best quick fix for damaged chimney?

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Old 01-20-13, 11:03 AM
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best quick fix for damaged chimney?

We love this house, but sometimes it has nasty secrets. It was built mid /late 1800s, I think there were wood or coal stoves, we have a chimney from the basement through the living room downstairs and bedroom upstairs but no fireplaces. In the bedroom a wood panel closet was built over the chimney, and I just had the bright idea to remove the part that covers the chimney since it had only shallow storage shelves and partially blocked the window and the forced air return in the floor. Much to my dismay I found about half the bricks are just, like, dissolving into powder. The chimney's not falling down (don't know why), but I'm afraid whatever is causing it will continue. We have a recent gas furnace that vents through PVC out the basement, the only thing that vents through the chimney is our gas hot water heater. We had the chimney inspected 2 years ago when we bought the house and were advised to get a liner if we wanted to use it for a stove or fireplace, but of course he couldn't see these bricks b/c they were covered up.
What can I do? I tried to talk to my husband about it but he was so mad at me for finding it I didn't get very far. We are up to our ears in debt already and can't afford a project. I called the local chimney guy to come and look at it later this week but would love to hear what you all think in the meantime. Right now I just want to stop it from getting worse so we can fix it properly down the line. OK I'm putting the crowbar away now, I swear it!
 
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Old 01-20-13, 01:12 PM
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Well, you aren't going to "fix" it to where it was back before the war of northern aggression, I can assure you. From what I can see it is stable, but I can't see it all. For aesthetics you may want to remove all the framing, parge coat the brick and stucco the exterior, trimming the top and bottom where it meets the floor and ceiling.
 
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Old 01-20-13, 02:20 PM
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Thanks Chandler
I doubt it was cannon fire that did it here in Cranbury NJ
I like the idea of stucco-ing it to hold the surface together but what about my wood stove someday?
Also what does "parge coat" mean, please? & any thoughts on what could have caused the bricks to go all flakey?
Megan
 
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Old 01-20-13, 03:30 PM
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Hey, Megan, Probably not cannon fire, but old age. Doing a cosmetic job on the outside of the brick won't prohibit the insertion of a liner in the chimney for a future stove installation, so no worries, there.

The "parging" basically will be a coat to bring all the boogers to a levelness so you can apply a smooth coat of stucco. I am not a professional in the stucco area, and didn't stay anywhere near a Holiday Inn last night, but we have guys on the forum that can impart a good bit of knowledge in that area. If they haven't checked in within a few hours, I'll send a message to one to check in and offer what they can. Stay tuned. We're here and I hope we can get it rolling for you.
 
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Old 01-20-13, 06:06 PM
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Will do, heres a visual update in the meantime..
Thanks
Megan
 
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Old 01-21-13, 01:00 AM
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Sorry, but I don't agree that a parge coat will make everything better and allow you to use the chimney on into perpetuity. Older, fired bricks were notorious for varying in quality, and yours look like they came from the bottom of the quality list. The insides of the bricks are most certainly in worse shape than the outside. If it were mine, I'd try venting the water heater directly to the roof (possibly coming up in a separate chase, or next to the chimney, if space permits), and then methodically remove the chimney (brick-by-brick). I'm guessing it's in far worse shape up on the roof where it's been exposed to the elements.

Really nothing too expensive involved, if you DIY. And hubby ought to be grateful for you and your crowbar (unless you sleep with it).

And regarding "northern aggression"--Chandler, you lost the war (and the election). Get over it. In case you forgot, you're living in the UNITED States of America.
 
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Old 01-21-13, 04:21 AM
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Bridgeman, unless you forgot you history, in 1862 there was no United States, and that was the premise of the comment. We lost nothing but a way of life, in both instances, but that isn't for this thread, please.

I do believe dismantling this chimney, unless, as I said in the first post, we can't see it all, including the top, will be a bit much at this stage. If the external part is worse off due to weather, then certainly there must be some changes made and dismantling may be in the offing.

I see nothing wrong for the short term, say 20 years or so, for the chimney to be used as a chase for the water heater. You're talking a lot of work to undo something that has been standing for a long time. Disturbing part of it will certainly decrease the beauty of a possibly nice looking fireplace on the main floor. And where do you stop??

When time comes for the fireplace or stove insert, then a decision may need to be made as to whether it needs rebuilding, or whether an external chase would benefit.

The parging and stucco I mentioned is not to make it better, but to make it "look" better than it does now, and I believe that is what Megan is looking for.

Megan, you have two sides of the story, and that is what I was hoping for. If we can help any further, let us know.
 
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Old 01-21-13, 06:39 AM
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Who could ask for anything more? I will keep you apprised of the situation as it develops...
thanks gentlemen
Megan
 
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Old 01-21-13, 10:27 AM
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I would add one item to the discussion (I will try to avoid the politics). The condition of the top of the chimney must be assessed to determine if you have big problems there that are traveling down the chimney. The deterioration of the bricks could be as simple as age but it could also be moisture.

You could be taking in a lot of water at the roof that could damage the brick and continue to do so. If this is the issue you should address this problem first.

You could also be seing a collection of moisture within the stack due to a lower amount of warm moist air traveling up a stack which is now possibly oversized for what it is being asked to vent. With only a water heater to vent there may not be enough draft to get the warm moist air up and out of the chimney like it would have functioned in the past when a furnace or wood stoves were also exhausting thru this stack. Even if you have a draft inducer fan on the water heater you could be getting moisture build-up in the stack that is making the deterioration of the brick worse than it should be. Bridgeman may be right about rerouting the water heater vent. Or you could drop a smaller vent down the stack (assuming it is a straight run). This could slow or even stop the deterioration of the brick.

Or it may just be old and you may just be screwed. Sorry but sometimes that is just the way it is with old buildings.
 
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Old 01-25-13, 10:34 AM
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update on our chimney saga

thanks for that last addition. I had a visit from some local chimney guys yesterday; attaching more pictures. It's hard to tell because it's mostly covered with plaster but the top photo is the basement view of the bottom of the chimney. That galvanized cylinder projecting out of it is a sort of plug you can pull out to clean it out (well not anymore, the chimney sweep kindly sealed it up with furnace cement while he was here) As for the dissolving bricks they diagnosed both of the causes you all suspected:
1) the lack of liner or other warm air source besides the hot water heater inside the chimney causing condensation (The guy who actually did the climbing said he could see a layer of ice down the inside of the chimney)
2) poor water barrier around the chimney where it hits the roof
(the black sheet you can see on the roof shot of the chimney has a bead of caulk by way of sealant)
I'm posting a copy of the estimate. What do you think of the repairs they suggest? (Sticker shock warning; east coast prices!) These guys seemed to know what they were doing, I asked for a rundown of what was involved in the "reflash chimney" part and got a blow by blow, clearly from someone who had done it a few times, he said it's an all day job. I'm wondering if copper is necessary, that can't make it any cheaper... There's no way we can afford to do both jobs right now, unless we can simplify it somehow.
I mentioned I was someday hoping to use the chimney for a woodstove or fireplace and he seemed to think it would be too narrow, even without the water heater venting in there (someday I want a tankless water heater too, but that's a whole different forum)
Hope this is as interesting to everyone as it is to me!
Megan
 
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Old 01-25-13, 10:54 AM
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I believe your first course of action would be to stop the exterior leaks, if any, then move on to the liner. Do you still use the antenna for TV reception? Some people still do, but if it isn't necessary, I would ditch it at the same time. I can't objectively comment on the pricing of the job(s), since they are not in my area.
 
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Old 01-25-13, 11:46 AM
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Being inside the home, I would check with your insurance company before making any plans to use it.
I know here (Ontario Canada), an interior chimney for wood burning can raise your insurance a lot and or force you to find a new company.

I have a similar situation with an interior chimny. I would love to put (back) in a fireplace in the dinning room and bedrooms the chimney passes through, but I by far can't afford the insurance premiums that would come with this. I'll be removing mine someday, brick by brick. Toss the bricks down the middle of the chimny and remove them from the access port in the basement. I'll be replacing the chimny with a laundry shoot.
 
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Old 01-25-13, 02:21 PM
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In general I would agree with Chandler if you can see obvious exterior leaks. If not then I would do the liner first and exterior flashing later.

If the stack is condensing it can also be a sign that it is not venting properly. This could (please do not freak out because this is only a remote possibility) mean that you are getting a buildup of exhaust fumes. I can not tell from the pictures but it looks like a smoke detector in the basement, which is a good idea. I would also get a CO detector if you do not have one.

I don't know about the cost because that is a regional thing but it didn't really shock me that much. As for copper flashing: do you want to live a long life? then use copper. Of course the key is not the material but the detailing. The brick should be cut to allow the copper to be set back into the wall (& sealed) and not simply plastered to the side of the brick with a bead of sealant along the top.
 
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Old 01-26-13, 11:41 AM
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Thanks everybody. I hadn't thought about the insurance that's a good point. By the way I'm not expecting anybody to weigh in on prices, I'm more wanting to see what thoughts are on if the solution they are suggesting is reasonable since I have no idea. (Although I like to think I would have figured out tacking a piece of tarpaper onto the side of the chimney with caulk would not be the way to go...)
Oh and we do have one CO detector but it's up by the bedrooms, I will put one in the basement too, no wonder we're all such heavy sleepers!
 
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