Lifting the House A Chronicle of Mayhem and Plunder

A Ton of Bricks!

Our main stairway was steeper than most. It also had a turn at the bottom, low headroom where it passed through a doorway, and various other defects. Basically we hated it for years and this was a good excuse to rip it out and fix it. To get enough room for the new, straight, building-code-compatible stairway, we had to lengthen the stairwell. Unfortunately, the furnace chimney was right smack in the way. Donning my Gloves of Destruction, I shut off the furnace, climbed up on the roof with a hammer and chisel, and commenced to do battle with bricks and mortar.

Dismantling the chimney was not all that hard. After accidentally dropping my chisel down it, soon followed by my hammer, I discovered that 97-year-old brickwork can easily be loosened by whacking it with another brick! Sometimes I could rip out bricks with just my hands. Like the Incredible Hulk. Only better looking.

The trouble was that I had to get all those bricks into a nice neat pile in the corner of the backyard. Basically I would hurl them off the roof to the lawn below, trying to avoid breaking them on each other. About every 20 bricks my bombing range would get too crowded, and I would go down and stack them semi-neatly. So now we have a herkin' big stack of about 600 authentic used bricks -- way more than I ever expected -- destined to become a patio or walkway somewhere.

A scary look down the inside of the chimney
Bombing Range
Semi-neat pile (early stages)

The first day I took out the top 11 feet. That was about 250 bricks. Yeah!! Fortunately the chimney stuck out through a part of the roof that has a very shallow slope. It's a shed dormer that extends out over a bathroom we added about 15 years ago. So I was able to sit on the roof next to the chimney and pull it apart. Once I got down to the roof line it got a bit more difficult, as I had to reach down through the opening in the roof. After I got as far down as I could reach I went back inside the house and up into the crawl space attic. Fortunately again, the chimney was right next to the access hatch, so I was able to stand on the ladder and do the work from there rather than crouch in some cramped, dark, spidery corner.

When I got it down below ceiling level I got out the SawzAll -- possibly the most satisfying of all hand power tools -- and cut away the section of wall that covered the chimney. There's nothing like cutting a big jagged hole in the house to make a man feel like a man!

The photos at the right show the cut away wall and dismantled chimney. The dark area with the horizontal white lines is the back surface of the lath and plaster wall in the master bedroom. This was as far as I got the first day. Maybe 6 hours of work, most of which was spent carrying the bricks to a window throwing them out, periodically going down to collect and stack them.

The chimney dismantling process was surprisingly not very dusty. It was a hot day, and a strong and steady breeze was rising through the house and exiting through the hole in the roof. As I whacked each brick loose, a cloud of sooty dust would be whisked up and out of sight. So I didn't even bother to wear a dust mask of any kind. Just gloves. As an afterthought, eye protection probably would have been a good idea.

The second day the going was slower, because I ran into some heavy duty mortar work where the chimney was apparently anchored to the house frame. These pictures show the hole in the wall at the bottom of the stairwell, directly below the other place. This is on the main floor. I got about another 8 feet taken out.

The third day went much better as I chopped and hacked my way to the basement. The bottom 6 feet of the chimney were full of soot, mortar chips, and a couple bricks I had dropped down it. And oh yeah, my hammer and chisel, none the worse for wear.

Once the chimney was gone, the next thing to do was get ready for Stairway Demolition.

Working on the downstairs stretch Keeping the living room dust-free
Basement section going... Going... Gone