Crumbling brick chimney stack in 120 year old home

biondanonima Posted By biondanonima, Jul 9, 2018 at 8:53 PM

  1. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    We have a central chimney in our 120 year old home that is badly in need of repair. There is a large hole in the stack in the basement (below the fireplace arch) and the mortar is pretty much gone. The parts of the stack and fireplace that are visible in the rest of the house are in somewhat better shape, but there are still a lot of joints that are almost devoid of mortar. The fireplace is non-functional but one side of the chimney is used to vent our furnace (with a liner).

    We had a few masons come out to give us estimates for repointing, but one of them (a contractor) was alarmed enough by the condition of the base that he recommended we call in an engineer. The engineer said that repointing most likely wouldn't improve the structural issue and suggested removal as the best option. We don't want to remove this beautiful and original feature of our home, so we decided to call one more contractor, a chimney specialist. He said he thought he could save the chimney, by carefully repointing the corners/back/sides first, then installing a steel lintel under the fireplace for support before rebuilding the section with the hole.

    Given the variety of responses to our quandry, I wanted to ask you experts to see if anyone here had any thoughts on how to solve our problem. Here are some photos of the area:

    The hole(s):
    20180604_093729.jpg

    The former hearth area, which was replaced with wood flooring sometime in the past. The bricks sitting on the horizontal beam (which is the central beam to the house) are just sitting there, loose. The chimney itself goes up between this beam and a similar on on the other side.
    20180629_165412.jpg

    The underside of the fireplace floor - I think it's cardboard. No idea who janked this together but putting in a proper floor will be part of the project!
    20180629_164548.jpg

    Anyway, I would appreciate any advice you can offer. Thanks in advance!
     
  2. fire_man

    fire_man
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    I appreciate that you want to restore old masonry work. I'm into keeping vintage construction intact as well.

    There are some knowledgeable members on this forum who hopefully will chime in soon.

    I'm no expert but the condition of that mortar looks beyond repointing to me.
     
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  3. Ludlow

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    Probably better off to tear it down, pour an adequate footer and rebuild correctly. That is just a stack of bricks held upright by a house.

    Maybe Im wrong.
     
  4. bholler

    bholler
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    It looks to far gone to me. Certainly not safe to vent a furnace through even with a liner
     
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  5. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    Thanks for your input. Ludlow, you are right - it is basically a stack of bricks held up by the main house beams. I'm guessing this was considered sound construction practice back in 1898! We had another chimney repair company come out today and he thought the best solution would be to pour a concrete footer inside the base to a height of about 3', then rebuild/repoint the stack and stucco coat it inside and out. He also suggested a ProForm liner, which he said would be the most efficient thing to install given the height of the chimney and the shape of our roof (the chimney stack sits on top of a flat portion but the slope to get up to the flat part is VERY steep, and since we're built into a hillside they will have to use ladders to get up there).

    This bid is substantially more expensive (an additional $4K) than the previous one (which didn't include pouring a footer inside and was just to rebuild the stack with a lintel and install a stainless liner), but it seems like it will be a more structurally sound option. The stucco coating is probably not the most attractive thing, but no one sees the basement part of the stack regularly except the cats, and they're not that picky! Thoughts? We have one more company coming next week to bid the project so I'd love to know which of these approaches seems most viable.
     
  6. begreen

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    I tore out the old fireplace in our house. The mortar was in similar condition. I think I'd either have the entire fireplace and chimney rebuilt or eliminate it. Everything else sounds like a bandaid and an expensive one at that. If you do a tearout maybe a metal chimney can be run up the old chimney cavity and a nice hearth built with a good looking freestander in it's place or a quality ZC fireplace instead.
     
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  7. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    Begreen, thank you for your thoughts. I agree that these solutions are something of a bandaid, but at the same time, the rest of the stack is in much better condition (it's exposed in our finished attic, where the mortar is pretty sound - no one has even recommended repointing it yet). We did get one bid to remove it, but the cost to remove, repair drywall and frame in the area where the furnace vent flue would need to go was $30K. That didn't even include rebuilding the fireplace nor a new flue liner, which we definitely need. The two bids we have for the current work are 7-11K, which is a lot more palatable.
     
  8. heavy hammer

    heavy hammer
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    Tear it down and start new or just run a metal one. I would not repair it!
     
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  9. bholler

    bholler
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    As a chimney pro who repairs lots of chimneys i can tell you i wouldnt fix that chimney.
     
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  10. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    Thanks everyone for your responses. Thus far the two chimney pros who have looked at it haven't recommended a tear down, but two general contractors have, so it's really hard to know which is the better way to go. Obviously taking it out would mean we'd never have to worry about it again, but spending $30K plus the cost of a new liner (and any unexpected costs that might pop up as the chimney comes out) is really unappealing when we've got people offering to repair/rebuild for $3K and it means we keep our beautiful old bricks. We are getting a third bid from a chimney company this week so I guess we'll see what they say.

    For those of you who have experience with complete removal, does $30K seem like a reasonable cost? The chimney is approximately 40 feet high, all brick, about half exposed (basement, attic and rooftop). The $30K bid was from a general contractor who rolled all of the costs of repairing the roof and drywall into the chimney removal bid. This seems insane to me, but what do I know? The other contractor who recommended removal asked us to consult an architect for a plan and permit before he would even bid the job. I haven't discussed removal with the two chimney repair companies who bid on the repair.
     
  11. begreen

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    I thought the 30K price was high, but don't know the house and don't know exactly what the contract would be for. For reference it took my son and I about 3 partial days to completely remove our fireplace with a 2 story chimney. In our case the hearth was the hardest part because the base was poured cement, right down to the dirt in the crawlspace below. Your base looks like one could pull bricks almost as fast as you can handle them. I tented off a corridor in the living room to the nearest window and had a fan going to exhaust cement dust. With a few laborers working at $20/hr the chimney could be gone in a couple days. Figure $1000. It seems most unlikely that the repair work would run up a bill of $29k. The hole in the floor could be framed and an underlayment of plywood put in for ~$500? Then build a hearth over the top of that. Wall and ceiling patching $1500-2000? If you want to keep the look you could use the best of the old brick for a wall covering and covering the hearth.

    Being generous I would expect this to cost more like $5,000, before the new metal chimney work and roof sealing was counted in. Maybe $10K for the whole thing. But again, I don't know if there were additional issues or requests of the contractor, like matching trim, cove moldings, matching floor, etc.. And I am basing this on local prices and not NYC.
     
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  12. Ludlow

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    Could you get a small time guy to tear it down to the attic level and patch in the roof? Then work on it yourself taking it down to the basement over time. You will be left with a chase to run class A. Not sure how much you have the ability to handle though. That would be the determining factor. Can you get a pic of it sticking out of the roof?
     
  13. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    Ludlow, I will get a photo of the stack on the roof tomorrow and post it. As for doing the removal ourselves, I don't think this is a project we'd be willing to tackle on our own. I am reasonably handy and my husband is good at heavy lifting, but given the state of the base I'm not sure it would be safe for us to attempt on our own. I also have no idea what's going on with the liner, so we'd either have to get that redone first or decommission our boiler while we were taking down the stack. We actually got a quote to get our OTHER unused chimney removed, which came in at $5K, but that chimney is smaller and shorter with only a single, unlined flue. That quote was also for removal only, no repair of drywall, etc. When I mentioned that quote to one of the chimney techs, he said "call that guy and sign the contract, that is an incredible price." LOL. Maybe I should call him and ask him what he'd charge for the central chimney too! Anyway, if we could get it taken out for even $10K we'd probably consider it, but thus far we haven't even been able to get people to bid the job.
     
  14. begreen

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    The removal is done from the top down so you're not worried about something collapsing underneath.
     
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  15. bholler

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    To take that down i would do some reinforcing of the base. It is bad enough i would be concered it could collapse with the vibration and changing loads of tear down
    Also structure of the house needs to be considered. Many times with old large central chimneys they can be actual structural support for the house as well.
     
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  16. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    bholler, that was our concern as well - that the base is in such bad shape that messing with the top could cause a collapse. I'm fairly certain that the one general contractor who recommended removal but said he'd need an architect to draw up a plan before he could bid the job felt the same way. The chimney pros who have inspected it closely said that the corners are still relatively solid, which is why they feel comfortable repointing and rebuilding the base. I'm no expert, but I have poked at the bricks in the corners and they don't budge, so I tend to agree that a careful and experienced pro can probably repoint.

    As for the chimney supporting the house, I understand that that is common in older buildings but I don't think it's the case with our house. Honestly, I would guess the stack would have collapsed by now if it were supporting any weight but its own. The main beams are visible in the basement and the chimney runs between them without touching them - given the simple layout/floorplan of the house (foursquare), I would be surprised if the upper floors were any different. It COULD be providing some support for the roof, though. Here are pictures of the outside stack and roof.

    Stack close up - it is leaning a bit but the chimney guys weren't overly concerned, especially since it has been fully tarred:

    Outdoor stack close.jpg

    Wide shot so you can see more of the roof:

    Stack roof.jpg
     
  17. bholler

    bholler
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    In my professional opinion from what i can see that is way beyond what repointing can fix. But i am not there in person so who knows. And btw tarring an entire chimney is one of the worst things you csn do. It doesnt allow the brick to breathe and it destroys them.
     
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  18. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    Yes, everyone has mentioned that, but unfortunately the damage is done. I would assume that portion of the stack was in terrible condition and the former owners took the cheapest way out. I would love to dismantle and rebuild that portion, but again, we need to figure out the base first.
     
  19. biondanonima

    biondanonima
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    One more update - we had a third chimney company come to bid this job today. Like bholler, they felt that the base of the stack was in bad enough shape that it would require some type of reinforcement before they would even attempt to remove it, and because of that they said they might as well just go ahead and fix it instead. Their plan is to repoint the bottom layers of the base up to a level of about two feet, then pour some type of concrete around that to reinforce it, then continue to repoint/rebuild above layer by layer. Final step would be a stucco coating for the entire exterior.

    They also got up on the roof (first company to do so, which kind of surprised me) to check out the state of the liner. They sent me some photos of the horror show - a completely rusted liner with a gap between two sections, studded with screws. He said removing it is going to be a nightmare, but at least he quoted me a firm price for it - one of the other companies charges by the hour and couldn't estimate how long it would take, so I had visions of the bill climbing and climbing. Anyway, he suggested replacing with stainless, which I am comfortable with (I have no issue with Proform system either but I don't see how it adds any value for the additional cost). Here are some pictures of the liner and the fireplace flue from the top.
    20180718_0808511.jpg 20180718_0811151.jpg 20180718_0808471.jpg

    At this point I think we are going to go ahead with this bid (which is basically between the other two, cost-wise). If anyone has any final suggestions before we commit, I would appreciate it!
     
  20. Alpine1

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    This last is probably the best option, but if I were you I would have it torn apart.
     

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