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Fun with Flues

Yeah, I’ll get back to the Daily Life Schola.  First, let me tell you about my flue liner.  It’s one of those stories that’s going to be funny.  Eventually… 

So last Thursday, Northeastern Chimney arrives at my house nicely within the one hour window we had been given.  They get their stuff out, including the liner, and drag it up to the roof.  Bob got pictures of it laid out in the driveway, and of them getting it up to the roof and down the flue and all that. 







It's a big chimney...



There's the top gutter that we hate cleaning.

Very exciting.  Until… 

It seems that our boiler chimney has a bend in it.  This is not a surprise – the guy who quoted the job noted that, and threw in an extra $100 or so to cover the extra pain and material that a bend in the flue causes.  Apparently in a perfect world where the flue runs vertically from the chimney top to the boiler pipe, all they sometimes have to do is haul it to the roof, set it in the flue, and let go.  If it’s a tight fit – or a bend – there is a rope and a set of vise grips involved. 

They tried that. 

I wasn’t home, so I’m not sure when things went completely pear shaped – I know that it was before 10:30, because I spoke to Bob before I went into the department staff meeting, and they were getting out the jackhammer.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Jackhammer.  It seems that there was some… confusion about where that flue actually IS. 

Let me try to explain, although this doesn’t lend itself well to text.  I have four combustion devices in the house: the boiler (in the basement); the living room fireplace; the dining room fireplace, and the woodstove (in the kitchen).  This means that there are four flues running up my chimney, and obviously four holes up on the stack on the roof, forming the four corners of a nice neat square.  Here’s where it gets complicated – concentrate. 

If you draw a line splitting the house into a north half and a south half: 

The living room fireplace is on the north side of the line (facing north).  The woodstove is on the south side of the line (facing south).  The dining room fireplace is probably sitting right on the line (facing southwestish), and more to the west then the other two items.  The boiler is in the basement and definitely on the south side of the line.  My guess is that it's a bit to the east of the woodstove.  But it is definitely on the south side of the line.  This little factoid becomes important in a bit.  Now, my chimney stack as seen from the air is square.  Hence the bend in the flue – the appliances are kind of spread out in more of a rectangular fashion.  Things are going to have to angle over in order to consolidate into one neat square.  So far, so good.  The boys go up onto the roof to play “identify the flue.”  Two of them are easy, because I have lock top dampers on the two fireplaces.  I’m not sure what the sequence of events was that lead to the request to pop open the lock top on the living room fireplace to determine which was which, but apparently the next sequence of conversation was “no – the *living room* fireplace.”  “That IS the living room fireplace.”  They popped the damper on the north side fireplace… and the south side damper popped up.  I believe that is when they got out the jackhammer and went looking for the boiler flue. 

First they took out two bricks up by the ceiling on a little eastern wall just inside the living room. 



That gave them a look at the top of the smoke box for the fireplace – and you can just barely see the fireplace flue angling away to the west.  That’s when Bob called me.  Next they opened up the little south facing wall that is just to the east of the woodstove.  It’s bigger than I drew it.  They took out two bricks at about crotch height, and lo and behold – they broke through into the boiler flue.  Except… the boiler flue is no longer there once it’s another three feet higher.  If it was, we would have been able to see it through the first hole – and it wasn’t there. 

This is about when I got home.  All of the furniture has been moved around, there are tarps everywhere, there is a flue liner half in and half out of my chimney, and there are holes in my kitchen and living room walls.  Holes in the brick, made by a jackhammer. 

The cats, by the way, were not amused.

 

They had just gotten back from lunch when I got home, and at that point they dropped a weight to bang on the flue and try to figure out where it went in the wall.  They were very surgical about it.  On that same kitchen wall they went a few feet up, a few bricks to the left, and got out the jackhammer again.  This hole was bigger, and they hit the flue again.  It had traveled about a foot or so to the west, and if you got up on the ladder with a flashlight and looked into the hole you could see it also shooting off to the north.  Here’s the problem – someplace higher and deeper into that wall, that flue apparently makes close to a ninety degree bend to shoot up and go vertical to get to the roof.  Stainless steel flue liner doesn’t DO ninety degree bends.  It can bend, but not that much. 

So apparently what is happening is this.  The boiler flue comes up from the basement.  Shortly after it clears the floor joists, it starts to pitch towards the west.  The living room fireplace flue bends to the west pretty much immediately.  About a foot or so down from the ceiling, the boiler flue heads north, the fireplace flue heads south, and presumably at some point they cross.  At some other point they both pitch to vertical and head to the roof, having changed positions. 

This summarizes as: my flues are fucked up. 

We think the masons were drunk at the time.  It’s the only possible explanation, because it was more work to make it this screwed up than it would have been to do it right (why am I hearing the theme music for “Holmes on Homes” in my head?  I seriously, seriously need Mike and his crew in my house right now.  Unfortunately, things that good don’t happen to me.)  We all agreed that we want a time machine so that we can go back thirty years and say some version of “dude – what the FUCK?”  I think that the two techs from Northeastern Chimney also have some ideas involving baseball bats.  Of course, they have some ideas about beating the snot out of the guy who quoted the job, too, even though there really wasn’t any way to know what was happening in there. 

I mean, we’ve had no problems with the boiler.  The fireplace draws beautifully.  People have commented on how well it draws.  They sweep all those flues every year, and they’ve swept them thoroughly with no problems.  There were no red flags.

I’m afraid to ask what the other two flues are doing.  I really am. 

They tried.  They really did.  But in the end there was no way they could get that liner to negotiate that snaky path.  Finally, they took lots of pictures, and called the boss.  The interim answer was this: they mortared up the holes to make it safe temporarily.  This isn’t heating season, so the boiler is only on when we ask it for hot water (and I have carbon monoxide detectors.)  They cleaned up, and the boss is contacting the manufacturer of the flue liner to see if there is a fitting that they can use to make this work.  Then they put thirty five feet of stainless lining back on the truck and went back to the shop. 

So – it’s going to be more money than anticipated.  How much more, we don’t know.  Hundreds?  Thousands?  No idea.  It *did* need to be done.  I could see soot deposited outside of the flue, which means it was leaking.  I appreciate that they’re not just slapping on a fix and calling it “good enough.”  But… crap. 

One of my fears is that in order to access the bend, they’ll need to go in through the wall closest to it, and it will end up being the living room wall to the west of the living room fireplace.  That wall is not exposed brick – that wall is finished.  On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about taking down the wood on that wall and replacing it with wallboard to make the room brighter.  Maybe I’ll just be doing that sooner than expected…

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Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
pippagrey
May. 26th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
You're right. It will be funny. Someday. Many days from now. Certainly not until the whole thing is fixed, and the bills long, long paid.

I suppose I should be happy that we never got to that point in the house in Norfolk. At least the boiler was right next to the chimney stack, but since we seriously believe that there were at least two flues initially in it (a living room AND a diningroom fireplace), it could have been very interesting..... Though I doubt as interesting as your's. (Is there supposed to be an apostrophe there?)
galingale
May. 26th, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC)
Mother of god. AND her face on a pancake!
I'm good at visualization, and I couldn't follow what was going on. I don't think drunk masons explains anything -- they'd have had to be high.
Was the chimney on the houseplans you inherited? How bad off is it from that?
(Anonymous)
May. 26th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
"Was the chimney on the houseplans you inherited? How bad off is it from that?"

Oh yes the chimney was on the house plans. However the houseplans show a three flue chimney (two fireplaces and furnace). A few alterations occurred during construction which are not notated on the drawings.

Bob
safiya_shirazi
May. 26th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
Wow.... that's (almost) all I can say! I'm still gaping from reading this and I think I'm going to need an advil... So sorry to hear about this! It sounds like someone in the house in the past was a big DIY person. We had a house like that in Arlington a few years ago.

Valerian said that it may be cheaper to direct vent it with a power vent instead of re-doing the flue. These are things I don't understand (I could ask questions, increasing my understanding, but not before my second cup of coffee.) It may be too late based on your description, but it could be something to consider.
(Anonymous)
May. 26th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
Power vent alternative - caution
Having some unpleasant experiences with power vents I feel compelled to offer my 2 cents. Power vents are not covered by any maintenance contracts, last less than 5 years, and tend to fail spectacularly (shutting down all attached systems) under extreme conditions like very cold Friday nights in January. The HVAC / plumbers you call won't have parts or replacement vents available in their vans, you'll have to wait until they can go buy them. And they are expensive. Contractors love them because they are an easy out, but they really bite if you're the homeowner. Sorry to hear of another "learning experience", you guys certainly get more than your share! Robert
kls_eloise
May. 26th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Power vent alternative - caution
Ouch.
kls_eloise
May. 26th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Actually, there is very little DIY in the house that predates us. There are a few fairly large "what were they *thinking*?" spots though. This is original construction - and it's just weird. My suspicion is that this is what you get when you ask a stock house builder to build custom plans.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )