23 September, 2009

I kept telling my husband, "you need to get up on the roof and trim that big oak limb back from the chimney. Something bad is going to happen". Well something bad did happen. We had a pretty heavy thunderstorm and the wind pulled back the limb and whacked one of our chimneys. Now to my husbands defense the roof is really high and I wasn't about to go up there myself so it wasn't really his fault...I'm just saying it could have been avoided. I'm sure you have all heard this before, but procrastination aside the limb really whacked us into action.

As it turns out all three of the chimneys needed to be re pointed and repaired around the tops. Over the years the heat had made the bricks brittle and in a way the limb just slapped us with the reality of the whole situation. I could have done without the bricks going through the roof into the attic but we were getting ready to put on a new roof anyway! The broken chimney felt like a jagged tooth and it was hard to look at it. We were very fortunate in finding a fantastic mason and if anyone in the central NC area needs his name I will be happy to recommend him. As you can see from the pictures we have very unusual bricks. The whole house is made from these bricks which we have been told were made on site. They are concrete and fit together in an interlocking pattern as you can see from the cross section of the chimney.

Ricky, the mason searched for replacements for the broken and brittle bricks but no luck. We have a back staircase that settled years ago and the original owners put a wood staircase over it. Of course eventually this all has to be torn out and redone so Ricky had the idea to salvage bricks from the old sunken staircase. He and his crew worked a extra day doing this but they managed to get enough bricks that were in good shape to fix all three chimneys. It is had to find craftsmen like Ricky anymore, people who can creatively approach and solve a problem...not just order something and assemble it.

Ricky disassembled the chimneys down to where they were no longer stable and rebuilt them. We have two four flue and one single flue. As it turns out the broken chimney had probably been broken at some time before because it was not the same height as the others. Ricky pointed this out to us. We would have never noticed and he rebuilt the chimney back to the proper height.(He only charged us what he had originally quoted us even though he did run into some extra issues) So many people give up on their fireplaces. When ever I go into an older home and see a covered fireplace it makes me feel like the room is dead, as if a living portion of the house is gone. I completely understand putting in gas logs but for me there is no way to replace a real wood fire. Call me a purist. Yes it is dirty, more trouble, less efficient and perhaps a little more dangerous but nothing invokes the craftsman ideal of home and hearth more than a warm inviting fire. Our last house had a huge fireplace in the den that we enjoyed for years. When we put the house on the market people seemed confused by a real fireplace. One woman asked how you turned it on and one lady turned to the realtor and asked why the room smelled like smoke. Fire is a real connection to our past. We have gathered around our home fires for thousands of years and I guess I am just not ready to turn that over to the gas company. Dining by an open fire, playing cards in the living hall beside a toasty blaze, cuddled up in the bed watching the embers...no gas fireplace will ever replace the real thing. Mark my word in 10 years Realtors showing houses will be pointing out real fireplaces as a positive because they will be very rare. Just like original windows, radiators and tubs, fireplaces are an integral part of the overall design of a house and should be preserved in working order whenever possible.

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