Tips & Tricks for Restoring Your Historic Chimney

by | Jan 26, 2018 | Fireplace, Chimney | 37 comments

On a weekly basis we get phone calls from homeowners across New England who are frustrated and confused. They typically have pre-1900’s New England Colonial and Federal-style homes, and want to bring their original fireplaces back into working condition. 

Usually they have already had one or several chimney sweeps look at their fireplaces, and each time it’s the same story: The chimney sweep says that the flues have no chimney liner and that they can’t reline the chimney to get the fireplace working again. The only option, they say, is to install a wood stove or some type of insert in the fireplace. If you own one of these beautiful homes, you know this “solution” doesn’t achieve the goal of keeping a house in its original condition.

Why can’t a liner be installed for a fireplace? (Hint: it can!)

This is a trick question, because the answer is: IT CAN! Older chimneys often vent multiple fireplaces, and they were designed with long narrow flues. These flues are usually under 6 inches across and much longer the other way (sometimes over 4 feet!). The only way to reline a flue of this shape and size for a fireplace is to use a long rectangular chimney liner to mimic the existing passageway in the chimney. Round, stainless steel liners cannot be used because you cannot install a single round liner with enough volume to vent a fireplace.  Let’s illustrate this with an example.

Picture Below Shows 7” round liner (38.5 in2)
Picture Below Shows 7”x23” rectangle liner (161 in2)

The first thing to understand is that the size of the fireplace chimney liner needed depends on the size of the fireplace opening. You can figure this out by measuring the height of the fireplace opening and multiplying it by the length of the fireplace opening. Let’s say your fireplace is 42” in length by 32” in height, making the cross-sectional area of your fireplace opening 1344 in2. Now, if you wanted to install a round liner in the flue, you would take the cross-sectional area and divide it by 12; this gives you the cross-sectional area of the liner needed. 1344in2/12 = 112in2, so you would need to install, at a minimum, 12” round chimney liner to vent this fireplace properly ((6in*6in)*3.14= 113in2). The equation gets more complicated from here, so we’ll just leave it at that for now.

Now let’s say the flue venting your fireplace is a rectangular shape that is 8”x24”. Clearly, a 12” round chimney liner is not going to fit into this flue; your liner needs to be less than 8” across. If you had a 7” round liner, the cross-sectional area would be 38.5 in2 ((3.5in*3.5in)*3.14). This is not large enough to vent the fireplace, which we determined needed a liner of at least 112 in2. In fact, it’s a third of what the fireplace liner should be. If you installed this small of a liner for the fireplace, the fireplace would not draft properly and smoke would fill the house when in use.

Since these kinds of chimneys have long, narrow flues, it’s better to install a rectangular liner. For instance, if we installed a 7”x23” chimney liner in the example above, this would give us a cross-sectional area of 161 in2, which is more than sufficient to properly vent the fireplace.

Picture above showing a 5 fireplace reline project in Woodstock Vermont. Notice the top left chimney liner (long rectangular shape).

What type of chimney liner would you install in this situation?

We would install a stainless-steel chimney liner known as “heavy-wall flex”. It is flexible (which is needed to navigate down the chimney) but has very little corrugation on the inside (meaning it is fairly smooth). This increases draft in the chimney and reduces turbulence of the flue gases, therefore reducing creosote buildup. We believe this is the most durable chimney liner made today, which is important because we want it to last as long as possible.

Why can’t most chimney sweeps install these liners?

A large rectangular chimney liner constructed of the proper material and wrapped with the proper insulation can be extremely heavy—sometimes over 500 pounds. Furthermore, scaffolding must be erected, or a crane used, to raise this liner up above the chimney and then lower it slowly down the chimney. A one- or two-person crew simply can’t handle the scale of this installation.

Why can’t most chimney sweeps install these liners?

Although Chimney Savers is one of the few companies in New England that still gives you the option of cast-in-place chimney liners, a cast-in-place liner isn’t the best solution for venting this type of fireplace.

For one thing, cast-in-place liners are round. As discussed above, pre/early-1900’s homes often have long, narrow flues, which makes getting a liner with enough volume to vent the fireplace a challenge.

It is also a common misconception, even among chimney professionals, that the cast-in-place system allows you to navigate large bends in flues. This is not the case; it is actually more difficult to install cast-in-place liners in chimneys that have bends.

How do you seal the liner in the smoke chamber?

We have developed and mastered several ways to seal up the chimney liner in the smoke chamber area.  When a liner is installed, there is often a gap between the stainless-steel chimney liner and the brick passageway (flue) that it is installed inside of. This area, known as the smoke chamber, is often several feet above the damper of your fireplace and is hard to reach. This gap needs to be sealed; otherwise, smoke and gases can travel up around the chimney liner. We use the cast-in-place lining material to pour this smoke chamber and seal the gap. We do this by blocking off the fireplace damper and pouring the cast-in-place lining material down the chimney. You can think of it like we’re filling the smoke chamber with concrete. We then allow this concrete-like material to harden and then remove the blocking from the fireplace damper. The cast-in-place material is still not completely dry and we are able to carve a passageway from the fireplace throat to the liner. This cast-in-place material not only seals the gap between the smoke chamber and the liner, it also insulates the smoke chamber, making it safer.  

Before Parging
After Parging

Would I see the stainless-steel liner at the top?

No. In our historic restoration projects we have several methods of finishing the chimney top to hide the stainless-steel chimney liner and keep the top of the chimney looking original. on.

What other obstacles may we run into?

Sometimes the flue passageway was designed too small for the fireplace. Or, in some cases, the flue makes very sharp bends inside the chimney, instead of going straight up. In cases like this we have lowered our technicians into the chimney and removed Wythe, or divider, walls inside the flue. Wythe walls are brick walls used to separate flues within the same chimney. Removing these walls gives us more room to install a larger chimney liner.
Removing Divider Wall
After Parging

Why does Chimney Savers get the call?

We have developed a reputation in New England for being able to solve chimney problems that no one else can, and to be clean, friendly and professional while doing so. Through word-of-mouth of contractors, homeowners, engineers and other chimney professionals, we now have had the opportunity to work on large historic projects and unusual projects across New England.

37 Comments

  1. Jamie Holland

    I just had my chimney relined with the intent to burn wood. The liner is 6 inches in diameter and runs the length of the two story house. The fire box is 25 inches high and 18 inches deep. When lit, it fills the house with smoke. My impression is that the liner is far too small and will never allow a wood fire.
    Is there any way to correct the problem?

    Reply
    • Bee

      The opening to your fire place is probably too large for the diameter of your flu. This creates a greater negative pressure inside your home than inside the flu, causing the smoke to pull inside the home. A remodeling of the chimney opening may fix this given your flu seems large enough. Consulting a local professional would be your next step. Good luck.

      Reply
  2. Paul Bianco

    Hi Jamie,
    Yes the 6″ liner is too small for that opening. The liner required would be a 7″ round . or like Bee mentioned reducing the opening may be another option. I would also confirm tat the liner was insulated before burning the fireplace.

    Reply
  3. Linda Kelley

    Looking for a free estimate to repair and restore my chimney.

    Reply
    • Paul

      Hi Linda,
      have you contacter our office?
      If not just give us a call at 802-728-3900 or drop us an email at info@chimneysaversvt.com

      Reply
    • Deirdre Rogan

      Can you recommend a company that does similar restorations in the greater Philadelphia, PA area?

      Reply
      • Paul Bianco

        Hi Deirdre,
        Sorry that I am just seeing this now
        In that area I would recommend DJ Cross, Inc. Chim Chimney Sweeps
        http://www.djcrossinc.com

        Reply
  4. Nina

    Hi, we need a 6″ liner to attach a wood stove, but our “throat” is only 3.5″ – how can we make the transition from stove up to small throat up to 6″ liner?

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Nina,
      There are two options;
      The first is to remove the damper frame and damper from the fireplace giving you enough room.
      The second option is to use an oval to round adapter. However the oval section still needs to maintain the same sq area as a 6″ round. If you simply ovalize the 6″ liner it will reduce the area. There are stock parts supplied by chimney liner manufacturers for this application.

      Reply
      • Nina Wugmeister

        Looks like the only option is to ovalize the 6″ down to 3.5″ but I’m concerned that we won’t have sufficient draw. We have to squeeze the 6″ liner down to 3.5″ to get through the throat, and then back out to 6″ to attach to the stove. If we do it, the risk is ours – because the installer is warning us that the draw might not work. What say you?

        Reply
  5. Steve

    We have an 1800’s beehive oven that needs the chimney rebuilt from the top of the 4×4 fireplace opening through the roof, with a liner. Can you recommend someone who would be interested? We are located near Gettysburg PA. Thanks

    Reply
  6. Allison K Grant

    I like in a 1890s farmhouse in Hudson, OH. Do you know of a reputable company in the Cleveland area? We have used the fireplace for years with no liner and no problems. Not sure this is necessary?

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Allison,
      Blackburn’s Chimney does a great job but I’m not sure if they service your area. Check them out online and see if they can take a look at the chimney.

      Reply
    • Rose Weber

      We just bought a home built in 1900. I have burned a few small fires and there has been no problem. Smoke goes up the flu, easy peasy. Waiting for an official inspection of chimney and a new chimney liner has already been mentioned, but is this really nec essay? It almost sounds like the liners in xterm create more problems. I mean people have been using fireplaces for hundreds of years. Why, now, all of a sudden we need a liner?

      Reply
      • Paul Bianco

        Hi Rose,
        Yes a liner would be required. Although a fireplace is operating does not necessarily make it safe. Many of the historic chimneys that we inspect we find very real and dangerous problems with the chimney systems such as mortar joints being extremely eroded (which in an unlined fireplace is your protection from fire escaping the chimney) and wood way to close to the chimney and or fireplace. Codes requiring lining have been developed over the years due to reactions from chimney’s causing house fires also know as historical performance. Also keep in mind that in many of these older homes the fireplace sees very little use throughout the years.
        A properly installed chimney liner should not cause problems with draft or safety.
        -Paul

        Reply
  7. Gayle Regan

    We live in an 2860 sea captain home in Westchester County, NY. We have three stacked fireplaces With an interior chimney, none of which are operational. We’d like to restore 2 of them (and forgo the one in our guest bedroom). Could you recommend someone in our area? I’ve spoken to several people, all of whom say to try and convert to gas. Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Gayle Regan

      *c.1860 house

      Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Gayle,
      Unfortunately I Don’t know anyone in your area that would handle a project like this. Ill send you an email today to get some more information about your project. Thanks

      Reply
  8. zack westgate

    1700s colonial in Chesterfield, MA. 6 fireplaces to restore, mainly linings plus some masonry work. Looking to restore at least two. Recommendations?

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Zack, I would be happy to discuss your project in more detail over the phone.
      I’ll send you an email!

      Reply
  9. Anne Gabriel

    We have a 1665 house in Duxbury Ma south of Boston. We have been using one fireplace every night for years, but have been told our chimney should be lined. Can you recommend anyone in our area

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Anne,
      I will be sending you an email regarding this today!

      Reply
  10. Jenni

    Hi! I just purchased an 1814 home in nj with a hearth, beehive oven and wood burning stove (on other side of the wall) all on one chimney.
    Just had a chimney sweep come and say there was “no flue” just brick and mortar wide open space all the way up.
    He refused to even clean it and said it would need to have a terra-cotta smoke chamber put in which would involve tearing open the walls etc. is there an alternative and could you recommend someone in Northern NJ?

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Jenni,
      Without seeing the project I cant say if there are any alternatives to what they recommended. I do know Bill Ryan of Ryan and Son Chimney does a great job and are from NJ. I’m not sure their service area but it would be worth a call to them. https://www.ryanchimneynj.com/ Here is there website address.
      Take care and best of luck with your project

      Reply
  11. Martha Curran

    Hello,
    I live in a Historic home, dated 1741, in Concord,Massachusetts. I have 6 fireplaces off a central chimney, and two on a second chimney. Over this past week an historically significant home burned to the ground in Concord, a chimney fire has been determined to be the cause. I have maintained my home and the fireplaces, I’ve lived here my entire 61 years of my life, following a generation before me.
    I would like to have my chimneys inspected, do you do work in Massachusetts? If not, are you familiar with anyone in my area that specializes in old homes.
    Thank you for your time. Wishing you a Healthy and Happy New Year.

    Best,
    Martha Curran
    321 Williams Road
    Concord, MA 01742

    Reply
  12. Jeremy

    Hello,
    My wife and I are considering buying a restored historic home from 1882 in western Kentucky. It has a 2 fireplaces in the downstairs parlor and upstairs bedroom which appear connected. However when looking at the house exterior it appears that the chimney stack was capped as there is only roof and shingles overlying where the chimney ought to be. My question is could these fireplaces potentially be restored?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Jeremy,
      Its hard to say without physically seeing the chimney but I would guess it still would be possible to open up the roof and rebuild the chimney to the proper height and then install chimney liners to make the fireplaces functional. I’m not sure how far you are from Lexington Kentucky but But Barnhill Chimney Co. does a great job! I’m not sure how far they travel but they would be a great resource to start with. Best of luck with the project and let me know if you have any further questions.

      Reply
      • Kimberly

        I have a similar situation in western Virginia with a chimney that terminates in the attic and the roof was built over top. The chimney is 100 years old and was originally for a wood stove, not a fireplace. Is there any possibility it could be restored to function with a freestanding wood stove again?

        Reply
  13. Ilicia

    Hi,
    I have a Georgia plantation home built in 1821. We have 5 fireplaces that currently have gas logs. I would like to remove them and be able to burn wood. Do y’all recommend a company in Middle Georgia? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Paul Bianco

      Hi Ilicia,
      I’m not familiar with any chimney companies in Georgia unfortunately. Ill be sending you an email to get some more details as I know a really great company in Alabama but im not sure if they would travel your way.
      Thanks

      Reply
  14. Ladyjorns.Com

    “You need a local historian or contractor who restores historic houses. They can provide the most assistance and tell you about the restoration process that needs to be done,” says Gambrel.

    Reply
  15. Howgeekis

    A contractor and an inspector can help estimate the amount of work that needs to be done and its cost. But it could be helpful to research people with experience in historic preservation.

    Reply
  16. Amy

    Hello,

    We just bought a home built in approximately built in 1860. We have a central chimney with a wood stove and fireplace on the other side. There is also a beehive oven. We are in Weymouth Ma and are having a hard time finding someone who knows about historic chimneys in our area. Do you have any recommendations for South shore of MA

    Reply
  17. Chad Szarzynski

    Any chance you know of a chimney lining service similar to yours near Madison, WI. I have an 1885 home about 45 minutes south that I am trying to figure out how to update the chimney for so we can use the fireplace again.

    Reply
  18. Marina Munoz

    Hello,
    We recently purchased a colonial Salt box farmhouse (circa 1860)in New Milford, CT
    Looking to restore our historic chimney with three fireplaces (one containing a masonry oven!)
    We have been told by a sweep that it’s too old… I would like a second and expert opinion.
    Please help.
    Best,

    Marina

    Reply
  19. Mary Mackey

    Great article and thank you for taking the time to answer readers’s questions.
    We live in Georgia, near Atlanta, in an 1860’s farmhouse. Our chimneys are made from field fired brick (very soft) and have mortar from that time. We had one chimney lined with a cast in place product where we have an insert.
    We would love to use the kitchen fireplace for wood but have not found a company that offers a solution.
    Do you know of any southern based companies we could contact or offer any other ideas for us?
    We are handy people doing much renovation ourselves but have no knowledge in this area.

    Reply
  20. A katsi

    Hi!
    I’m looking for someone who does this type of work in Fairfield ct. we were told our 1854 chimney is half lined with clay liner and need it fully lined to use it safely.

    Thank you!

    Reply

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