40-year-old house may need liner for chimney

January 16, 2013 

Q: We just had our chimney cleaned, and the gentleman is advising us to have our chimney lined, for which he gave us an estimate of $2,800. How in the world does one know when a chimney needs a liner? Our house is 40 years old. Is that an indicator that it does? He took a flashlight and showed me a pile of whitish material in the back of the furnace pipe that was about 21/2 inches high. What do you think?

A: From what I understand, age of the house may be only one factor in determining whether your chimney needs a liner.

The experts recommend regular cleaning of chimneys for a good reason.

When you delay maintenance, creosote from wood-burning eventually builds up enough to create a fire hazard.

The same thing happens when residue from whatever you heat your house with – probably heating oil — builds up as well.

Many years ago, shortly before Christmas, the pipe connecting the coal-converted-to-oil furnace to the chimney of my old house came unconnected, and there was a pile of a whitish material at the base.

I don’t know for sure, but the pipe appeared to be plastered to the base of the chimney, and the whitish material was probably a mixture of plaster and efflorescence — residue created when water in porous material evaporates, leaving salt as a white, fluffy deposit behind.

The “gentleman” should have identified the material and explained what it meant, in any event.

I looked up my chimney and saw no blockage. Later, a chimney contractor checked it out and found that the original terra-cotta masonry lining, by then a century old, was fine and all the brick mortar was intact.

I was fortunate, because a few years before, the owners of the adjacent twin wanted to open up the chimney that vented a coal-burning stove and we shared the $1,000 cost of lining and repairing the mortar.

Most chimney contractors recommend a stainless-steel liner that slips in from the top of the chimney all the way down.

They are recommended for chimneys that are used to vent wood-burning stoves because creosote can quickly mess up other metals.

First, you need more than just one estimate, and here’s hoping that you find someone who will offer you a more complete and accurate explanation of your problem, and all the available alternatives — information readily accessible online.

The liner that is used will have to properly fit the inside of the chimney.

Now, to the cost. Mark Wade, a Philadelphia real estate agent who deals with a lot of people who buy places with fireplaces in need of working chimneys, and who has done some renovation projects himself, said he’s never heard less than $4,000.

Recently, I was in South Philadelphia, chatting with Franco Borda, the owner of FrancoLuigi’s Pizzeria and the High Note Cafe, and public relations guru George Polgar.

When I asked if either had that work done recently, both said yes — about $2,500 to $3,000 — but Polgar had some mortar replacement work as well.

Again, you need a complete and written explanation of the problem and more than one estimate before you consider having the work done.

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