition. Masonry is a specialty like an arborist or pool builder, the tools, knowledge and licensure is not the same as a GC. Note also, that these contractors aren't on the hook if something fails when they said it was fine. They are making opinions as contractors and not providing you with an inspection.

    As a licensed contractor they are licensed in something and I can about guarantee it wasn't masonry.
  20. TreePapa

    TreePapa Minister of Fire

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    Your sig doesn't say where in Calif. you are (re-reading your post says SF Bay area), but looking at that lovely 1960's tract home with it's fine cinder-block FP and slump-block covered chimney, I'm gonna guess it's someplace in the outer East Bay ... places were homes were built really cheap in the '70's and '80's. I would be dollars to donuts it's NOTSan Francisco or Oakland. Why? Becuase that chimney would have been REDLINED and torn down. In L.A. it would not have made it past 1995 (i.e. a year after 1994 quake). I forget when the Bay Area had its quakes, but I'm pretty sure they went through a similar process.

    THIS IS EARTHQUAKE COUNTRY! I've lived through several major quakes myself. My gut reaction to those photos is "Tear that FP & chimney down" (or at least, the chimney above the smoke chamber) and worry about replacing it when you can afford to. If you leave the FP but remove the chimney (someting I see in a fair # of rentals here in So. Calif.) you can put electric (not gas) "fake firelogs" in the firebox and have an appearance of a fire (and no heat loss up the chimney, which you would seal off with sheet metal or something). Some of the 'lectric logs even give off heat (about 1500 watts).

    If you still have questions, print out those photos and show them to (1) your local Buidling & Safety Dept.; and (2) your homeowner's insurance company. See what they say.

    Good luck.

    Peace,
    - Sequoia
  21. cmonSTART

    cmonSTART Minister of Fire

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    Welcome Brian!

    I would very much consider finding a good certified sweep in the area who does video scanning and have him inspect it before use. While I'm not there in person so I can't say for sure, what I do see makes me a bit concerned and I would at least want to take a much closer look.

    Good luck sir.
  22. brianp6621

    brianp6621 New Member

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    Well I don't know what their License is in but all three companies specifically say they are Masons/Masonry contractors.
  23. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    So did you get seperate contractors to come look at your plumbing/HVAC/electrical and structural? Those three guys, if they claimed to be masons, should have been the guys to rebuild a chimney so their opinion would normally be biased towards a tear down.

    Did they provide written reports? If so, you probably wouldn't be found negligent if someone were injured by the collapse. As it seems that you made an adequate effort to assess the condition of the chimney.
  24. TreePapa

    TreePapa Minister of Fire

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    So what do the building inspector and insurance company say?

    Peace,
    - Sequoia
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