Let There Be Fire!
As the oldest granddaughter of a mason, part of the reason I fell in love with Lady Beekman was all of its 1950s brick. I know the trend lately has been painting over every single brick in sight white, but for our house, that would be sacrilegious. See, we have gorgeously worn, imperfect, original brick. It is not orange or red. It is shades of terra-cotta, dark mud, dirty gray, worn off white in a beautiful vintage palette.
The single most commented-upon feature of our home is for sure the 15-foot brick wall that houses a wood-burning fireplace. When we initially purchased Lady Beekman in 2015, this what it looked like:
We gave you a high-level preview of all the steps we had already taken with this fireplace of ours, but today I will give you all the details… because life (and time, and money…) is in the details.
From the original inspection of the house, we knew the chimney wasn’t safe to operate as it was. And, even though we expected some work to be done to get into operating order, we didn’t expect the journey to be so long, so complicated and so expensive. If my memory serves me right, the original homeowners used the fireplace until the day they vacated the house as their main source of heat for this side of the house, which originally had a malfunctioning heat pump. How bad could it have been?
After the house was ours but before a thorough inspection could be done in the fireplace, we would have to take out the giant heatilator insert. It weighed several hundred pounds since our fireplace opening is an excessive 60”L x 43.5”H. Thankfully, we could count with the help of 3 very able grown men during our construction (end of 2015) to remove and properly dispose of this bulky insert.
Once the opening was clear, we called in masonry chimney experts (Spring of 2016). Closer inspection by them revealed all the points that would need masonry work to make this fireplace and chimney work safely again. And so, we hired the masonry experts to fix the structure of our chimney ($$). They gave us the safety go-ahead to light a fire once the weather cooled.
When Fall 2016 arrived, we eagerly lit the first fire of the season, only to have our family room fill with dense smoke in about 30 min. After several failed attempts, we figured out that in order to keep the room from filling with smoke, we would have to keep the fire ROARING, elevated, and every doorway and window open throughout the house… It just wasn’t a sustainable solution.
We patiently waited for Spring of 2017 and called the experts back. We presented the current issue: lack of proper ventilation. Their solution: because the fireplace opening is so large, a chimney damper may do the trick. And, because our chimney is oddly sized at the roof line, the damper had to be custom-sized ($$$).
Fall 2017 arrived and we were hopeful for the first fire. And, while the damper helped, our family room was still smoke-filled in about one hour. While it wasn’t a permanent solution, we did sneak some hour-long, hawk-eyed fireplace uses through the winter of 2017:
By now, you know the deal… When Spring 2018 arrived, we called the experts back. They suggested we reduce the opening of our fireplace opening — it is just too large. And, while we would have loved to do that, all that metal work was going to be custom, and we had many other priorities then.
Fall of 2018 we felt so defeated… we didn’t even dare to light a fire.
On Spring of 2019, we were changing our roof (stay tuned for the whole story in a future blog post!). Since we decided to change from a shingle-roof to a metal-roof, we had to closely work with both our roofers and our chimney experts to make sure all water-proofing was done correctly and at the right time. Since we hadn’t had much luck solving our issues with the original experts, we called someone else who came in highly recommended. While he did his work waterproofing the chimney, we spoke at length with him about our issue. He recommended a few solutions:
- Removing the brick stack and limestone top that covered the chimney at the roof line. It had been built way too short and therefore it was impeding proper chimney ventilation.
- Adding a chimney fan, which would suck out the smoke accumulation from the chimney and vent it outside.
- If and only if those two things didn’t completely solve the issue, taking the third step to custom-shrink the size of the firebox.
And so, with renewed hope and confidence, we embarked on this path. We had to save before this step so in the first week of 2020, we removed the cap ($$), removed the custom damper ($$$) and added a custom fan ($$$$). And then the Global Covid-19 Pandemic hit and NJ shut down. With that, we couldn’t get our roofers out to add the necessary boot in our metal roof to take up the electrical connection the newly installed custom-fan needed to run.
We sat in this step between March and Mid-October (sigh).
Our roofers were finally able to came out and install the roof boot we needed. And at the end of October, all the electrical connections got made just in time for the weather to turn chilly. And after so much anticipation… the custom fan didn’t work. Since Matt had done the electrical connection, the first step in guaranteeing the fan warranty was using a vendor-approved electrician to check all the work Matt did ($$$). So the electrician came and checked (it was all correct. Yay, Matt!). And so the fan was under warranty. Our chimney guy came, uninstalled the fan, covered the fireplace, and sent off the custom fan back to the manufacturer in mid-November.
December came and went with the holiday season, and finally, on 01/19/2021 our chimney guy had the fan in hands and ready to reinstall it. As soon as he left our home, I had Matt finalize the electrical installation. After a small scare (a security blade that had to be taken off the fan)… the fan worked!!
Since this has been an almost 6-year saga, I wasn’t about to declare victory before I had absolute proof of no smoke in the house. By 5:00 PM we had a fire going (with the fan on). By 7:00 PM, I was feeling confident, and, finally, at 8:00 PM, when NO SMOKE was lingering in the house, we declared this issue SOLVED!
I was so content, cozy, and grateful that I didn’t even care it was a Tuesday night/school night! We kept the fire going all night and after dinner, we all snuggled up on the couch and watched Pixar’s “Soul” while basking in the amazing glow of the fire!