Stories From the Field

Post: Unusual Brick Discovered

Wednesday September 30, 2015

Kamil holding up an unusual brick

Here Kamil holds up a sample of the brick used to construct the defective chimney. Look at that unusual undulating shape...the Mae West of bricks!

A view of the unusual bricks from overhead

The design of this brick is unusual and clever. Four bricks laid at 90° angles make a nice looking circular chimney shaft. Too bad the brick is so porous and prone to spalling.

This week one we started up a project in the West Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. The scope of work entailed dismantling and rebuilding deflected parapet walls and a failing chimney on a lovely 100-year-old two-flat constructed entirely of brick (no concrete blocks to be found in a structure of this vintage).

I had been called out to inspect this structure immediately following its purchase by the new owner. Usually a prospective buyer calls in AAA-1 Masonry & Tuckpointing before a deal closes in order to identify costly issues which may influence the final purchase price. In this case, however, the building had been sold slightly below market value by a friend of the prospective buyer in an "as is" condition. Very little maintenance had been performed on this building over the decades, so the opportunity to perform less costly maintenance repairs was no longer available, and the new owner now had to dismantle and rebuild parapet walls and chimneys in their entirety.

We knew there was something unusual about the west elevation chimney because it was sitting on its own concrete pad (odd for this era of construction; the entire two-story building was sitting on a brick foundation). We also noticed that the entire chimney shaft from top to bottom was heavily parged, indicating significant issues with the integrity of the chimney shaft. Sure enough when we took down the chimney we found that it had been constructed with a newer as-yet unidentified brick (see photos aboveat right). Neither I nor any of the masons had ever seen this type of brick before. And although it was cleverly designed (refer to second photo), the brick was not well constructed and appears to have failed long before any other area of the original building.

This particular chimney was used to vent two older furnaces responsible for heating the apartments. The new owner elected to replace the furnaces with two super-high efficiency units which allowed him to exhaust the furnace gases directly through the basement wall with PVC tubing, so the defective chimney did not need to be rebuilt (which saved the new owner many thousands of dollars and allowed him to afford additional repairs needed elsewhere).

Even for a masonry restoration company in continuous operation for more than 60 years, there is still more to discover, as evidenced here.

Should you have a crumbling parapet wall or a failing chimney, call us for an honest assessment and a free quote. Who knows what we will discover together!


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