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  1. #1
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    Default How To Ruin a Fireplace

    This one's for you Bob. A Drexel Hill special from my afternoon inspection.

    The sellers disclosed to the buyers that they do not get good draw on the fireplace and sometimes get smoke backing up into the house.

    Picture number 1 (not a great pic) shows the flue for the oil-fired boiler and fireplace both lined and capped with the same flexible steel liner and cap.

    Picture number 6 shows cracking on the breast of the fireplace in the same outline of the exterior chimney.

    Picture number 8 shows efflorescence coming through the bricks inside the firebox.

    And last but not least, the cherry on top of it all. Picture number 7 reveals an unsecured damper door that will not close properly and that has no handle to open or close it, and a flue throat that has been more than halfway bricked and mortared shut so they could install the same flue liner materials they used for the oil-fired boiler. The sealed area to the side of the new liner was flat and had a concave section.

    I told the buyer the fireplace may very well have been ruined and cannot be used.

    You might get a call from this buyer Bob. I told them you were in Drexel Hill too.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    Gee whiz, Nick, I don't see how you got that first photo at all, what with such a steep roof! And no shingles on the right side, either! You must be Spider Man!

    "There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception." -James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)
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  3. #3
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    Question Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    I'd also like to know what's going on at the back-side of that roof and just how did you get that shot?

    Jerry McCarthy
    Building Code/ Construction Consultant

  4. #4
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    Jerry, it's easy to scale those steep sections when you have easy walk up access like this.....

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  5. #5
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    Nick, dang it. We could have milked this thing for a lot longer!

    "There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception." -James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)
    www.ArnoldHomeInspections.com

  6. #6
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    John, I did it for Jerry's own good. I didn't want him to get too curious and try anything that might get himself hurt .


  7. #7
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    Unhappy Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    I recommend they get a sheet of tempered glass and silicone it to the face of the brick, fill it with water then stock it with fish.

    Using my Internet tape rule, I figured if they used a round liner instead of a rectilinear low aspect/ ratio liner for a 30"x30" opening, the liner would need to be 10" in diameter plus the insulation around it required for the listing. This appears to be an uninsulated 6" liner. The smoke chamber offset is quite common around here and great for forcing smoke out the Fp even if it is parged. The damper can be blown out and replaced with a top damper once the liner is sized and installed correctly but I doubt they have enough room. The hearth extension is way undersized and is a "floating hearth". The chimney needs a cricket along with proper flashing, repointing, and be extended for starters.

    Here are some realistic repair options:
    a) for woodburning- install a listed woodstove with listed liner and floor protection. No way to make open Fp acceptable without major surgery to wood floor. Even if you Rumford-ized the Fp so it qualified for a 20:1 sizing ration, the hearth extension is still a problem.
    b) gas- direct vent insert. Depending upon options, btw $4-5K installed including gas line.
    c) pellet- insert stove. again, about $4-5K installed
    d) see aquarium above

    I'd love to know who did this and have an idea. Any pics of those termination caps? Any change you saw a Z-flex sticker on them?

    Chainsaw Charlie strikes again...

    Keep the fire in the fireplace.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    There were plenty of other issues present that you touched on Bob. I just hit the highlights. In addition to what you mentioned, I saw.........

    - no door to ash dump clanout in basement
    - deteriorated brick debris inside cleanout and beneath ash dump door on floor of firebox
    - throat of flue above firebox coated with mortar which was cracked and deteriorating
    - damaged mortar joints between firebox bricks

    As for the termination caps Bob, look at the picture in this thread that shows the entire roof with the chimney off to the left. You'll see the caps there.

    I'm going to recommend that the buyer get the boiler flue checked out as well. The boiler flue and fireplace flue appear to have been redone at the same time by the same butcher. They sealed up the cleanout access beneath the boiler flue pipe in the basement.


  9. #9
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    Cool Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    I tried blowing the photo up but still can't make out the mfr. based on my memory.

    It appears they cemented the liners into the flue tiles then installed storm collars, which may actually be approved by the liner mfr.

    There is a gray area regarding cleanouts. Once a chimney is relined, why do you need a cleanout? Cleanouts are for planned failure. They provide a space to collect parts of the flue as they break loose and fall down. Once a listed liner is installed, what is there to break loose? If the liner is full of oil soot, you want to know this. Allowing it to fill a cleanout instead of manifesting at the appliance or barometric damper just prolongs the problem.

    Lord knows what else is going on with this installation.

    Give them my number if they want me to look.

    Keep the fire in the fireplace.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    "Once a chimney is relined, why do you need a cleanout?"

    Bob, I mentioned the same thing to the buyer. I said that there should be a cleanout access and it appears to have been sealed shut but it may not even be needed since the chimney was relined with a steel liner.

    What are your thoughts regarding cracks on the breast above a masonry fireplace? Is this indicative of an overheating issue or related to some other defect with the installation?


  11. #11
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    Bob, What is meant by a "floating hearth".


  12. #12
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    Cool Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    Nick, we refer to the breast as that front portion of the masonry rising from the lintel up behind the mantel header. You can refer to the area above the mantel as an "overmantel", which is actually the term for those ornate mantels on top of mantels.

    If heat caused cracks up there, you have larger issues. I guess it is possible but not likely. If enough heat got up there to cause cracks in a wall, it would have ignited the wall first. Since we didn't build this Fp we don't know what lurks behind that wall finish. Is there wood mortared into the masonry that has moved? Was there a small fire that extinguished itself and the weakened wall moved? Who knows. My guess would be shifting framing or water damage first. Remember, this chimney does not have a cricket, needs repointing, and recently had a hatchet flashing job. I'll bet they had leaks and that flashing is covering at least 3 more flashing repairs under it.

    IF that was an 8x8 flue for the Fp, it was undersized from day 1.

    the crown is shot and needs to be rebuilt or at least coated.

    Neal, a "floating hearth" is the norm around Philly. You build the fireplace with a cutout in the floor framing for the hearth extension. Then, you make forms, usually of 1x2 scraps forming a cantilever that is not attached to the chimney proper. It abuts the chimney. All that mortar and tile is supported by a few sticks. If you stand on that hearth extension, you may drop through the floor like Agent Maxwell Smart. To correct this, I've blown out the HX, drilled into the foundation wall, dowelled in rebar tied into a cage, formed up plywood, poured a cantilever of high psi glass fiber reinforced concrete. Once it has set up, the forms are removed from underneath per NFPA 211. I then install the finished hearth extension such as marble bedded in thinset. Haven't had one to crack yet. I've attached pics from both an old house and new construction. These forms must be removed per 211.

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    Keep the fire in the fireplace.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: How To Ruin a Fireplace

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Harper View Post
    There is a gray area regarding cleanouts. Once a chimney is relined, why do you need a cleanout? Cleanouts are for planned failure.
    Seen Royal Edwards article in "Sweeping" this month? He writes, "What this all means is (referring to a list of codes/standards he cites in the article), simply pulling the flex liner around the 90 degree bend at the thimble is not correct. A cleanout should be provided." (Readers - Royal Edwards is the NCSG Technical Director, and Sweeping is the NCSG trade mag)

    Royal's article had me confused, until I saw your comment above, and realized others were wondering the exact same thing - why the heck do you need a cleanout. But, it would appear Royal is recommending one be installed. Is that your take?


  14. #14
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    Cool NFPA 7.1.4 Cleanout openings

    AS I said, this is a gray area. The code, as written, did not take into account listed metallic liners. They have only been around since about 1980 with the advent of Ventinox. The cleanout was conceived because chimneys would rot so they figured they needed a place for the debris to collect. Most chimneys use a "chimney connector" for heating appliances, which means a metallic pipe shoved into the chimney laterally and, by code, cemented in place. Since no one wanted to disturb this joint if at all possible, the compromise was the cleanout. It provided a trash can to collect debris including large chunks of flue tile as the chimney failed. It also provided a limited means of inspection. However, it also encouraged everybody to leave the chimney connector in place until is rusted out or plugged up from a flue collapse. By then, the occupants were giddy from months or years of breathing those fumes.

    Once metallic liners were available, the threat of flue collapse dropped off enough to where it is a rarity indeed. The codes still require annual inspection as do the heating appliance mfrs. If these annual inspections take place, what can happen inside a flue that requires a cleanout. BTW, in order to get back into the cleanout and make a 90 degree turn, it can be extremely difficult to do, even with special equipment. A metallic liner, on the other hand is a piece of cake to sweep if installed "hockey stick" fashion. Disconnect the chimney connector, make provision to control dust, ash, and debris, then flog away. The wide radius bend easily guides the brush around and up the flue. You also don't have unswept corners the way you can with cleanouts so you get more.

    The wide radius bend flows much better due to the lower static pressure versus a tee with a 90degree snout. Even if you use a tee in your liner, it will be much more difficult to reach all the areas and sweep. The cost may be much higher if there never was a cleanout and you chisel out room for the tee base then add a separate access door. In 211, it addresses an 18" clearance off the door because 211 is anticipating hot coals or gases in direct contact with this door. With a liner, the door will be usually 2-3 feet away from a liner that encases the heat and gases so where's the hazard? When cleaning a flue with a clean out, you still need to disconnect the chimney connector so it isn't obstructed but you now have the cleanout to deal with versus all in one shot.

    If you follow the codes as far as annual inspection and service as needed, then why the cleanout. Even with the cleanout on oil, if the burner if whacked out and gunking the unit up with oil soot, the bulk of the soot may fall down into the cleanout instead of backing up triggering a service call. If anything, 211 should call for primary safety controls on relief openings such as draft hoods and barometric dampers that are interlocked to the control. which I recommend.

    There are many other aspects in the code under Masonry Chimneys that do not pertain to relined chimneys. What it means is we have created a technology that has no recognized category in 211.

    Section 7.2.2.3 states that when listed liners are installed, they should be installed in accordance with their listing. The listing takes precedence over the code, which was written for applications where there is no appropriate listing. If a liner mfr. states it is ok to install their liner as a "pull-through" or, as I call it, "hockey stick" and the AHJ agrees with me, then you do Not need a cleanout.

    NFPA 31 for oil burning equipment has some rather specific venting requirements on top of referring to 211. Absent from all those detailed requirements is any mention of cleanouts, whether in masonry chimneys, factory built chimneys, or L vent. If it was required with liners or other metallic vents, why is it conspicuously absent here? 31 does discuss allowing a thimble permanently cemented into the breeching with high temperature cement to facilitate the removal of the chimney connector for cleaning. Again, in 31 section 6.5.11 it states "the chimney connector shall be installed to minimize the number of elbows and to avoid sharp turns or other construction features that might create excessive resistance to the flow of flue gases." The 90 degree bend in a tee is about as much sharp turn, elbow, and resistance as you can get.

    The liner companies would love to be able to require you to buy a tee with each kit but they can't because it is not required by the listing. I have spoken with several liner mfrs. and UL on this several times.

    I do not get a subscription to that publication because it requires membership in the National Chimney Sweep Guild, which I currently elect not to join.

    Jim, could you provide me with a transcript of that article?

    HTH,
    Bob

    Keep the fire in the fireplace.

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