Removing a Chimney

Every wonder what Santa Claus does in July? Apparently, he soothes his obsession with chimneys by removing their caps.

Santa AKA Ron the neighbour who knows everything about chimneys
Santa AKA Ron the neighbour who knows everything about chimneys

Seriously, though, Ron-the-neighbour-across-the-street has helped us more than I can say. With his guidance, I felt confident enough to make the decision to lift at least part of the fireplace chimney so that we could preserve the brickwork of the fireplace inside. Most of the time when a house is lifted, the chimney is completely removed and that means the fireplace, too.

Ron is also the guy who builds the Hammond Community Libraries and donates them to the first Hammondite who volunteers to be a librarian. There are four branches now.

Ron let me borrow his scaffolding and showed me how to put it together. Then last Thursday he appeared at the top of it and removed the steel cap. Together we lifted the concrete top piece up an off. Then he lent me his masoner’s hammer and a couple of chisels and showed me how to knock the bricks off.

It looked like this:

We thought long and hard about what to do about the fireplace chimney on our house. I told you all about it but it came down to this:

On one hand, it looks great

On the other hand, it’s a big hole in the envelope of the house that lets heat escape

On the one hand, we can have a nice fire and heat our home with wood we scrounge for free

On the other hand, that is a very inefficient way to heat a house (most of the heat goes up the chimney even with our super-efficient wood-burning insert)

On the one hand, we didn’t have to buy any oil last winter

On the other hand, burning wood releases greenhouse gases, too, as well as particulates that cause health issues and smog

The chimney from inside the basement. That concrete slab above is of a piece with the fireplace. Chimney goes, fireplace goes!
The chimney from inside the basement. That concrete slab above is of a piece with the fireplace. Chimney goes, fireplace goes!

It comes down to personal preference, but it’s clear that chimneys do not belong in a modern, energy efficient house. I used to have the attitude that a heritage house is never going to be efficient so it’s a waste of time doing more than we did in 2008. Now I believe that every home must be made as efficient as possible no matter what their age, and tearing down the old ones to build new ones usually results in more greenhouse gas emissions, not less.

The compromise with the chimney was to remove the chimney down to the “shoulder” and expect someday to rebuild it for looks, if not function. The smaller the chimney, the easier (and cheaper) to lift the house and the better we can insulate the exterior wall. We’ll put an electric simulated fire unit in the hearth and hope we don’t pine for the wood heat too much. Compromise.

As the bricks were removed, most of them quite easily, the wall behind them was revealed. What was between the chimney and the triangular attic space at the front of the house was a rigid, rust-coloured type of canvas with gaps across it and all around the edges.

Ron spotted immediately that the bricks above the roofline were different (and inferior) to the original brickwork that remained below. The upper portion had been rebuilt with bricks from the 60s. The mortar would not come off them easily, he predicted and he was right.

The newer bricks are also grooved on the exterior and stamped with “HANEY BRICK & TILE” on the other side. That local company started before 1923 when the house was built, so I’m pretty sure the original bricks came from Haney, too, but I suppose they didn’t start stamping their name on them until later.

By the way, if you are burning wood in your fireplace, make sure it has a liner like the one Dave-the-father-in-law showed me how to install in 2008. The pieces were rivetted together which meant I had to drill them out. The black soot on the inside of the brick is from previous fires. Stuff can build up on the inside and then catch fire.

I was relieved to see that the spray foam insulation that was injected into the walls recently filled these cavities better than the ones I uncovered last week. However, it was impossible to spray into the space behind the chimney as you can see here. We’ll be able to do much better now. We’ll even be able to inject insulation down into the space between the remaining chimney and the living room.

When chimneys were built on to houses, it was because they were necessary. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be a natural evolution to simply leave the chimney off the house? This one, however, served only the fireplace which only heated the living room. Three sides are exposed to air which means it loses more heat. I think it would be against the spirit (if not the letter) of our Heritage Revitalization Agreement to do anything less than rebuild the entire chimney from authentic period bricks.

One chimney down, one to go.
One chimney down, one to go.

The central chimney which served the furnace, on the other hand…

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

2 thoughts on “Removing a Chimney”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *