Learn how to fix a crumbling brick chimney. Discover how condensation from a water heater can weaken mortar, making it necessary to fix a crumbling brick chimney.
LESLIE: Rich in New Jersey’s got a brick house that’s got some issues. What’s going on?
RICH: Hey, hi Leslie. I have an old home, built somewhere in the 1880s, and I’ve got an interior brick chimney and foundation. Now the brick chimney is literally falling apart. I can put my whole arm right through it.
TOM: OK, this is not good.
RICH: (inaudible at 0:15:25.8) turn to dust and I don’t know why and the same thing’s happening to the foundation; it’s turning to dust where the mortar is bonding the stones for the foundation.
TOM: The brick chimney; is that for your heating system or do you have fireplace? What is it serving?
RICH: Heating system.
RICH: The only thing on there right now is the water heater.
TOM: What’s happening with your furnace?
RICH: Furnace is a modern furnace. It’s vented out the side wall.
TOM: OK, that’s good. Well, what’s happening here is you are dumping your water heater  into the chimney . The chimney is never going to get very, very warm; so you’re going to have more condensation , more acidic condensation; it’s going to break down those mortar joints. What you really need to do here, Rich, is you need to line the chimney . Now it doesn’t have to be expensive. We’re not talking about a masonry liner. When you’re just venting the water heater, you can drop a stainless steel liner that’s sort of like a – kind of looks like a dryer hose where it expands and it goes from the top of the chimney all the way down and comes out the side and then the water heater will attach to that. And that will solve the problem of getting the gases from the water heater out of that chimney safely and then your repair just becomes structural. The mortar’s going to have to be repointed  from time to time, from place to place just to keep the chimney structure intact; but you won’t have to worry about combustion gases leaking out.
RICH: And is that the cause of the bricks themselves disintegrating?
LESLIE: It’s the condensate and the moisture, right?
TOM: That and 125 years of house age. (chuckles)
RICH: (chuckling) OK.
LESLIE: And Rich, you’ll find that even with older homes , as you update the heating or the hot water system, most of the manufacturers are recommending, if your chimney is not lined, to line it because there’s far more condensate or far less condensate – depending on which unit you’re using – and the chimney does tend to react to it. So it’s just a preventative measure.
RICH: OK. One last, quick question for you. What can I do – because this is an interior chimney and, again, it’s an old house; lath and plaster. What can I do to the piece of the chimney that I can see; to repair it? I mean there’s literally holes …
TOM: You’re going to have to rebuild those sections with fresh mortar and putting the brick back. So that’s all there is to it.
RICH: That’s great.
LESLIE: And if you’re concerned about replacing some brick and things not looking up to age for pieces that are side by side, try an architectural salvage  yard for actual old brick that might have that wear and tear that replicates what you’ve already got.
TOM: And you know, Rich, there’s one other thing you could do altogether and that is to switch out your – change out your water heater to a direct-vent model …
TOM: … or install a tankless water heater  and direct-vent it. It’ll take up less room and be more efficient . If that’s the case, then you can disassemble that chimney; take it down from the top. Just keep gravity in mind.
RICH: Right. OK.
TOM: Start from the top and work on down.
RICH: Alright, perfect.
TOM: Rich, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.