So I'm taking down my chimney. . .
April 24, 2005 9:28 PM   Subscribe

This is a venting chimney running through the center of the house. We just replaced the oil furnace, so the chimney is no longer needed, but the space it takes up in the kitchen is. So far things are going pretty well. I've been able to get it down below the roof line and then can start removing bricks from in the attic. After that, though, I'll be in a bit of a tight spot, and I might resort to dropping the bricks into the chimney itself as a I work my way down (I can get those later when I'm down in the basement.) I was thinking that it might be worth thinking about mitigating the soot and dust somehow before starting to drop bricks in. I considered misting in some water, but I don't want to risk having a black river running thru my basement. Ideally, there would be some substance that would wet the stuff down and then maybe dry up and leave the soot somehow clumped up and easily/cleanly shoveled out once I'm removing stuff out of the basement. Unfortunately, I have not seen this advertised on TV, so I turn to you. Any ideas?
posted by jbradley to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not a chimneyologist, but hiring a chimney sweep could probably help here. A more DIY solution would be to get one of those big round wire brushes like a chimney sweep would use, tape some cardboard over the opening in the basement, brush out the dry soot, give it a day or so to settle, and then shovel/shop-vac out the soot. You can put the brush on a pole, or tie it to a rope with a weight and dangle it into the chimeny. The problem with using water, besides the river in the basement, is that it's not going to loosen the junk that's crusted on the inner wall of the chimney.
posted by bendy at 12:53 AM on April 25, 2005

Yeah, a decent chimney sweep is definitely going to help--whether or not they can get _all_ the soot, they can certainly abate the problem significantly.

Isn't the larger issue, though, whether or not you're affecting the structural integrity of the house by removing a brick structure that runs down its center? Have you had any kind of structural engineer or inspector look at it before you do this? Even if it's perfectly safe, you could be creating some kind of building code problem that would give you _huge_ problems when you try to sell the place. (Apologies if you've already thought of all that.)
posted by LairBob at 3:31 AM on April 25, 2005

I'm curious. Is the new furnace vented elsewhere?
posted by jeanmari at 4:44 AM on April 25, 2005

If it's an old wood-frame house, it's not likely that the chimney is structurally necessary to the house. Obviously, you're not just taking out the bricks in the kitchen and leaving those above it unsupported; you're starting at the top of the chimney and working down.

Have you thought of depressurizing the chimney by hooking a shopvac to it at the bottom? Then any soot or dust created as you worked would be sucked down into that. You can get filter bags for shopvacs that will trap fine dust; I would use them as soot especially is very fine and will go right past the normal shopvac filter.

Also, I don't know how big the chimney is, but Murphy's law dictates that one of the first half-dozen bricks you drop down the chimney will jam itself irretrievably halfway down, blocking the flue. Have you got a contingency plan?
posted by bricoleur at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2005

I helped my dad remove a brick chimney from his house (built circa 1855). As we discovered, the only way to really keep the soot from wreaking havoc on the rest of the house is to block off the entire area with sheets of plastic and duct tape, Homeland Security-style. Also, invest in a good respirator. Not a flimsy "dust mask" mind you, one of the thick ones that actually filters out particulate matter in the air, unless you really like coughing up black charcoal phlegm like an old-school Appalachian coal miner.

Dropping the bricks down the chimney as you work will simply add brick dust to the soot already in the air. Not really a good idea. You don't want to inhale brick dust any more than you want to breathe soot.

Cleaning the chimney thoroughly prior to starting is probably a good idea, I'm not sure about wetting it down though. When you get the soot wet you get charcoal paste. From my personal experience, sweeping up dry soot was a lot easier than removing the charcoal paste that ended up stuck to us as we sweated through the chimney removal work. You might have better luck just scrubbing it well with a wire brush, letting it settle, and removing as bendy suggested above prior to starting.

Use a big-ass dropcloth in your kitchen, and go through the pain of carting the bricks out in a tub of some kind. I think it will sound like more work but will probably end up being significantly easier than creating more work for yourself clean-up wise when you hit the basement if you don't have that huge pile of shattered brick, soot and brick dust to contend with.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:43 AM on April 25, 2005

All I can offer is a hearty "good luck and hope it worked out better for you than it did for me". I was dealing with about 6 feet of chimney on a humid day in a humid basment. My best advice is to get a good mask. I didn't have one and let's just say that my boogers interesting color for the next 36 hours.
posted by plinth at 5:57 AM on April 25, 2005

Response by poster: A couple of clarifications to my post: My new hi-efficiency natural gas furnace vents out the side of the house thru PVC (so cool!)

Because this is a venting chimney and not a fireplace chimney, my soot problem is not too bad on the bricks themselves, but I suspect things have settled quite a bit at the bottom.

Thanks bricoleur articulating something I had feebly imagined.

P.S. There is no way this thing is holding up my house in any sense. The mortar is so dry on the bricks that a single tap is dilodging most of them. This dismantling exercise is fairly common in my neighborhood of 1920's houses.
posted by jbradley at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2005

There is no way this thing is holding up my house in any sense. The mortar is so dry on the bricks that a single tap is dilodging most of them. This dismantling exercise is fairly common in my neighborhood of 1920's houses.

While its true that the chimney might not be "holding up the house" changes of this type can sometimes cause older houses to settle and shift in unusual and unpredictable ways.

In addition to the good advice you've gotten here about dust, I'd advise using a laser 'transit' or level to mark certain level points around your home, and check them in six months or so.
posted by anastasiav at 8:41 AM on April 25, 2005

I don't have much to add, but I've thought about doing this exact thing, mainly to free up space in the finished attic. My chimmney is currently not being used for furnace vents through a seperate metal pipe. I was thinking of bringing the chimmney down to the level of the attic floor / 1st floor ceiling and dropping the bricks into the chimmeny to not only save on labor but add some thermal mass to the center of the house. The prospect of stirring up clouds of dust had never occured to me, so thanks for that! The chimmney looks pretty darn clean looking down in, but I don't know what's down below, or how well sealed off the bottom is so that's something I'll have to look into. Right now the bottom of the chimmney is all walled off in the basement so I'll have to tear into that first.
posted by jacobsee at 1:19 PM on April 25, 2005

On the PPE side of things: the mask you want is a PM10 one, especially for soot. That's a kind of HEPA filter, but not all HEPA's are the same. This will be a half-mask that covers your mouth and nose completely, not one of those white fibre usless thingies. If you already have a half-mask, for finishing or whatever, you can get PM10 cartriges fot it.

Check to make sure that you get a true 10 micron filter. You don't want bigger. Smaller filters are better protection (PM2.5s), but much harder to breathe through. You don't need a combo or chemical cartridge, just the particulate filter.

Good luck! Doing what your doing is one of my uncle's favorite horror storries. It took him a week to shovel the shattered brick out of his basement.
posted by bonehead at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2005

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