MASONRY CHIMNEYS

chimneyMasonry Chimneys

Keep your eyes to the sky. Chimneys are one of those house components that if you notice a problem early on, it can be a fairly inexpensive repair. But if you notice something wrong and ignore it, it can mean tearing down the chimney to the roof line and that’s big bucks.

First lets learn some of the terminology of the different parts of a chimney.

1. Chimney foundation  (The footing that supports all of the masonry).

2. Firebox, metal damper and flue  (The firebox is the actual chamber the wood burns in, constructed of firebrick; a brick that has a low thermal conductivity. The damper is the metal divider just above the firebox that opens to let the smoke rise out of the firebox when burning wood. The flue is usually clay tiles, or a metal duct to funnel smoke and carbon monoxide out of the firebox to the exterior.)

3. Masonry chase  (The chase can be almost any material. It’s the surround that frames the working parts of the fireplace, basically the flue. On a masonry chimney it is brick).

4. Chimney cap  (The cap is like a hat. It is the very top of the chimney. On a masonry chimney it is usually concrete or steal).

I am going to discuss the two most common issues that homeowners have with chimneys.

1. Smoke coming out of the firebox into the house.

2. Exterior brickwork deteriorating on the chimney.

First – Lets go inside. Does your fireplace,  also known as a firebox, smoke into the house when burning wood? Check your damper and make sure its fully open. The damper is the metal barrier inside your firebox just above the firebox opening. It has a metal lever that opens and closes the barrier to let smoke out when burning wood and inward (closed position) to keep the heat inside the house from escaping up the chimney flue. Right above the damper at the back of the chimney is called a smoke shelf. Make sure that it is cleaned off,  debris can gather there. Wire brush your damper so that your damper opens and closes properly.  If the metal damper is broken it can be replaced by a mason. If your damper works but it still smokes that usually means you are not creating enough draft to pull the smoke up. Chimneys are designed and built to use a formula that mandates a relationship between the firebox opening and the flue size (these charts can be looked up on the internet). If the sizing is incorrect, the draft created by the heat will not have enough draw or pull to move the smoke out of the firebox and up the flue.  There are electrical caps you can install to create pull or it may be possible to reduce the firebox opening to meet the correct firebox/flue ratio. This can be done by using a good custom door or screen that reduces the firebox opening size.  Another factor can be down drafts caused by trees and/or adjacent buildings.

Second –  Lets take a look on the exterior. First look at the chimney cap; you may notice cracks on the edge of your cap. Are there any mortar joints or bricks showing signs of discoloration? Are any bricks cracked or missing? Are any bricks spalling? Spalling means the surface of the bricks are breaking down and delaminating. If you notice any one of these things you should have a fully insured mason go up and take a close look inside and outside of the chimney. If the cap is cracked, and depending on the severity of the water damage, the minimal you will have to do is replace the cap. More severe damage would involve replacing the flue liner and possibly the brickwork, down to where the damage stops.

Don’t forget early detection is key.

Any comments or questions see my website

Mike Gosser

www.GosserConstruction.com

What Heavy Rain Can Mean to Homeowners

rain

written by: Mike Gosser

FYI – You have two concerns regarding hard rains.

1. Always make sure gutters have been cleaned out after the last of the leaf droppings, especially if you have numerous trees close to your house. Downspouts should be cleared as well. It does not make much sense if gutters are cleared but downspouts are not. Water needs to move away from the house otherwise you raise the chances of moisture and water causing damage. If the water is not properly moving away from the house it shows up by either water getting into the basement, cracking and or water stains on ceilings. If water does infiltrate into your walls it can cause wet insulation, mold and rotten wood.

2. The other concern is your chimney condition. The chimney cap, is the very top portion of the chimney, usually its a concrete looking block. This is what protects the chimney’s face brick. The face brick cannot absorb too much moisture or it will start to break down. Therefore, it is very important that the cap is in good shape to protect your chimney brick and chimney. It is less costly to replace the cap, than the entire chimney down to the roof line. You can tell if your cap is leaking if you notice a lot of water always on your face brick of the chimney, after a rain, or if you see spaulding on the chimney brick. Spaulding is when the face of the brick starts to fall off.

I hope this helps in protecting your home and your investment.

How to Pick the Right Contractor

shake

written by: Mike Gosser

Picking the right contractor is not all that easy unless you happen to get lucky.  The rule of thumb is to get three estimates. Throw out the highest and lowest bids and go with the middle guy. Continue your research and look for flags. For example, how the contractor presents him or herself when meeting with you. Ask yourself, is he/she well-mannered and a have a clean appearance? Don’t  forget, he/she is the professional, therefore the pertinent information should come from him/her.

Another question to think about is, does he/she provide a schedule with time limits, such as, the duration of the job and what sub-contractors to expect and when? Keep in mind, everyone should provide protection to your home and clean up at the end of each day. I believe the cleanliness and organization of the job site is a direct reflection of the quality of his/her work.

Contracts should be well spelled out. All the operations should be included, such as any material allowances. This allows you to know how much to spend and whether to expect an extra fee or credit depending upon your allowance purchase. Substitutions should never be allowed unless agreed to in writing. An experienced contractor should always be available to help with the design part of the project, if needed. Why not tap upon the source of experience, which hopefully should include many design ideas he/she  has been exposed to.

At the end of the job make sure you make a punch list, a list of unfinished details, and review it with him/her before making the final payment.

Your contracting experience should always be a pleasant one. As your project comes to a completion, you should be very excited  and enjoy it for many years to come. Having a positive experience,  can provide a relationship for future work and/or advice

Next week I will talk about contracts.

Lets Talk Contracts

written by: Mike Gosser

OK lets talk about contracts and/or agreements.

Over the years, I have worked for many types of professionals, including lawyers who do construction litigation. Therefore I was fortunate enough to receive some good advice regarding contracts. One that stands out is, ” A contract is only as good as the relationship between client and contractor.” No matter how well written the contract can be, if the relationship fails the contract can be picked apart.  This advice was given to me in the best of relationships between this client and myself, therefore I have taken this to heart and is an important part of my contracting business.

When picking a contractor or handyman/woman, I highly recommend you choose a local business. Local businesses will have your best interest because their top priorities is to make sure you are satisfied with his/her service, and in return, expects a good referral. Remember a good referral can create 2-3 recommendations and a poor experience can create at least 3-4 negative comments. Keep in mind the community talks to each other, at sporting events, school, church and many other outlets.

I recommend you have a contract, especially with: larger projects, more technical projects, and when contracting with someone for the first time.

It’s all in the details. Before signing a contract, review the project with the contractor. Ask about allowances, specific materials being used, how the different operations plan to proceed and how they will be done. It’s okay to note any of these items on the contract. Don’t forget there is no such thing as a dumb question; this is the only way to really compare apples to apples.

If you have any additional questions or comments or see other comments and answers, please go to ” ASK ME A QUESTION ” Link, on the sidebar.

Next week I will discuss Kitchen Remodeling or How to just Update Your Kitchen.

 

Easy Kitchen Makeovers for Fraction of the Cost

written by: Mike Gosser

You can spend a lot of time and money for a designer kitchen or you can do a kitchen make over with a fairly minimal investment. I have done many of both, but I feel in this new economy, the make over is usually a good choice, if and only if the design and labor is done correctly.

I will describe the basic steps on how I transformed a thirty-five year old kitchen into a very beautiful updated kitchen.  The kitchen type is called a Galley kitchen; it has a straight row of cabinets, which functions as the work area. In this particular layout, the oven/range is adjacent to the cabinetry separated by a doorway. I believe by doing some basic replacements, we can create a more functional, visually appealing and cost controlled project at a fraction of what it would take to completely remodel the kitchen. The total budget for this makeover is $18,500.00.  For this cost, the outcome is quite impressive.

Five basic changes were made to produce this makeover.

1. New wood maple laminate flooring (removing two layers of old vinyl flooring).

2. Supply and install solid wood maple cabinet doors and drawer fronts (including new, full extension, ball bearing drawer glides, hinges and pulls).

3. The owner had ten inches of open wall space between the existing base cabinetry and the doorway trim at the end of the Galley run, where the owner kept a free-standing trash container. I decided to build a pull out trash can cabinet, therefore, the owner will have picked up an additional 10″ of needed counter space.

4. I also replaced the existing dated ceramic tile back-splash with a new stone/glass mosaic mix tile back-splash.

5. We also replaced the old and worn laminate counters with new quartz stone counters, a new under mount stainless steel sink and faucet. We decided to replace the garbage disposal, since we were replacing the counters. All other appliances are in good shape.

We first proceeded with this project by removing the existing vinyl flooring down to plywood sub-floor. We re-nailed the sub-floor to minimize any movement and squeaks. We scraped the existing tile off the walls. Keep in mind, sometimes you have to cut and remove the drywall to be able to remove the tile. Luckily, this type of removal was not needed. The existing cabinet boxes are made of maple, that had been previously painted, but in good condition, therefore, we decided to keep them and just paint a new coat. The new doors and drawer fronts will be stained and finished to match the new maple floor planks.

We proceeded to install the new glass/travertine stone tile back-splash, new laminate flooring , new quartz stone counters, sink, faucet, disposal, cabinet doors, drawer fronts and related hardware. We then installed  a new base shoe at all the base boards. The painting was done by owner. We provided a, ” ready to use”, cleaning of kitchen. In case your wondering we blue taped closed the cabinets to keep the dust out, during the demo part of project.

Before Pictures:

After Pictures:

Next week I will discuss windows, product choices, applications and costs.

Mike

What You Should Know About Windows

window

written by: Mike Gosser

I sometimes think about how windows are the most important element of a house. As a code requirement, it is mandated for various safety concerns and you should check with your local building department for any special requirements.

First and foremost, windows provide light, ventilation and connects you to the outside world. A good window can also save you money by holding in expensive, generated heat and cooling.

Listed below are things you should know about windows.

1. What are the best choices (quality should dictate your choice)?

2. What are the different applications and costs?

Quality should dictate your choice – I have seen and installed many windows in my time. I have to say that an all wood window; wood being a natural insulator and very durable, would be my first choice. It must have a clad exterior that can stand up well to the ultra violet light and moisture. I suggest insulated a low-e glass as the minimal requirement. A primed interior is a good value, especially if the sashes have muntins, also known as grilles or divided lights.

Applications and costs – There are basically two types of installations. First is the complete removal of the entire existing window, including the frame, sill and all related trim. This is sometimes the best option if the frame, sill and moldings are rotted. This is usually the most expensive option because everything is being installed new and will also need to be painted. This application usually takes 4-6 hours plus the cost of painting!

The second option (best choice),  if the frame is in good shape, is an insert application. Basically this is done by only having to remove the existing sashes, leaving the frame, moldings and all related trim untouched. Therefore, all the moldings and adjacent surfaces will not need painting! Your new window insert unit is sized to fit into the existing frame. This installation usually only takes a few hours and has no, or minimal painting cost! If the exterior mouldings are in poor shape, not rotted, you could wrap them with aluminum or just replace them. Synthetic type boards are a good choice. They come with a weathered look on one side or smooth on the other.

Note – In my opinion, I do not believe vinyl windows are meant for cold northern climates but I also understand how budgets effect window purchases. A couple of things to remember, a good window will make you feel more comfortable, subdue noise levels, and last for many years to enjoy. A well established window company will provide good warranties and provide parts over the life of the unit.

Next week I will discuss tools. The basic group of tools every homeowner should have.