Monday, December 07, 2009

Come On Baby, Light My Fire...


Our house has a beautiful fireplace, which I don't think I have a photo of. This is yet another part of the house that has both benefited and suffered from the benign neglect of the former owners. Nobody ever did much work on this house, which means that nobody did idiotic ill-advised renovations.

(This isn't our living room, but it might as well be. Just switch green to brown, and make the proportions a bit wider.)

The Good Part

Unlike so many of the houses of this era that we saw while house-hunting, our house's fireplace has never been painted over. It has rustic brown bricks, the world's tiniest hearth, and it is surrounded by unpainted gum-wood cabinets. (You should have seen some of the crimes against architecture that we saw. I think my "favorite" was the Art and Crafts fireplace with the dimensional, pictoral tiles -- they formed a landscape -- that someone had sloppily, maybe even drunkenly, painted with pink and purple sparkle paint. It was an abomination.)

The Bad Part

Not much gets built with brick in the Bay Area these days, because un-reinforced brickwork tends to crack and shatter during earthquakes. After the 1989 earthquake, many chimneys in our area were found to have cracked all the way through, at the roofline. One of the masons that looked at our place told us that repairing this kind of damage formed the bulk of his work for the past twenty years.

Our chimney is just sort of sitting on our roof. If you pushed on it hard enough, it would tumble off, and crush our neighbors' cars. Our chimney is a loose tooth. And it's been sitting, loose, on our roof for the past twenty years.

This gives me nightmares.

Also, the mortar on the lower part of the chimney has pretty much disintegrated, and you can just brush it away with your fingers. (Please don't come over and pick at my chimney; this totally freaks me out.)

Finally, we don't seem to have any kind of damper, and we don't have a chimney cap. I honestly can't figure out why rainwater doesn't pour down into our fireplace every time it rains.

The Fun (But Terrifyingly Expensive) Part

Tomorrow, the masons we've hired are coming over to take photographs, which will be submitted to the city, in advance of starting work on our chimney. Once we get the permits, they'll be tearing down the chimney above the roofline and replacing it with re-enforced masonry. They'll be installing an actual damper and a chimney cap. And they'll be re-pointing the brick on the outside of the house.

Robb spent part of the weekend working on a firewood rack for the back yard.

We're both delighted about the prospect of sitting in our living room, in front of a delicious-smelling, crackling, actual-log fire.

Who wants to come over and have a drink in front of the fire, in a few weeks?


Gina said...

I do! I do!

My landlord's living room (directly below my own) looks almost EXACTLY like the pic you posted. Last night I peered in the windows on the way up the external stairs to our apartment, drooling just a bit at their crackling toasty fire....

It'll be worth EVERY penny!

Becky said...

Me too! I'll resist coming to the bay area so that I don't come at pick at old mortar.

Anonymous said...

Seriously look at getting a fireplace liner afterwords- I think your house insurance will significantly drop when you get this done- we have it in our chimney, which vents our furnace, and I don't think we ever technically have to get it cleaned afterwords. I'm still relatively new to "chimney world", so I hope it all goes well.

My sisters place in Wyoming (also an earthquake zone) had a monster of a fireplace that needed fixing, and I let that bad boy sit the way it was, nothing I could possibly do (or afford to do) was going to make it different. We left it for the new owners to figure out.

By the way, there is a fabulous synthetic mortor that comes in white, cream and old grey colors. We have used this on our building, and it works great (think textured caulking). The mortor on our place is not technically mortor, it is a mix of sand and lime. When you examine the outside of the building, it is thinner at the bottom of the wall, and thicker at the top- this means the day they made the walls, they started inthe morning and worked all day at it, on a warmish sort of day. The weight of the handmade bricks (Lancaster made) pressed down the mortor the more it was layered on.

Be glad you get the chimney top done, and not an entire bricked building! Tell Robb to warn them about falling off the ladder. Tell them not to drink and mortor, ok? That would be some messed up looking chimney.



2007 said...

And right about the time that beautiful fireplace is up to code and ready for wood, there'll be some sort of city-wide "no-burn" policy started and you'll only be abel to burn when you don't need the heat. Ah, for the good old days. . .

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

AAAAUGH! I know! I know!

I appreciate the work of the East Bay Air Quality Board, but I want to get to use this fireplace that we're lovingly and expensively restoring.

knitica said...

I am buying a plane ticket right now to come pick at your chimney.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Erica, I love you!

Anonymous said...

I'll bring some lovely hardwood logs--I bought WAY too much firewood last season. Yule enjoy the fires!!



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