Handle on brick chimney for stability--good or bad idea?

jdc314August 1, 2014

I have a fairly tall two-story house (25' at gutters) and a 32-foot ladder. Extended fully and properly placed, I get probably just over three feet of ladder past my gutters. I am really comfortable about 12 feet up, but when I climbed to my roof the other day, I decided to stay on the ladder. (I'm not used to the height and the ladder's a bit wobbly at that height--it's a good ladder, but it's fully extended).

My brick house has two chimneys, both are about 70" wide by 30" deep. They are set out from my house maybe a few inches beyond the gutters. I was thinking of installing a handle on the side of one chimney for me to use when climbing on and off the ladder. Not that I'd use it for really supporting me, just something I can hold with a hand while safely negotiating the top of the ladder. Then I'd always just use the same spot for my ladder - about 18" away from that chimney or something. Hope this gives a good mental picture.

Alternatively (maybe additionally?) I could get those ladder extension rails that extend high up on either side so you can just walk set your height just above the roof line and walk right over. Those things look slick, but I wonder they as good as they look.

Is this a reasonable approach or am I missing a huge problem inherent with this?


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Sophie Wheeler

Hire someone to clean the gutters.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 7:07AM
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If you are, already, uncomfortable at that height, how uncomfortable are you going to be, releasing your grip on the ladder, to attach a "safety device" of your own design?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 8:43AM
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@hollysprings: It's not gutter work, I probably wasn't clear with what I was asking.

@snoonyb: Good point, well taken. I'm fine standing at the top of the ladder - especially when it's bungee'd to a gutter bracket. Just not thrilled about getting off with 3' past the roof line when I'm 6' tall, you know? I've done plenty of work on low roofs, it's just that I've only owned a ranch and worked on garages until now.

While I'm taking a break, I'll write the back story. I suppose this is a decent forum for this story anyway.

When I bought the house a couple years ago, I had leaking after heavy rains, so I hired somebody to fix it. I went with somebody with lots of good reviews and personal references. They told me it's just not caulked well. I paid over $300 for fixing the flashing around two chimneys--OK.

Now two years later, it leaked like hell inside near the chimneys again after a hard storm. I had somebody look at it. They showed a picture of it with barely any flashing (hardly bends up over the brick) and NO counter flashing at all.

Lesson learned about hiring people--I should have been on top of them and verified the entire situation and made them show me pictures afterwards. (But my personal references were so good! I just trusted.) I could chase them down about this, but it's two years ago and I really blame myself for being a chump. I'm fine, just won't recommend them.

The people who looked at it are very highly reviewed (over 1000 reviews, A-rating on Angie's List). They correctly pointed out what was wrong with the flashing and took detailed pictures to show it. But the quote to install new flashing is $1500. The other problem is this: with a little reading about sealing around chimneys, I strongly believe my situation calls for a chimney cricket. Chimneys are 70" wide facing inward taking the water. That's a lot of potential pooling--even with flashing, I'd rather redirect the water.

So yeah, $1500 is crazy high for flashing. But the thing is, I've talked with a few and they all have full information.. NOBODY suggests anything about making a cricket. Why? My bet is that it's not a quick turnaround job. I'm an engineer myself. I think this is unprofessional not to mention, so I'm using this as a filter for hiring anybody. So now I've decided to go it alone.

I'm enough of an amateur carpenter for this job, the ladder issue is my only hangup. snoonyb's point is good though--I'm leaning towards getting a ladder extender.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 11:37AM
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" I'm an engineer myself."

Ding, ding, ding. Bssssttttttt.

Those are my warnings going off. Engineers and lawyers do it every time.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 10:04PM
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You may be enough of an amateur carpenter to get something fashioned to redirect the water. However, what about working the roof material, step flashing, and counter flashing for the cricket/saddle? The joints of the chimney should be ground out where the counter flashing is placed, and custom bent with a _brake_ into the joint.

Call a full service roofing company, they should be able to handle your needs without scalping you. It's not worth getting hurt over, and wasting your time on something which won't keep the elements out. You do need a saddle/cricket.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 11:23PM
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"The people who looked at it are very highly reviewed (over 1000 reviews, A-rating on Angie's List). "

That scares me, A referral on a pay-for-play site.

I've worked with people who have tied their ladders, tied themselves to ladders.

3' is 50% of your height, and should be ok, but agreed, the ladder extenders will reassure you. However, purchase those carried by the ladder mfg.

With regards to the cricket. Wood frame, plywood is one way. A sheet-metal fabricator can also fabricate one for you.

The interesting part will be the learning curve in the roofing.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 11:34PM
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Grab bars for chimneys, lol. I think it's a great idea! Seriously though, as an engineer, I think you are quite capable of researching the project, assessing whether you can handle it, and doing a thorough job. Your hiring experience is common, so you're probably better off taking care of it yourself, as evidenced on round two with the cricket detail.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 11:40PM
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Rather than work from a ladder or rely on anchors into brick for safety, a roofer would construct a work platform from roof brackets and/or scaffolding.

This is not a DIY project. There are some jobs that are too great a bargain to risk your health doing yourself. Two that automatically come to mind are roofing and floor sanding. When someone suggested caulking as a remedy for a roof leak you should have known better.

Rather than risk your life and limb and get a mediocre result, raise the level of your hiring effort or hire a design professional to draw the cricket and specify the flashing.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 7:29AM
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Rig up something like this to get the added height:

Or buy a set of ladder rail extenders like this:

There's always the argument that you could buy a longer ladder. But the rail extenders allow you to step between the rails and on to the roof versus stepping to the side, or stepping over a rung.

You can also invest in a stabilizer bar. With the standoff arms either below the gutter and against the siding, or above the gutter set on the roof shingles, it might give you a more secure climb and descent.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 11:27AM
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I think that the fear is not getting off and onto the ladder. The fear is of the ladder sliding sideways as you near the top.

I have no fear of heights at all or of climbing ladders. But I do get a a little concerned when reaching the top of a ladder that is resting against a slick surface such as a gutter or metal roof (which I avoid if at all possible due to damage) or side of a building.

The silver stabilizers (stand offs as we call them) in the photo that Mongoct posted work great.

Here is a trick I did for one guy that had the same fear when using a ladder but did not want to install a stabilizer on his ladder.

I installed a shoulder Eye Bolt into the rafters under the eve below the gutters of his house. One on each end and another about mid way on both sides of the house. He has a short rope attached to his ladder with a snap hook on the end that he just snaps into the eye bolt. If the ladder does slide it can only go a few inches and can not fall.

Where he use to hire people to do work on the roof (repairs, gutter cleaning etc) he now does it himself.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 1:10PM
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Thanks, good comments.

@Trebruchet... In context, my point was:

1. I'm seeing someone from another discipline miss/omit something that is clearly fundamental, and it's even obvious to ME (of all people, after my limited amount of self-schooling on the issue - nobody has outright defended their omitting the cricket yet, so I assume I'm right that it's a really bad omission).

2. "I'm an engineer". Given my story, one could deduce my field is unrelated. If you read some ego between the lines, you kinda missed the point.

I take #1 and translate it into my domain. It's HORRIBLE! I get paid to provide expertise in my area to a client who doesn't have the expertise. They depend on me to analyze their situation and make a knowledgable assessment and recommendations - ultimately a design - for something that helps them. My clients aren't homeowners, but it's the same dynamic, vis a vis trust and integrity, right?


BTW, for the poster who mentioned Angie's list being pay for play, I don't really know much about how that works. But the company I called is (from what I can tell) a pretty popular one in my area.

The people who ripped me off for doing it crappy the first time didn't actually say "caulking" around the chimney, they said something like re-sealing the flashing around the chimney. That company was a personal recommendation from an electrician friend of mine who had them do his roof a couple months prior. That was a personal recommendation from a guy who's a good craftsman in his field, which is construction-related, and he liked their work.

So I'm just damn jaded at this point. I know there are some good contractors out there, but I'm not in the mood to take the risk. (Yeah yeah, working on the roof is risky.. I'll have a harness on.)

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 7:14PM
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"BTW, for the poster who mentioned Angie's list being pay for play, I don't really know much about how that works. But the company I called is (from what I can tell) a pretty popular one in my area."

It's similar to the BBB, the more you pay, the better you play.
While the company may be locally well respected, that should be a testament to their reputation for customer service and quality.

The following is a referral to a listing of commercial contractors whose clients include Raytheon. Hughes, TRW and the US ARMY.

They self police, IE you get one chance to make a bad impression, and elect not to resolve it, then you are out.


"(Yeah yeah, working on the roof is risky.. I'll have a harness on.)"

And the attachment of the harness will be too........

This post was edited by snoonyb on Mon, Aug 4, 14 at 21:33

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 9:30PM
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Angies List reviews come from jobs referred through their system. I don'think they are fake. It's not like Yelp where people can write their own reviews. AL takes measures to ensure the ratings are legit. So they are worthwhile comments from customers. The glitch, as I see it, is that they are assessments made by laypeople who usually don't know much, if anything, about the technical side of the work being done.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 11:34PM
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"And the attachment of the harness will be too......."

Not sure if you really meant "to..." or "too..."

If you were asking what I'm going to attach it to, well I'm going to tie a bunch of twine to it and I'm going to stick the other end of the twine between two shingles and put a sh*tload of wood glue in there so it can't pull free. I'll braid the twine so it's strong and of course, I'll let the glue dry for 15 minutes before testing the strength at the edge of the roof... to be really safe, maybe 30 minutes.

Safety first, that's what I always say!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 12:28AM
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Lol, jdc. You got it.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 1:17AM
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Man JDC you sure go through a lot of trouble with the glue and waiting..

I just use a Rail Road spike hammered through my safety harness lanyard and into the roof.

Been on the roof 50-60 times in the past month and still cant figure out why it is leaking..

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 7:05AM
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"Not sure if you really meant "to..." or "too...""

And you wonder why there is skepticism when an eng. is involved?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:54AM
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