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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Historic Chimney Restoration Work

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 and masons 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, not only for aesthetics but for Historic Preservation guidelines, which is outside the scope of standard modern masonry training. 
The Olson Home in Marshall, MO
The mason you hire for the project must have OSHA approved scaffolding and fall protection, which unfortunately, many contractors don't have.  Working on tall chimneys is not for everyone - so you want to work with a contractor who is used to working at heights.
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.

Close up of one chimney on the Olson home
Homeowners 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. Older chimneys often did not have flue liners installed, which are code requirements.  Other requirements are dampers and the smoke chamber must be parge coated with insulating mortar.

Tips for planning historic chimney restoration:
- 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 when hiring a chimney contractor are National Fireplace Institute Certifications in Wood and/or Gas.  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 for at least ten minutes without failing.
- 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 or wood-burning appliance installation. The Rumford fireplace was designed in the 1700's by Count Rumford and is very efficient, and clean burning. This open fireplace actually produces heat and is very efficient.  You can find a Rumford fireplace builder at www.rumford.com.  The Bellfires fireplace is a pre-cast product designed after the Rumford and is manufactured by Sleepy Hollow Chimney Supply.  Sleepy Hollow only sells to dealers so you'll need to find a local dealer to do the 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 have 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.

Links with more information:
Midwest Chimney Safety Council: www.mcsc-net.org (The MCSC does historic chimney restoration seminars)
Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association: www.hpba.org (find a list of certified installers and list of manufacturer websites here)
Chimney Safety Institute of America: www.csia.org (list of Certified Chimney Sweeps)
Thelin period look Wood and Gas freestanding stoves: www.thelinco.com - and find a list of dealers on their site
Hearthstone period look gas fireplace inserts: www.hearthstonestoves.com - and find a list of dealers on their site

26 comments:

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