Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Peter Darling! the Sweep's Here!"

Old caps
Thus in Dorothy L. Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon does the new bride Harriet Vane Wimsey announce to her husband Lord Peter the presence of the man who's going to solve the problem of the blocked sitting room chimney in their newly-purchased country house.  Peter and Harriet only found out they needed the sweep in the night before.  I've been gearing up to have something done about my water heater flue for months.

Still, when I could suppress the awareness of what the work was going to cost, I, too, could rejoice this morning at 9:30 when the truck drove up and John the chimney technician rang the bell.  Hurray, the sweep's here!

He certainly earned his money.  He was here for five hours, and made sure everything was done just right.

First thing, he went down the basement, put the water heater on pilot, removed the 3" flue between the appliance and the chimney, and enlarged the opening into the brickwork.

Old cap unit, on the ground
Note the rust on the lefthand side!
Then it was out to the side yard to raise the ladder.  He got the old double chimney cap down, what I feebly call the turbine-looking thing, and it was a lot bigger than I imagined.  And wide open to the birds.  And very rusty on the water heater side.  Not a big surprise, since the guys who did my roof repair a few months ago told me it was going.  That's why they painted it, but the extent of the rust was eye-opening.

Flue full of bird's nests

 John got out his rods and brushes and pushed the birds' nest material down into the basement where he plucked it out of the opening.  Two 5-gallon buckets worth, and some of it was packed so hard, he said, that for awhile he thought I had a brick stuck in there.

At work with the rods
My knowledge of chimney sweeping is mostly derived from Busman's Honeymoon (what did you think-- Mary Poppins?), so I knew about rods and brushes, but somehow I thought they were metal.  I asked John, and he said, no, in the old days they were mostly bamboo or rattan; now they mostly use fiberglass and other synthetics, depending on the offset of the chimney and the nature of the blockage.  And though he's heard of clearing a chimney with a shotgun (as employed by the vicar in Busman's Honeymoon), he's never actually known anybody who's done it!

New liner, with 2 buckets of blockage
A new cap.  Pardon rotation fail.
I didn't hang around watching the festivities the whole time; I kept busy inside sorting papers in the dining room or grooming my dog and my oldest kitteh on the back porch.  But I stepped out front in time to see my new stainless steel liner and its insulation coiled like a bright blue snake and the curb, and beheld the new chimney caps up close and personal, a chance I will likely never get again.  Made to order, stainless steel, powdercoated brown with hipped "roofs" without the standing seam.  Very Craftsman looking.

The liner is in

The animals needed more brushing and were enjoying it so much I missed the actual insertion of the liner into the flue.  He said there was no trouble getting it down.  Which is funny in a grim sort of way, because another chimney company came out in mid-June and got cold feet about "what they might find" in my chimney.  They were afraid they couldn't get the liner through, refused even to bid the job and told me to get an electric water heater instead!

Connecting the liner at the WH
But it went in sweetly, and soon as John had adjusted it at the top, it was back into the basement to get the new flue from the water heater connected in to the new tee at the bottom.  John told me the new flue from the heater is 4" diameter instead of the 3" I had, which will take a bigger tank if I or a subsequent owner ever need it.

Setting the caps
Next was the exciting part, setting the new caps.  I keep hovering in my neighbors' yards across the street, where a bit of a rise gave me a better viewing angle, and I noticed that the front cap wasn't parallel with the stone dressing at the top of the chimney.  But John was already on it.  He was down at his truck cutting a couple of metal shims.  "I can't make the cap level," he said, "because the top of the chimney isn't level.  Does that make sense?"  "Absolutely."  "So we have to fool the eye so it looks parallel to the ground."

Careful adjustments
Time for sealant
And he did.  He worked at it until he got it right, got my okay, then used sealant to fasten the caps down. Standard way it's been done for decades, and no, he's never known a high wind to carry a cap away.  Then, sealant all around the bottom of the stone dressing, between it and the brick.

He noticed a bit of light-colored something on the stone and tried to scrape it off.  I'd noticed it, too, and when he came down he said it was sealant left from the old cap that had covered the whole top dressing.  He went back up with some solvent and soon, it was gone.

Done up top; time to lower the ladder
 The ladder came down after that, but John wasn't finished.  He headed back down the basement to mud the connector from the water heater into the brick flue so it was good and tight.  When I came down to watch he pointed out that I seem to have a leaky connection on the outgoing side of the appliance, judging from the corrosion.  It's not enough to melt the plastic collar yet, but it's something I need to watch.

New connector mudded in
This will need watching
As I'd requested, he hauled the two buckets of bird straw around back to my compost pile.  Once everything was put away out front, it was time for The Paperwork.  From comparing notes with other old house owners, I know that the price I got on this job was very reasonable, what with the sweeping, the top-quality stainless steel liner with insulation, and the two new caps.  I still wish it hadn't been necessary, but it helps that he accepted half now and equal payments at no interest over the next six months.  And there's a lifetime manufacturer's warranty on the flue-- if I get it professionally inspected every year.  But, John confided, even if I don't or can't, he's never known one of these to go out.

But I'll think about that next summer.  Right now, the work is done, hurray! and the damp spot over my mantelpiece can start drying.  It might take a week, John said, but then I can finish prepping my living room walls for finish.

All finished
I keep walking outside to gape at the new caps.  (You'd think I had this job done just to get them.)   I regret to admit it, but I kind of miss the old ones-- they were so distinctive.  But they didn't match the style of the house and they weren't working.

John hauled the old cap unit away, so I can't have a wake over it.  I was toying with taking it in for scrap myself, but I don't think I could lift it, nor did it look like I could fit it into my car, even with the back seat folded down.  So it's just as well I forgot to mention it and he made the decision for me.

Now, terra cotta chimney pots.  That'd be just the thing.  Oh, yeah.

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