Monday, June 8, 2015

Stabilizing the West Chimney


Post by Mike and Catherine 

Another project has been checked off the must-do-but-don't-really-want-to-do renovation list. That project was to stabilize the base of the west chimney. 

As you can see in the photograph, after almost 200 years, it was showing some wear. Of particular concern were the vertical stress cracks that run down the base, and there were a few more substantial ones on the sides. Thankfully, this was remedied by building an encapsulation around the original fieldstone base - a girdle if you will. 

Our restoration masons who repaired our chimneys were in charge of this task. Here, Andy has dug down around the base to form a footing, and is placing the first pieces of reinforcing steel. 

After the footing had been poured, the reinforcing steel for the rest of the structure was erected, first with vertical bars as shown.


Here is Edward tying off the horizontal reinforcing bars. This is a truly tedious task, and Mike can attest to the colorful conversation that evolves when distraction from a mundane endeavor helps pass the time.

Prior to pouring the walls, Edward and Andy had removed much of the loose mortar from between the stones, which made room for the concrete to penetrate the stone base to 'glue' everything together. This really accentuated the vertical cracks. 

Next up was the formwork for the concrete walls.

The forms were then filled with concrete, which was pumped through a tiny window from a concrete mixer parked out on the street. 

And at last, the forms were stripped off to reveal a chimney base solid once more. 

I realize that these kinds of posts are not the most fascinating; they certainly are not particularly pretty. But I do think it's important to truly understand what may be entailed when purchasing an older home (for those old house owners as well as old house dreamers). 

We love our home as much as the day we bought it but we have learned a great deal more from new lessons on what it truly means to restore an old house (having to remove the rose colored glasses from time to time). 


24 comments :

  1. That was very interesting. Our old house is on a stacked stone foundation, it's had a pretty stone facade on the outside with concrete joints, but on the inside it's just stacked stone, with dirt coming through at spaces. Our chimney was taken down during the fire around the civil war, but the foundation of it still stands (was a cooking fireplace on the North wall). Oh how I wish it was still there. My husband has been enjoying these posts just as much as I do. Sometimes with old houses, the stuff you fix, isn't the pretty stuff, but it helps to keep the pretty stuff. And it's worth all the time and effort. I'm sure the house is glad that you and Mike are there!

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  2. We've been told that our kitchen once had a cooking fireplace, and I too, wish it were still there! I'm so glad you're enjoying the posts! Best, Catherine

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  3. I really do enjoy these kinds of posts. To know that there are folks out there who are willing and able to figure out the means of saving and restoring these old structures is both reassuring and fascinating. Love your blog!

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  4. Here for the Pretty & the not so Pretty Posts ...
    Enjoying them all .... Owning & Restoring an
    Older Home is a Labor of Love not for the
    Faint of Heart !!! Blessings, Connie xox

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  5. So glad there are creative ways to maintain the integrity and character of old homes and chimineys!!!
    Blessings,
    Cindy

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  6. The craftsmanship of the original builders is pretty astounding. And now a whole new generation is working equally as hard to preserve it. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Fascinating. Thank you so much for this post.
    Whoever chose the term 'girdle' helped me visualize the repair instantly... plus, I got a good chuckle.
    You mentioned the possibility of having a cooking fireplace at one time. What is the history or thoughts behind the removal of a cooking fireplace? Was it considered an 'upgrade'?
    Best wishes,
    Karla in (extremely dry) CA

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    1. Husband chose 'girdle' - he obviously has no visual for girdle but cement around a chimney. I, on the other hand, immediately thought of my waist line. Not sure why our cooking fireplace was removed (if there was indeed one). Perhaps it was considered an upgrade once electricity arrived. Best, Catherine

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  8. I need one of those girdles too, do you think they can make me one? Haha Love the post. We are learning with you. So much to comprehend and learn when restoring a home. Love it! Love you too Miss Catherine.

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  9. That's pretty amazing! Again, very informative info you guys are sharing. But, it's killing me waiting for the reveal!!! Sigh. linda r (phila burbs)

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    1. Me too, I can't wait until we get to the decorating part!

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  10. Oh my goodness. You are tackling some major work on this house. You are to be admired for taking it on. This isn't a boring post, it is indeed very interesting. Looking forward to seeing more and of course the end result. I love the staircase, what a great job those craftsmen did! There is very little in the way of old structures were I live now so its wonderful to see you able to take on such a challenge. I watched you change your other house and felt very sad when you left it. This one is such a challenge to take on well done for going in with your eyes wide open. . Maybe one day I'll come over there and do a driveby! As I'm sure that you will be famous for restoring this beautiful house. xx Don't worry I'm not planning to visit the USA any day soon.

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  11. Oh, we had one of those boring, very much necessary, $28,000 worth of cement projects on our present house. You see 20 years ago it shifted down the hill about five inches and we had to inject the "grout" under the house to raise it back up. If it has to be done, it has to be done. Yes it's good to see these rehabs from all angles. And all that new cement around the chimney is actually pretty. Vanessa

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  12. This may not be one of the 'pretty projects'. But without a solid foundation there would be a big mess in your future.
    When you take on an old house it is for every aspect. The patina of the wood, the age of the brick - all of it is part of the old house dream. And the expensive structure fixes, electrical re-wiring, plumbing - they are the elements that will let you enjoy the pretty things down the road.
    Interesting how they did this - and really a shame that the great stone had to be covered up.

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  13. Catherine, my husband Walter and I found this post fascinating, and would love to see more of this type. I am married to a chimney sweep with 27 years experience, and here in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR) there just isn't the inventory of homes that old to work on. After reading this post Walter commented "Well, now it should last another 200 years, if not longer!" Looking forward to further updates, Lisa in OR

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  14. I find this type of post quite interesting. So much so that I called over my husband so we could look at it together and discuss it. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Impressive work. I like the stories about the bones and how to preserve them.

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  16. Actually, this is fascinating. I love older homes, and when you hear about homes this old and older you wonder how in the heck do they last!! It never made sense to me. So, now I know a little bit more than I did.

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  17. I LOVE these posts. It's fascinating to see the details that so many "decorating" blogs gloss over or don't address at all. I'm impressed, too, that you're doing everything the right way.

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  18. I LOVE these type posts and I LOVE that you are committed to doing things right! Thanks for sharing some of the nitty gritty. It's always a treat.

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  19. Here's one more voice saying how much I LOVE this kind of post. In fact, your mentioning tying off the rebar sent me deep into the internet, I wanted to see exactly what those ties and knots were about. I don't know how you and Mike do it but this basement repair is every bit as elegant as your repairs above stairs, everything you touch has that touch of elegance about it. It's a privilege to be able to follow along.

    With much admiration and gratitude,

    -Flo

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  20. I agree, it is interesting to see what is involved in restoring an older home. Thanks for sharing~

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  21. Wow, thanks fir posting! I have a similar but worse deterioration in my rental property that I just discovered. House was built around 1900. Any suggestions on who to call first? Did you get an engineering report first? Or can a qualified mason build this encapsulation "girdle" for us? Extremely relieved to see this approach. You may contact me at staceyb2006@gmail.com. Appreciate any advice. I am located in Pittsburgh.

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    1. Yes, call a mason first. He/she can determine the chimney's condition and its needs for repair. Good luck!

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Thank you for leaving your thoughts. Kind regards, Catherine

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