When you find yourself needing to determine the status of your historic fireplaces and their chimneys, I have a few recommendations. We, unfortunately, learned a few things the more difficult way, which lingered over the course of several months.
First and foremost, have someone inspect your chimney that specializes in historic chimneys. You will find that almost all inspectors claim this as their expertise. But we have found that the best resource for a true historic renovation mason comes through a recommendation from a historic renovation contractor.
Our first inspection was by someone who used a small palm sized mirror to look up the chimney. He owned a chimney lining company, so he was not a specialty mason (there is a very big difference). His recommendation (which came about a week before closing on our house), was to tear the chimneys down and build anew. I just about fainted when I heard this.
Slowly, over time, I began discussing our unfortunate news with tradesmen who specialize in historic structures and they all, surprisingly, shook their heads proclaiming such advice was pure nonsense.
This is because old chimneys can be repaired at a fraction of the cost to rebuild, while retaining the historic character that is very difficult to reproduce.
Planning of historic chimney repairs is aided by such wonderful devices as a chimney camera which can be used to pinpoint the locations that require attention.
The optical end of the camera is snaked up the chimney to precisely determine where the cracks are and where the missing bricks may be - conditions which can make burning wood quite unsafe.
This image shows a missing brick.
Our wonderful specialty mason (seen on the left) is making notes during the chimney scan so that he can determine the repairs needed - especially, the locations of those needed repairs. He works throughout New England on historic homes.
Today, he began the brick repairs which meant opening up the chimneys in the upstairs bedrooms. The following images are taken on Mike's cell phone so they are a bit fuzzy.
Here he has removed a brick so that he may see inside the chimney.
I have to admit that when Mike showed me these pictures, it was a little startling. Eeek!
When the repairs have been made, which will take just a few days, the chimneys will then be ready to be lined and then be used safely to burn wood.
The cost of lining a chimney is notable but significantly less than rebuilding. So we'll have to complete this in phases.
We decided to do the dirty work of the interior brick repairs now so that there will not be such a disturbance when we are finally living in the house.
Also, I would also like to caution on the lining of your chimney until you know for sure what it's use will be. There are several lining methods. As I've learned, once the chimney is lined and depending what method is used, the diameter of the chimney may be reduced.
You need a certain amount of flue area to create a draft - larger for wood burning, less for installing gas lines or wood stoves.
Lining is irreversible, so its important to know the long term use of the chimney before proceeding.