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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Brick by Brick or Taking Things in Another Direction

I wasn't sure which title best fits this blog so I decided to use both of them.

Dontcha you just love it when a plan comes together?  Or two plans? or three plans? Or four?

As most of you know,
 we have a 103 year old home. 
I love to call it Our Old House. 

Up on the roof is also a 103 year old chimney....  The chimney is only used now by our water heater vent system. The furnace comes out the side of the wall now with the PVC high efficiency pipes.

We did notice that we could see missing chinking between the bricks and it was in sore need of tuckpointing. What we didn't know until just a few weeks ago is that there is water running in between the bricks, and down into our attic. From there it was leaking onto our plaster ceiling over our upstairs hallway.

Time for repairs!

Plan A.... Steve's First Choice was to grab a long ladder and jump up there and do some tuckpointing himself. I don't think so! This is a two-story house, plus 5 more steps to get up inside of it, plus the height of our attic makes this pretty much three stories high. Three stories plus a man just three months away from retirement do not mix! I am feeling mortality and caution with old age. Him, not so much.  I told him old bodies no longer bounce.  Nor did I go this far in life with him to live the rest as a widow or with a guy in a wheelchair because he wants to be stupidly brave and macho.

I told him we had to come up with a better plan.

Plan B... He decided to hire somebody to come and give us an estimate of taking the chimney down to a level just above the roof line and putting a new cap on it for the vent for the water heater.

That sounded agreeable with me.

We contacted a local contractor who came over to give us an estimate. He went up there on the roof and said the bricks are in very bad shape. Actually, most of them are already loose, and he could do the job for $800 complete with a new cap on top. The only problem was he couldn't start until the middle of November.

So we kept it on the back burner and figured we would wait until then. That is really not the best idea though you know, to wait.

Of course with all the abundance of rain that we have been having, we decided we should speed this up a bit and get it fixed now before the weather turns. What if in November the guy calls and says sorry, we do not have time to do it?

I know it is still in Steve's mind to do it himself. Steve went ahead and measured the dimensions by going up into the attic to measure on the chimney itself right before it goes up through the roof. He made up a wonderful new cap with a wide flange that could slide over the existing chimney once it was taken down to a more sensible level. On the top he put on a specially-designed vent for water heaters.

Now how do we get the bricks down and get this cap up there?

Plan C ... We decided to try to rent a powered boom lift device that has a large flat wide deck that he can raise up to do the work ourselves.  He figured he could drop the bricks down one at a time through the chimney and I could pull them out through the bottom clean-out access door!  Either that or set a big bucket on the lift deck and put the bricks into that and lower each time he reaches its weight limit.  That sounded good to me. The cost is $160 for four hours or $240 for a full day.

He has rented this same powered boom lift machine in the past a couple times, for work at the park. The only problem is that we don't have a truck to tow it because it's very large. He made a deal with a co-worker to use his truck to do this job, so he called the hardware store in the neighboring town about 6 miles away. He had it all planned to do this work last Saturday while the weather was nice, but the employees at the hardware store said that they didn't know if it was rented or not. And their boss wasn't there so they didn't know if he rented it out or not. Nobody seemed to know anything and they said we had to wait till the last minute and try to call there and see if we can rent it on Saturday. Well that didn't work out and nobody still knows when it can be rented because nobody knows anything there. ARGGHH!

That brings us to Plan D.....  We were taking a walk and noticed a neighbor was having a very large tree cut down in his front yard. He had a contractor there with a powered boom lift who was working very hard to remove this big huge tree, limb by limb. We stopped to chat with the neighbor while we watched. It turns out that right before the tree job was started, the neighbor also had this contractor take down his chimney! The very thing we needed done to ours!

Well, wouldn't you know that here was a guy 3 houses away across the street doing exactly what we needed done at our house.

We waited until the contractor guy took a break and Steve spoke to him and got his business card. He had a couple other jobs lined up but would be here on Tuesday morning to take care of our chimney.  He drove past and eyeballed our chimney and driveway access and quoted us $200.00!

Gary Vandenhouten
GV Construction
roofing - windows - siding

Sure enough----  he drove the machine right up the street and into the driveway. We had a little discussion first while he told me what he was going to do. He looked over the cap Steve made and said it would work well.  We also had ready two big tubes of masonry caulk that Steve had purchased in advance.

They started at 11 a.m.,
 it was amazing to watch them take down this chimney 
---- Brick by Brick. 

Almost every brick was totally loose and could be lifted off by hand! They were very careful not to drop any bricks on our roofing or rain gutters.  They took down each load of bricks setting on the platform next to them, and piled them on our lawn. We said we would dispose of them.

Back up they went for another load. Most of the mortar was missing on the entire chimney! There were only two sections of brick that were still mortared together that they were able to lift off and set onto the platform. The two top sections of chimney flue liner came out with ease, leaving it perfectly level at the height we needed for the cap without having to cut into a third one.

Once he had it all leveled off and the bricks wiped off. He applied a liberal dose of the mortar cement from the big caulking tube. They carefully set the new cap in place. Well done!

Can you believe that they removed all those bricks in a half hour? Then they got the new cap on, brought the machine down, loaded up all their cords, hoses and loaded up their air compressor.  Ready to go in less than one hour.

 Best $200 we ever spent!

Off they went on their merry way, 
out our driveway..... 

and down the street.  

Gotta love small towns! 


Here are a few photos I took this morning as the sun was coming up. It was very humid when we woke up at 6 am, and the fog rolled in as the sun was rising. It was really amazing it went from clear skies to total dense fog in the matter of a few minutes.

An hour later, the sun rose a little higher and burned it all off. We had gorgeous sunshine and clear blue skies all day long.


I will have some interesting stuff to write about after tomorrow for my quilting and fibery reader people. Mary Fons from the Fons and Porter  Love of Quilting TV show on PBS is giving a two-part hands on workshop here in Oshkosh. Of course I am enrolled in both classes morning and afternoon. Then there is a free option open lecture in the evening to attend.

It's going to be a full day long quilting event for this quilty crafty person.


  1. Sweet! I'm always happy to see the care you pour into the house.
    Can those bricks be used for anything (like a patio), or are they too crumbly?
    Would the chimney need to be extra tall for the smoke from the coal furnace?

    1. they are not good enough to really build anything with structurally, but Paula is thinking about taking them for trim bricks in the yard. There are only about 70-80 bricks intact. Yes, in the old days you needed tall chimneys for draft to draw up the smoke and keep the fire going. Now with the energy efficient natural gas furnace, it just uses outside PVC pipes on the wall to take in the fresh air and expel the fumes.

  2. Serendipity wins again! I love it when the non-plan comes together!

  3. Don't you just love it when the stars and planets align perfectly and everything comes together as you want. Now if that would just happen every time... :cD

  4. What a deal for you! The finished project looks really nice. Steve's pretty handy. Isn't it wonderful to have a husband who enjoys figuring out how to resolve problems around the house and always manages to make it work out.

  5. Well, they can't blame all that haze on smoke coming out your chimney.

  6. Isn't it great when a plan comes together in home maintenance? Great find and a great job!!

  7. Glad the work was done before all the storms that came Wed and Thurs.


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