Author Topic: Damaged fire brick in fireplace  (Read 7102 times)

spooky105

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Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« on: January 29, 2016, 07:29:14 AM »

I am a longtime blog reader and first time forum poster looking for some insights from masonry / fireplace experts out there...

We bought a house this summer that happened to come with a fireplace. While I realize a traditional fireplace isn't a model of efficiency, it is nice to have a little moral fire every now and then. The house was built in 1957 and the fireplace is original, as far as I can tell. Chimney was swept within the past year.

Taking a closer look at fire box after lighting a few fires (yeah, I did that out of order) brought the following to my attention:

1) There is some wear and tear to the lower bricks along the back wall of the fire box, presumably from logs impacting the brick. A few of the bricks have lost material 1/4 to 1/3 the width of the brick. At the deepest, the material loss is maybe 1/8" deep and all mortar is intact. One brick has a hairline crack running vertically.

2) About midway up the back wall of the firebox (around where it starts to taper) two of the bricks in the center have some give to them. The mortar is intact around them, but pressing yields an ever so slight movement in these two bricks.

I'm really curious if this is a major safety issue or more of a "what you should expect from a 50+ year old fireplace". I was leaning towards using a metal fireback to protect the bricks from further log damage, but I'm out of my element here.

Appreciate any insights.

life is short

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2016, 07:44:59 AM »
I'm interested in this as well since I am buying a house with a similar issue. The bricks in the base of the fireplace have shifted and so there are cracks where the mortar was/is. There are also vertical cracks in the back of the fireplace. It's still under contract pending an inspection, though, so if it's serious there's room to negotiate.

Spork

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2016, 02:26:25 PM »
Take my words with a grain of salt.  This was advice from a chimney sweep I used once on a previous house.

I had some mortar/brick damage on the back wall of the fire box.  His thoughts were that the chimney wasn't capped (it wasn't) and that rain had damaged it over time.  He reached in and pushed the wall and it moved a little.

His thoughts were that since the chimney was in the center of the house -- and that wall backed up to other parts of the house -- the fireplace was not safe for wood fires, but would be safe for something like a gas log insert.  He thought if that same chimney had backed up to an outside wall -- he wouldn't worry about it.

In other words, if the damaged areas fall out and the fire spills out -- where is it going to spill?  If it spills to somewhere else in the house, you should probably fix it or not use it as a wood burner.

Le Poisson

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2016, 03:01:36 PM »
Are either of you in Canada?

When we bought our house we had the fireplace and chimney inspected, and demanded that the unit be WET Certified as a closing condition. I suggest anyone buying a house with a wood burning appliance do this.

In ours there was poor firebrick, a cracked liner, and a cracked chimney cap. The seller had a contractor come in and reline the fireplace, replace a couple sections of flue liner, and seal the cap. This is valuable to have had done, because your insurance company can demand the work later on if you don't have it done.

For anyone to give advice on whether or not your fireplace is safe online is very difficult. If you are uncomfortable with the chimney at all, I would suggest having it inspected. The cost of the inspection may save your home.

BudgetSlasher

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2016, 08:52:54 AM »
I am going to agree with Prospector, it is hard to diagnosis a fireplace online, especially without picture, even then it would be difficult to say for sure that it was safe.

Around here most many places that do chimney cleanings will, for an added fee, do a complete inspection.

I remember as a kid, my dad would patch hairline cracks in the bricks and mortar with something out of a can from the hardware store and that fireplace is still standing 20 years later.

I am glad you acknowledge that fireplaces are inefficient. I we have sealed ours off to prevent air leaking when not in sure and plan to upgrade them to either wood or pellet inserts before returning them to service. That way they are actually a positive asset and you can still see the flames. This may be something you want to investigate depending on the condition on the exsisting firebox.

Blueeyes7767

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2016, 10:12:40 PM »
I am currently house shopping and steer clear of any home that has wood burning fireplace for exactly the reasons posted here.  The house I am in now has a wood burning fireplace which had not been maintained properly over the years.  The fireplace has blocked off which cuts my heating costs substantially.

My personal preference would be a gas fireplace.  Much more efficient and economical in the long run.

Le Poisson

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2016, 10:40:56 PM »
I am currently house shopping and steer clear of any home that has wood burning fireplace for exactly the reasons posted here.  The house I am in now has a wood burning fireplace which had not been maintained properly over the years.  The fireplace has blocked off which cuts my heating costs substantially.

My personal preference would be a gas fireplace.  Much more efficient and economical in the long run.

Why avoid the whole house over the fireplace? Price a direct-vent gas conversion into the sale. Make a condition of purchase if you want. Either way, you are writing off entire houses over a $500 - $1,000 item that can be installed in a couple hours.

lthenderson

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2016, 06:36:22 AM »
Not quite sure what you have by your description but I would lean on the side of getting a professional to inspect it. I had a gas fireplace in the house we now live in that I tore out and replaced with a wood burning insert into the original wood burning fireplace. The bricks are just stacked inside without mortar and have a slight amount of give to them if pressed upon. It is an insert inside another fireplace though you wouldn't know from looking from it on the outside.

BudgetSlasher

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2016, 09:05:47 AM »
I am currently house shopping and steer clear of any home that has wood burning fireplace for exactly the reasons posted here.  The house I am in now has a wood burning fireplace which had not been maintained properly over the years.  The fireplace has blocked off which cuts my heating costs substantially.

My personal preference would be a gas fireplace.  Much more efficient and economical in the long run.

I wouldn't avoid a house with a fireplace, it is not a major expense (in the size of a house purchase) to install an insert with the fuel source of your choosing.

I would not call any fireplace gas or wood "efficient and economical" they both can suffer from the drafty flue and both carry most of the heat they produce, if not some extra from the house, right up up the chimney when used. One of our fireplaces now has a propane log in it at the moment and we have still chosen to seal it off.

If you are talking about a stove-style insert, then yes those make sense. I know here that wood is more "efficient and economical" than propane gas, but I have not run the numbers against natural gas.

lthenderson

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2016, 07:46:38 AM »
Between Oak Wilt Disease and the Ash Borer going around, I have more wood to burn than I know what to do with. So essentially my wood insert provides free heat, twice. Once cutting the wood and once burning it. Can't say that about a gas insert.

spooky105

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2016, 07:17:12 AM »
Had the fire brick inspected by a pro -- everything checked out OK. The wear & tear was not unusual and because it is a full masonry fireplace with thick ("full size"?) fire brick there was nothing to be concerned about at this point.

Inspector mentioned that insert / pre fab fireplaces use thinner fire bricks. Those would be a different story.

Capsu78

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Re: Damaged fire brick in fireplace
« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2016, 10:20:10 AM »
We have been burning wood for over 25 years now so here are my observations:
Annual cleaning and inspection are a good thing, although I always get a second opinion before I spend additional $$$ beyond the cleaning.  Looking for safety vs. upsell.
I was having my back wall "refreshed" about every three years, but bought a good USA made metal insert 6 years ago and have no issues with the back wall any longer...good investment.
I have a good cap and have paid for weather proofing the top of the chimney.
I splurged on good custom fitted glass doors and have never regretted it.  It "improved" efficiency, but I realistically note the energy exchange going on and stop burning when the temps drop below zero.
Every fireplace has different efficiencies, IMHO.  My fireplace seems to perform well, the one at my neighbors house always seem to give him problems.  Frank Lloyd Wright was so fond of fireplaces, it is said he designed over 1600 of them never using the same design twice.  It is also said some of them were incredibly inefficient and were the source of many future structural issues for those who buy these homes but are totally restricted in what renovations they can make if they want their home to still be considered FLW homes!  No dropping in a fireplace inserts if you don't want the preservationists turning up their nose at you!
For us, it is a personal "esthetic" decision to burn wood, and my responsibility as a "dutiful husband" to respond when appropriately my wife says "Are we having a fire tonight?"