Alternatives to rebuilding a badly damaged brick chimney?

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NewVermonter

New Member
Jul 8, 2022
4
Vermont
I recently bought a 1958 1-story house with a brick fireplace in the living room. The chimney has three flues -- one for the fireplace, one for the boiler (oil), and one for a wood stove that used to be in the basement (no longer there and not being replaced). The fireplace hasn't been used in years and there's no cap on the chimney. The firebox seems to be in ok shape but the flue tiles are in terrible shape and the brick on the exterior of the chimney has cracks going down about 10 feet from the top.

A couple of masons have looked at it. I've been told that a total rebuild would be at least $30k. Rebuilding just the top 10 feet of the chimney would be somewhat cheaper but not all that cheap and a) won't look great (we can't find bricks that are an exact match) and b) would probably not be a lasting solution (I've been told that there's a good chance that cracks will appear further down at some point).

I'd like to keep it as a wood-burning fireplace. Are there any solutions that are less costly than rebuilding a brick chimney? Is it possible to tear down the chimney and replace it with metal pipe? I've been looking around for answers but can't seem to find anything addressing this particular question.
IMG_6154.jpg IMG_4936.jpg IMG_1284.jpg
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,651
Philadelphia
Our resident sweep @bholler will surely be around soon with better answers than me, but have you considered converting that fireplace to a woodburning insert? If so, it would open up the option of installing flexible liners in an otherwise mostly-cosmetic brick stack, and might reduce the cost of any rebuild.

Also, having lived in numerous historic masonry houses, I'm wondering why there's an assumption of purchasing all new brick. The cost of salvaging the brick you have for re-use may not be any more than buying new brick, and would resolve the cosmetic issue, with minimal loss. You may still end up with a few courses at the top of new brick, due to those lost due to breakage, but that could be a cosmetic flair, rather than a problem.
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
Our resident sweep @bholler will surely be around soon with better answers than me, but have you considered converting that fireplace to a woodburning insert? If so, it would open up the option of installing flexible liners in an otherwise mostly-cosmetic brick stack, and might reduce the cost of any rebuild.

Also, having lived in numerous historic masonry houses, I'm wondering why there's an assumption of purchasing all new brick. The cost of salvaging the brick you have for re-use may not be any more than buying new brick, and would resolve the cosmetic issue, with minimal loss. You may still end up with a few courses at the top of new brick, due to those lost due to breakage, but that could be a cosmetic flair, rather than a problem.
Salvaging old brick atleast in our area is usually about double the cost of disposing of the old ones and buying new. And the brick chase isn't cosmetic it needs to be structurally sound and weather tight.
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
I recently bought a 1958 1-story house with a brick fireplace in the living room. The chimney has three flues -- one for the fireplace, one for the boiler (oil), and one for a wood stove that used to be in the basement (no longer there and not being replaced). The fireplace hasn't been used in years and there's no cap on the chimney. The firebox seems to be in ok shape but the flue tiles are in terrible shape and the brick on the exterior of the chimney has cracks going down about 10 feet from the top.

A couple of masons have looked at it. I've been told that a total rebuild would be at least $30k. Rebuilding just the top 10 feet of the chimney would be somewhat cheaper but not all that cheap and a) won't look great (we can't find bricks that are an exact match) and b) would probably not be a lasting solution (I've been told that there's a good chance that cracks will appear further down at some point).

I'd like to keep it as a wood-burning fireplace. Are there any solutions that are less costly than rebuilding a brick chimney? Is it possible to tear down the chimney and replace it with metal pipe? I've been looking around for answers but can't seem to find anything addressing this particular question.
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It absolutely could be replaced with a class a chimney or completely removed and replaced with a prefab fireplace and chimney. But I doubt it would cost much less honestly
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,474
South Puget Sound, WA
Would lopping it off above the smoke chamber, capping, and attaching a class-A chimney at that point be an option?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
Would lopping it off above the smoke chamber, capping, and attaching a class-A chimney at that point be an option?
It would be. But then you need to finish the void in the siding. Probably build a chase to make it look decent. And the price of class a large enough for a fireplace is really high.

I just don't know that it will save all that much over a rebuild of the top.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,474
South Puget Sound, WA
It would be. But then you need to finish the void in the siding. Probably build a chase to make it look decent. And the price of class a large enough for a fireplace is really high.

I just don't know that it will save all that much over a rebuild of the top.
Maybe just run 6" up the chase and put an insert in the fireplace?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
Maybe just run 6" up the chase and put an insert in the fireplace?
That would be a cheaper option. They have a functioning furnace flue as well which will need addressed also
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,474
South Puget Sound, WA
That would be a cheaper option. They have a functioning furnace flue as well which will need addressed also
Yes, I was thinking about that. Might be time to look into a high-efficiency unit with PVC venting. Or a second 6" stack.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
3,578
SE North Carolina
Has it been deemed structurally unsound? Yes we know the best thing is to tear it down but if the crack has been there 50 years what’s the rush to fix it.

My first approach would be what’s the bare minimum needed to make it safe for the next 3 years. You need the boiler. Figure what that will take vs a complete rebuild tear down. After burning a fireplace and switching to a stove and an insert I will never go back to the fireplace. It is inferior in almost most every way.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
17,651
Philadelphia
After burning a fireplace and switching to a stove and an insert I will never go back to the fireplace. It is inferior in almost most every way.
Excepting the beautiful serenity of a crackling open fire. I still have one open fireplace, albeit on our patio, and I miss having more.

I agree that if you're hoping to subtract from, rather than add to your oil bill, the stove wins. But I wouldn't say the fireplace is inferior in every way.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
Has it been deemed structurally unsound? Yes we know the best thing is to tear it down but if the crack has been there 50 years what’s the rush to fix it.

My first approach would be what’s the bare minimum needed to make it safe for the next 3 years. You need the boiler. Figure what that will take vs a complete rebuild tear down. After burning a fireplace and switching to a stove and an insert I will never go back to the fireplace. It is inferior in almost most every way.
If it isn't now it will be soon if not fixed. North east winters will tear a chimney apart that has cracks like that.
 
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NewVermonter

New Member
Jul 8, 2022
4
Vermont
Our resident sweep @bholler will surely be around soon with better answers than me, but have you considered converting that fireplace to a woodburning insert? If so, it would open up the option of installing flexible liners in an otherwise mostly-cosmetic brick stack, and might reduce the cost of any rebuild.

Also, having lived in numerous historic masonry houses, I'm wondering why there's an assumption of purchasing all new brick. The cost of salvaging the brick you have for re-use may not be any more than buying new brick, and would resolve the cosmetic issue, with minimal loss. You may still end up with a few courses at the top of new brick, due to those lost due to breakage, but that could be a cosmetic flair, rather than a problem.
Thanks for these suggestions. I considered a wood-burning insert but it did not seem like it would save me any money. In terms of salvaging the brick, I've been told that it would not be advisable -- the brick hollow and of poor quality and much of it is in bad shape.
 

NewVermonter

New Member
Jul 8, 2022
4
Vermont
Maybe just run 6" up the chase and put an insert in the fireplace?
I'm a newbie -- could you give me a bit more information about this? Do you mean line the chimney and put in a wood-burning insert? or gas? And then line the furnace flue, too? I've looked into both gas and wood-burning inserts, and have considered putting in a power vent for the furnace -- but the logistics of the power vent are a little tricky and I have concerns about power vents being fussy so I'd love to keep venting it up the chimney if I can.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
96,474
South Puget Sound, WA
Yes, that is the gist of the suggestion. Break out the tiles and install an insulated liner for the insert. Put a stainless crown cap on it after the liners are installed.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
Yes, that is the gist of the suggestion. Break out the tiles and install an insulated liner for the insert. Put a stainless crown cap on it after the liners are installed.
It needs allot more work than that
 

NewVermonter

New Member
Jul 8, 2022
4
Vermont
Many thanks to everyone who has weighed in. I have a couple of follow-up questions, if you don't mind.

First -- would a class A pipe really be so expensive that it would not be advantageous to go that route? At the prices I'm being quotes to rebuild the chimney, the two pipes (furnace and fireplace) would have to run about five thousand dollars each to bring the price up to what the brick would cost me. When I look online at prices for class A chimneys the costs don't seem that high, but maybe there are a lot of associated costs I'm not taking into account. If someone could give me a sense of that, I'd be very grateful.

Second -- in terms of lining the chimney, am I correct that I could use a liner with a wood-burning insert, but I couldn't use a liner if I'm keeping it as a regular fireplace? I'm pretty sure that's the case, but just wanted confirmation.

Thank you! This forum is a great resource!
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
30,288
central pa
Many thanks to everyone who has weighed in. I have a couple of follow-up questions, if you don't mind.

First -- would a class A pipe really be so expensive that it would not be advantageous to go that route? At the prices I'm being quotes to rebuild the chimney, the two pipes (furnace and fireplace) would have to run about five thousand dollars each to bring the price up to what the brick would cost me. When I look online at prices for class A chimneys the costs don't seem that high, but maybe there are a lot of associated costs I'm not taking into account. If someone could give me a sense of that, I'd be very grateful.

Second -- in terms of lining the chimney, am I correct that I could use a liner with a wood-burning insert, but I couldn't use a liner if I'm keeping it as a regular fireplace? I'm pretty sure that's the case, but just wanted confirmation.

Thank you! This forum is a great resource!
If you are looking at a class a chimney for the open fireplace it will most likely be well over $5000