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old house fireplaces ?

Posted by theblueswan (My Page) on
Wed, Aug 5, 09 at 14:11

We are looking at an old house (1850's) all of the rooms have had the fireplaces boarded and/or paneled over. However up in the attic, I could see either the second floor or the downstair flu-- in the attic there was black ooze coming out between the stonework (cresote possibly it was a very hot day and hot up there)-- As I know nothing about old fireplace restoration-- what is the risk in this flue? I will want to return the rooms to showing the original fireplaces even if I can not use them... just a tad bit worried about seeing the black stuff. (I possibly sound like an idiot but in searching on the internet did not locate info when I did some searches) books (titles), video links and personal experience would be appreciated! Thank you!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: old house fireplaces ?

I think you can probably restore some or even all the fireplaces to their original appearance, assuming that they were just covered over and not demolished before they were covered over. If there is a risk of black stuff backing up into what used to be the firebox, I think you could seal the opening just above the firebox where the damper is located.

It may also be possible to restore some of the fireplaces so that they actually work. But that would involve more expense. You probably would need to have a liner inserted into the chimney.

But these comments are all hypothetical -- what you need to do is get someone with expertise, like a chimney sweep who is "certified" (whatever that means) to look over the chimneys.

You might also get some more info from the forum located at this web site: hearth.com.

Good luck.


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RE: old house fireplaces ?

The black tar like substance oozing through the stonework is creosote which develops when burning wood. As the smoke rises up the chimney it starts cooling and some of the creosote from some of this smoke condenses on the sides of the chimney. This stuff is flammable and if the chimney is not routinely cleaned, catches fire and it is a very hot fire. The fact the creosote is leaking into the house indicates 2 things....there is no cap on the chimney allowing rain and dew to come in and, there is a crack or crumbling inside the chimney. Should a chimney fire occur when burning wood, sparks and flames would spew into the attic and of course catch the house on fire. A chimney sweep can clean the chimney and that should stop the ooze. A chimney cap would stop the weather from getting in and also serve to keep birds, rodents and insects from getting into the house.

As for you reopening the fireplace for looks and not use, there would be no problem with that. You would need to make sure the dampers are functional so heat from the house will not go up the chimney in winter. Having the flue cleaned would minimize the creosote.

Fixing the cracks in the chimney flue can be done in various ways and can range from quite simple to quite complicated, depending on the damaged flue. On older homes, if you plan on occasionally using the fire place, I agree with HAUS PROUD and would recommend it have a stainless steel flue liner installed. The liner would prevent sparks and flames from going through those cracks should you experience a chimney fire. Should you encounter a chimney fire, it would not burn through the stainless steel liner. The use of seasoned wood and regular chimney cleaning would serve well to prevent a chimney fire.


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RE: old house fireplaces ?

Another suggestion if you're interesting in getting one or more of the fireplaces to work. If you're interested primaily in the cozy atmosphere that a fire would bring, then a wood burning fire would be nice, provided you understand that these conventional designs are not very energy efficient, and most of the heat goes up the chimney and out the house.

But if you're interested in a fireplace that gives you serious heat and that is highly energy efficient, you might want to consider something like a Direct Vent Gas Logs unit (for either natural gas piped in or can be modified to use LP). These are sealed systems that are designed so that they get air from the outside to feed the combustion through one vent and an exhaust vent sends the smoke up the chimney. These units are costly, but can be useful as a secondary heat source, depending on your need. The Obama Administration and IRS are offering generous tax credits for new energy efficient units. You might want to check out that option. It might be a one-time opportunity to do a kind of special upgrade. Make sure the specs of your upgrade match the requirements of the IRS tax code, because they are very specific, and make sure you keep the records so you can prove that you complied with the requirements of the tax credit. There may also be specially designed energy efficient wood burning inserts that are eligible for the tax credit.

Good luck with your project(s).


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RE: old house fireplaces ?

I did actually know it was creosote! But I thought it better to leave the question vague-- my biggest concern was how likely is it that the fireplace is very combustible as is. Which I think is minimal-- but wanted some thoughts from others! (the leakage kinda scared me)

The one chimney that I saw this so badly on-- appears to have one of those ornate (terra cotta??) toppers on it... so perhaps it's the leakage around that or something.(as was suggested internal crack) I wasn't sure why the creosote would be coming in between the stone...and I do understand now and appreciate your answers.

The gas log unit is a good idea-- first I have to unbury these fireplaces-- one is in the now master bedroom closet! One is covered over with some kind of plastic looking bricks (across the whole area of the fireplace-- someone just boarded the whole area up and placed on the opposite side of the room (inner wall) a fake mantel and ceramic logs-- they don't heat or even fake light! (Guess they wanted something to hang their stockings on!) Same in the front (formal) parlor! Fake fireplace! Kitchen also has a wall of the fake brick-- this one has not been painted individually white/black/red brick-- but is still some kind of fake brick sheet. (what goes on in people's heads sometimes???)
I'll see if I can get some kind of search for a certified chimney sweep. I know in E TN-- these guys are almost Impossible to find! ...cue theme from Mission Impossible....da da-- dat-dat... dat da...
I hope I can return these to working order-- even if I do utilize one of them with gas-- as one room is really large. At this time, the house is oil furnace with forced air. I will remember to check the dampers, when I actually unearth the fireplaces!
Thank you both!


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