Damp ash pit


Old 02-09-01, 03:15 PM
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I recently discovered that past owners of my 75 year old house never bothered to empty the ash pit located in the chimney base directly under my first floor fireplace. (Note: the brick chimney is attached to the side of the house). I spent quite a bit of time excavating the pit with a hand trowel through the 9 square access door in the basement. The total cavity that was filled with compacted ashes was about 36 cubic feet (3w* 2d*6tall). I noticed that the ashes were slightly damp (clumpy) in much of the cavity (thus preventing me from excavating with a Wet Vac) and were downright moist/wet near the floor of the pit. I had suspected a moisture issue because the interior faces of the bricks were a bit flaky/powdery when I bought the house. This suspicion was confirmed this morning, after heavy rain when I found water seeping into the ash pit from the outside apparently through the floor of the pit. The floor of the ash pit which is about 8 lower than the basement floor & about 6 below the outside grade and appears to be brick) was covered with about 1/2 of water.

NOW MY QUESTIONS/CONCERNS> Should I be overly concerned with occasional seepage into the pit? Should I simply keep the ash pits access door open and allow this (and future seepage) to dissipate on its own? Im resigned to the idea that Ill never use the ash pit to collect ashes because the moisture makes it a mess. Im wondering if I should place a Simmer(?) type pump in there permanently which is designed to skim water off a floor and pump it via a garden hose to a drain. My concern with that idea is that I dont think those pumps can operate automatically and there would never be enough water lever to use a standard sump pump.

As for stopping the water from getting to the pit my concrete driveway runs right along the chimney and house foundation. Although it could be better pitched - water only occasionally puddles up against the chimney as it did during the recent heavy rains. Im not certain that slab jacking is a viable or affordable option.

Thoughts or suggestions?
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Old 02-09-01, 11:10 PM
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Being overly concerned is not how I would put it but corrective actions are in order. Your comment "the
interior faces of the bricks were a bit flaky/powdery when I bought the house" are signs of more advanced deterioration. Slight dampness can be expected, but making potash using the ash dump over an extended period of time wasn't wise (a result of neglect).

A general suggestion is to seal the exterior brickwork below grade (possibly a bismuth coating). Under the circumstances it would involve saw cutting a section of driveway, (enough for the excavation to proceed), removing it, then patching in afterward. As a side thought it might be possible to add a carefully planned but rather ugly curb (of x height & width and of concrete or brick) next to the chimney sealing between the two with swimming pool poly or another waterproof flexible material. It's just a thought. Eliminating low spots and/or planting beds is a plus also.

Hire a licensed mason to inspect things and make recommendations (sealers, tuckpointing, etc.). If you do the excavation yourself time the inspection to coincide with the exposed brick.
Old 02-10-01, 01:34 PM
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Thanks 2000 for the reply.

Last night - after a day of more rain - the water had risen to 3". I went to Home Depot today and picked up a "Flotec" pump that is designed to pump out to a fraction of an inch or so - along with a pump control/alarm that has two sensor probes. The first probe will kick the pump on when it senses water and the second probe (which is placed higher than the first prope) will sound an alrm if water reaches it.

My plan was to place this little pump into the ash pit along with the control device - to keep the water from ever gettin too high to make it into the basement as well as to speed-up the drying process. Well by the time I got home with the pump - the water had all dissipated. So now I 'm thinking the pump and sensor might be overkill. There are no signs that water has ever built uo enough to make it into the basement. But since we just carpeted - Murphy's Law may make us err on the side of caution.

The idea of excavating is good. I think that I'll monitir the situation for now as I'm a few years away from driveway replacement. If I can hold off till then though - I'll certainly follow your suggestion. The problem may still occur however if - as I suspect - the water is coming up through the floor of the pit - as the pit is the lowest open cavity in the area. If that's truly the case then maybe I shovel in a some concrete mix to raise the pit floor about 4" to 5". Hmmm...

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