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How the hollow core block chimneys played out

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by elkimmeg, Jul 20, 2006.

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  1. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    I get a lot of e-mails and try to answer them, plus the private messages here. Somethmes it may take a day or so.

    well the first engineer that certified these chimneys purgered himself. When called to the mat he admitted to having never
    visiting the site and never inspecting them I let him off the hook and allow him to withdraw his certifying letter. I hoped he learned an inportant lesson. His alternatives was to withdraw or I was taking him to the state review board. Once he found out I had drilled into the hollow core blocks and that the chimneys were being built un supervised by illegals he really want no part of the responsibility.
    He knew that I knew he screwed up. He now realized I was questioning his stamp. Apparently the mason brought him a set of plans t certified to be correct. The mason never told him the real reason he was requesting review.
    I shut down the job again

    Another conference with the mason and the supervising construction company. There were two alternatives offered,, either tear them down and reconstruct the to code. or hire another engineering firm to certify them and wittness the hollow core blocks being filled and that I also see part of the process. He opted to go the certification route. All my concerns are fully documented and part of public record as is the next engineering stamp. Legally I have done my job. I can accept the stamp and move on.

    BUTT!!!!! I uncovered another life safety issue with one of the fireplaces. Yesterday I was there doing a rough mechanical Inspection.
    I look into the fire box onone fireplace and discovered the only 2" of fire brick separates the top of the fire box and the wood combustiable header. Code is 12" of solid masonry or 8" with fire brick. Making matters worse is the damper is set to the furthest back position. the fire box has curbature towards the from which direct the exhaust an heat away from the damper and right at the 2" fire bricks and wood header above.

    I now face two choices ignore it and hide behind the engineering stamp or require it to be brought up to code. Moving the massive header up and filling the area above with the required dept of solid masonry. What would you do? I admitt this situation is wearing me down. This is a prime example of why I take the stand of illegals constructing fire boxes un supervised un licenced. I have never had this much grief. The mason's contract for this home is $850,000. All cultured stone facings. One would think there was enought money alloted to use solid blocks. I mean for $135 more it could have been done correctly. The home final price will approach 3 mill. The 2 other fireplaces are built the same way with the same damper locations and same curbature but do have enough masonry above them to combustiables. All have smoke flow design problems, but they are not code enforceable

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  2. Shane

    Shane Minister of Fire

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    I think you know the answer to your question Elk. You should call them on it, everyone makes mistakes but it seems like this guy is just blatantly disregarding code. Even if nothing is done and the engineer stamp stays, atleast you sleep well at night knowing you did everything in your power to make sure that someone's 850,000 dollar fireplace is actually safe and useable. It's like the other day I did a real estate inspection. Fan didn't work, the first "all in one" home inspector missed this. The woman wanted me to "not mention" what I had discovered. I looked her right in the eye and said ok, but if I inspect the home your purchasing and find something wrong can I "not mention" that as well? She didn't like me that much.
  3. Turner-n-Burner

    Turner-n-Burner New Member

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    Good going Elk! I know it must seem thankless, but it is important work you are doing. It is scary to me that builders will put their name on such unsafe structures...


    -Dan
  4. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't see how an engineering stamp can be an excuse....certainly in gray areas, but not in those clearly covered by code. The difference between 2" and 12" is just too vast!

    They are banking on the client not using the fireplaces - and that is probably why the engineer thinks it is OK. But we know what will happen based on that multi-million dollar home I inspected in Greenwich. One day the power will go out, or the owner will have a party with a bonfire in the fireplace, and then life and property will be at risk.

    I'm not saying you have to get every T crossed and i dotted, but the header situation sounds really bad.
  5. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Call them on it Elk. You are not only protecting the current to be home owners but the future owners of this home as well. If the contractor is half-intelligent and has any respect for his work, he may learn too. If he does, then the benefit of a proper inspection multiplies.
  6. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    In an hour or so when I go to the office I will be calling this engineering firm. I am going to ask them if there stamp includes the reduction of 10 " of solid masonry according to code. I am also going to ask them if their stamp approves that and the curvature smoke path. I mean your stamp is indicative of good design ,Right? I going to tell them I am having a hard time getting past the missing 10 " of solid masonry and would they please certify the 80% reduction of it as stated per code .

    They have no authority to do so, they have credence when something is a close call. Building inspectors do not know and understand every situation, especially in large commercial jobs. It is unfair the think the know all. Provisions in code allows us to seek,
    Outside help or tested documentation, ie the installers manual for wood stoves. Engineers are the usual recognised expertise, but like any profession they also can be wrong. This has really come to the forefront in Boston's big dig project. I have the right to question them. This will not be the first time,Hopefully the last, that's wishful thinking. I have one other path I could take but it has a potential of being messy and will involve me and the town in a court case. I could send out a letter to the potential owner asking them if they are aware of this life safety code violation. Are you willing to live with it?

    Here is what will happen, (guessing here).. The engineer who stamped the chimnys will, get on the phone and give the mason the what da--- are you doing. He/she will tell the mason to get his backside over there are correct the situation.. pronto, and I will be looking for recertification from them. If forum members knew what I am paid to ensure saftey, it is appaling. The lowest paid person in this whole odreal is me, except probably the illegals. Fairness would be me being paid close to the engineers. I make twice the money with a hammer in my hands, than inspecting. Inspecting takes time from my normal carpentry remodeling. Got to love what you are doing, because it does not make sense. I am hoping to move up in the inspection ranks and if I do, the pay compensation difference will be adjusted. The only reason I am doing it , is I am planning ahead when the time comes, that physically I am not able to do what I do today in carpentry
  7. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    We talk a lot about 'illegals' here, but the mason incharge is a native-born American contractor, perhaps even a licensed mason, right? No reason to believe that this situation would be any different if he had English speakers working for him. Americans can cut corners and do shoddy work as well as anybody. Who cheaped out onthe hollow core blocks? Who either chose to ignore code or wasn't paying attention when that header was put in? Seems to me this lands squarely on the head of the guy accepting the $850K check, not the guy, legal or not, who is doing the grunt work.

    It's a relatively common occurrence in many fields. People don;t take their responsibilities nearly as seriously as you do. Including many engineers. Many firms, esp. small locals, have lots of guys working doing the plans and designs, and maybe one PE with a stamp. Seldom do they have the time, or even the actual knowledge, to thoroughly review what they stamp. Now, they aren't supposed to stamp it if they don;t know what's going on, but that doesn't slow most of them down.

    Same thing with the chimney. The guy with his name onthe truck, the check, and likely the permit is the guy to hang here. It's not clear to me how it would be any different if the bricklayers were chattering in English - they'd still have hollow core blocks on the pallet.
    Steve
  8. saichele

    saichele Minister of Fire

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    And I don't know why it would play out any differently if they were 'Legals'. Maybe the accent would be different.

    This isn't about legal status, it's about cutting corners and making a profit. I'm sure he could find americance that would lay the hollow blocks as well.

    Steve
  9. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    Steve you are 100% correct I would have shut down any job un supervised building a fire box using hollow core blocks. Nationality has nothing to do with code enforcement. Again all are correct responsibility lies on the owner mason. And 3 times he was not present I shut down the job. I was not too impressed talking to him, on his cell phone, when he is on an island vacationing, while these chimeys were being built Matha's Vinenard. For the most part, the local masons know they are going to be inspected and most do good honest code compliant work. The trouble I have ,is when I inspect masons, that are not in my area and working in my town for the first time. It seems there is a lack of proper inspections, which promotes bad habits that continue and continue.. This mason is located on the north shore of Boston, some 60 miles away. He admitted to building hunderds maybe thousand of chimney's this way and has never had a problem? He thinks I am making it up and that it must be come local code? He has never been called out for un-supervised work or using hollow core blocks. There is a tone of arrogance anyone would want to take down. He has done this practice so long he cannot see it being wrong.. He found out in short order that his contact at the state level was not as high as mine.
    Yeah I found that out at a conference last Wed. he called the state. Like I said foolish arrogance. The state told him they were not going to get involved and that he had to settle any differences, he had with me on the local level.


    Today's inspection I reviewed the Engineer's inspection report before I get on the phone. Yeah I wound up I can't wait to stick it to him again. But I am also a contractor. I calm down. Like the time as a little kid. when fighting with your brother in the sand box . Mom separates you and tell you to take a deep breath. eventhough you are still spitting mad.

    Prior when the stuff was hitting the fan, I took digital photos of the fireplaces. I now have them infront of me to review. I realized the engineers certified the state of the fireplaces at that time and since change had occured. Thank god for digital photos! So now I am going down to take some more. I did not call the engineers. Sometimes solutions are best done in the simplest terms, with the least people involved. Plus as a contractor, I have sat on the other side of the fence. I decide to try to keep the solution in house.
    I talk to the supervisor on the job, Mason is not there. And I tell him to get it done. He tell me he does not have the authority, only the construction company owner does. I point out how much easier it would be if he moves the header up and the mason fills the area up with solid masonry. Again he tells me he has no authority to do that.. I pull out the Ace of spades. I tell him how much simpler it will be this way, just get it done. If we involve your boss, he is going to question your supervising ability. And pretty soon he is going to ask you how you missed it.. I do not want to call your boss and now I bet you do not want me to make the call. Or I can call the engineers they, will be calling your boss and you can bet your boss is going to be calling you. Eventually I will be entering all this in public record. You know the owners will find out wink wink and your boss will not be happy to field that call.

    Younger guy, this construction supervisor on the job. Ok what's going to be? How do you want to play this out? I also tell him if he
    takes flack, I will suport him, with written documentation of a code violation he correccted, After all isn't this what a construction supervisor is suposed to do? Yea I twisted his arm.. One final arm twisting, I layout how this situation could play out. I'm not going to sign off a known life safety issue, I have fullly documented and have pictures as proof. When time comes for occupancy I'm not going to sign off. You better believe stuff is going to hit the fan. This time engineers, lawyers, owners. and doccument full disclosuer will be in all hands. Also documented will be that you were told and that you knew. Do me a favor, let me know when you get it done before the sheet rock is applied. God I hope this is the last of it
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