Chimney Removal, Part 1

Prominently located in the center of the house is the chimney. For the last hundred and sixteen years it served boilers, hot water heaters, and at some point stoves on each floor. One by one these things have been removed and replaced with direct vent appliances. Direct vent appliances are not only more energy efficient, they’re also necessary when the house is air tight, as we hope ours will be once everything is spray foamed, taped, and caulked. Air tight houses can experience negative air pressure, which on a regular flue can cause backdrafts that force exhaust into the house. In a direct vent appliance, the combustion air and exhaust are piped in and out with PVC through the wall. As a result, the chimney becomes superfluous.

Chimney on first floor

Back when I developed the floor plans, I realized that the chimney needed to go. It’s central location was handy for all of the things that used it, but now it’s smack in the middle of what will be our new kitchen. Since we’re starting work on the subfloor, with all the rest of the framing to follow, it’s time to take it out. That means we start at the top and work our way down.

The top is obviously up on the roof. I’m very fond of climbing, and starting from an early age I’ve been going onto roofs. Not long after we bought our house I got up on the roof of the back porch, and that’s when I realized how steep our roof is. It’s also very high up. With a half-exposed basement and ten-foot ceilings in both floors, the eaves of the roof are more than 25 feet up and the pitch is 12/12, also known as 45°. As a result, I hadn’t been on the roof until recently. I figured out I could climb up the edge, using the old DirectTV dish as a foothold to get to the hip where the roof slopes down at the center of the gable. From there I could get up to the peak and scoot along it to the chimney.

I realized that while I could get up there, I obviously couldn’t do it carrying shingles and bricks. Not only that, between the roof activity, the attic, and even the second floor portions of the project, we’d need a way to shuttle bricks down and materials and tools up. The old window counterweights and the accompanying pulleys struck me as the perfect solution. I built a double bucket pulley system so that there would always be one bucket down and one bucket up, reducing idle time for both the person up top and the person down below.

Bucket pulley

Bucket pulley

Sunday, Sarah, her dad Mike, and I took out the portion of the chimney above the roof, starting with the large blocks and working down with a hammer and brick chisel until it was below the roof line, then patching up the hole with boards, plywood, tar paper, and shingles. The shingles were leftovers from when the roof was redone, sometime before we bought the house. As a result they were brittle and hard to work with. That combined with my inexperience and the nature of patch work meant it was an ugly job, but it should be water tight until we properly redo the roof.

Yesterday evening, with the bucket pulley moved indoors, we got to work removing the angled section of bricks in the attic. Not surprisingly it went much faster than the roof work, with the whole thing removed in a few hours. The bucket pulley continued to work well, taking down about six bricks per load, with Mike breaking off chunks of mortar and stacking them in the first floor until we can get it hauled out to the back yard.

As we continue to move down, the second floor is next. That will be a bit more involved, since we’ll have to work around living space and not make too much mess, plus repair things when we’re done. We’ve managed to avoid having to work in the second floor for the most part, but it can’t be completely avoided. That work is slated for next weekend.

 

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