A Chimney Story

Okay kids, sit back in your chair with a warm cup of hot chocolate and listen to a story like you have never heard before...

After having completed the restoration of the front Parlor, We set out to decorate for Christmas.  We spent a ton of money on "Victorian" Christmas ornaments and all the works. So we invited some family to come celebrate with us. 

The room looked great.  It was Norman Rockwell all the way.  But something was missing?  What could it be?


The fireplace! of course! Let's get that bad boy all fired up?  After all,  I spent a few months of my life restoring it, so let's  bask in the warmth of her glow.  So, I lit her up and she looked great, just like I wanted.  The picture of Christmas bliss is complete!.  After about 20 minutes, we began to notice a smell, something like burnt gas fumes.  (remember folks, this is a "vented" gas fireplace)  Soon, I realize that there is no updraft.  Keep in mind that I spent some very uncomfortable time inside this chimney (literally) when I was repairing it.  I know that there is no obstruction as far as the eye can see up the flew.  But that is where the story takes a bit of a "twist"


Okay, lets go to the diagram. When the house was built, the architects wanted the chimneys to both be turned sideways to keep the symmetry of the house going.  Symmetry is a key element in Eastlake architecture. But the fireplaces in the bedroom and the parlor face the front of the house.  So, they twisted the chimney between the second and third floors.  This being said, that is why I could not see any obstructions when I looked up the chimney from the parlor.  I could only see to the point of the twist.



Okay, now back to Christmas day.  So we had to kill the fireplace.  Needless to say my Holiday spirit was waning at this point.  I spent a year of my life working on this room and no fire at Christmas?  So out come the egg nogs.  My Bother-in-law and I had a few of them.  We quickly came to the conclusion that something was stuck in there, and the only way we were going to find out was to go from the top of the chimney down.  So, I grabbed the camcorder and wrapped it in bubble wrap and duct tape.  I then made a harness to be able to lower that bad boy down the chimney with the light on to get a glimpse of the problem., so off to the roof we go. 


Click here to see the actual video

So, we climb up on the roof.  It is around 7 degrees outside.  Mighty cold!  We are way to high up, and we had a few drinks under our belts.  Anyway, the video starts with us on the roof then down the chimney she goes.  (We sped up the video for the long journey down. and back)  What you see on the tape is the obstruction coming into view.  The camera makes a perfect landing right into a pigeon corpse.  After the camera would go no further, we pulled it back out.  We go back in the house, shake off the cold and watch the movie.


So here it is, some 20 feet down inside the chimney is a dead bird, some bricks and various rubble that look to be completely blocking the chimney., hey that's just great.  Now what?


The Solution...

  1. We decided to go back up to the roof and lower a weighted string down the chimney to the obstruction.  Then we marked the string at the opening of the chimney and pulled the string out.  This gave us a measurement of exactly how far down the chimney the obstruction was. 

  2. We measured the height of the chimney from the roof line up to the opening at the top.

  3. We went in the house and measured the thickness of the roof joists and the height of the chimney inside the attic from floor to ceiling.

  4. Measured the floor joists above the third floor bedroom.

  5. Added all the above measurements together and determined that the obstruction was 2 1/2 feet from the ceiling on the third floor bedroom wall.

  6. We drew an "X" to mark the spot and started chiseling.


We managed to remove a few bricks and put a light inside the chimney.  Sure enough, there it was, 1 dead bird, and a bunch of debris.  We removed the bird and soon discovered that the debris was not just resting there.  It was concrete!  But why?, well we know that the chimneys were replaced a few years ago, from the roofline on up.  Apparently, the shmuck who built the chimneys managed to drop a bunch of wet cement and a few bricks down the flew while working.  My guess is that there was an old birds nest (not this particular bird) in the twist of the chimney that held the cement until it dried.


This is a close up of the cement plug.  So out came the chisel and hammer and working through a small hole in the bedroom wall, I began chipping away at the problem.  It only took an hour or so and the plug was removed. 


This is a picture of the twist inside the chimney after the obstruction was removed.  There was a strong updraft of air just pouring through this opening.


Next I mixed up a little mortar and closed the chimney back up...


Last step was to crack open a few cold ones in front of the fire and toast to another problem solved.  This Bud's for us!


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