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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hire a Qualified Specialty Contractor for Historic Chimney Restoration Work

By Marge Padgitt

Most homeowners and contractors are not aware that training in Historic Chimney and Fireplace restoration is limited, and there are very few masons and/or chimney contractors who do this type of work across the U.S. Many contractors are not aware of the International Residential Code requirements or NFPA 211 Standards for Chimneys and Fireplaces – or that each city has its own set of rules. Additionally, the original look of the exterior chimney and fireplace must be retained, which is outside the scope of standard masonry training. Historic masonry style, bricks, and mortar – are much different now than they were in the 1700′s and 1800′s. The main difference is that lime mortar was used with very thin “butter” joints. The mortar was often dyed to match the bricks for a more pleasing appearance. Typically, chimneys were built with “Little Reds” style bricks, which are still available in limited supply from brickyards that keep historic bricks on hand. These bricks are no longer made.
Gene Padgitt at work on an 1880s Victorian chimneyHomeowners should also be aware that the structure must be brought up to current codes and standards before attempting to use a fireplace. This is required by code at the time of sale of any residential property.

Following are some tips for homeowners:
- Hire a professional chimney inspector to inspect all chimneys, flues, fireplaces, wood stoves, or gas appliances once a year and at the time of purchase of a home. Home inspectors do not normally get the necessary training in this area that Chimney Safety Institute of America Certified Chimney Sweeps do. Home Inspectors do not normally have the proper equipment to perform an adequate chimney inspection. The interior of chimneys cannot be evaluated with the naked eye, so a Chim-Scan camera is used.
- Get recommendations for repair options from the chimney inspector, who will also likely do repair work. Be sure to check credentials and insurance. Other credentials to look for in an inspector are National Fireplace Institute Certifications in Wood and/or Gas. Some inspectors are also Fire Investigators. Ask to see samples of their work and a list of references where work on historic chimneys was performed.
- The item most often needed when doing historic chimney restoration work is a chimney flue liner. Liners are required by code and must be a U.L. listed and/or approved product. Types of flue liners vary from stainless steel, custom stainless steel, and Ceramic poured systems (as seen on This Old House). Clay tile liners are generally no longer used in restoration work due to the difficulty in getting them installed properly and the fact that there is no warranty on the materials by the manufacturers. Clay tiles break when chimney fires occur, whereas stainless steel or ceramic flue liners can withstand temperatures up to 2100 degrees without failing.
1880's Victorian chimney completed- Look for a contractor who has experience in building Rumford fireplaces or installing Bellfires fireplaces if you want an open wood-burning fireplace, or someone experienced in gas appliance installation.
- Look for a contractor who is specifically skilled in historic masonry restoration and ask to see photos of their work and references.
- Your city may also require that the contractor has a Master Mechanical License. Ask for proof of this license. The contractor must pull the permit for the work in most cases.

-There are many options for historic fireplace restoration available now, including historic style mantels, open historic yet functional Rumford style fireplaces, historic look wood stove inserts and freestanding stoves, and closed direct vent gas fireplaces with an historic look.

- As with any contractor, ask for certificates of insurance for Worker’s Comp and Liability, proof of any Certifications, MM License and work samples.

Marge Padgitt is available to present a lecture called Historic Chimney and Fireplace Restoration, which is popular among historc preservation and homeowner associations.  Contact Marge at 816-461-3665 or

Links for more information:
Midwest Chimney Safety Council:
Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association:
Chimney Safety Institute of America:
Thelin period look Wood and Gas freestanding stoves:
Hearthstone period look gas fireplace inserts:

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