redundant chimney stacks - to remove or not to remove

12 Apr 2013
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United Kingdom
Dear Forum members,

I would appreciate your thoughts on a decision I have to make in the near future.

My house is a end-of-terrace Victorian house with a hip roof. There are 2 chimney breasts on the main roof of the house and these emerge as 2 chimney stacks (see image below) above the roofline. Both the chimneys are redundant.

We are getting a new roof in the near future and as part of the job I am considering getting both the chimney stacks removed (only the chimney stacks above the roofline, not the chimney breasts inside the house).

The main reason for the removal is to remove an unnecessary and unused part of the house to minimise the chances of problems (structural issues, dampness, leaks etc.) arising in the future. We might also get the chimney breasts removed in the future and if the chimney stacks are removed right now that will make it easier and cheaper for the chimney breast removal.

Even if we were to get a fireplace in the future it would be one of the self-contained ones that can have both the air intake pipe and the exhaust pipe routed to the outside via a nearby wall.

Considering what I have said below is it okay to get the chimney stacks removed? Am I missing something? Are there other factors that I should take into consideration.

Thank you.
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Common sense suggest that anything which penetrates the roof line is a potential leak point, so best not being there. Even if you don't, when you rework the roof your should consider replacing the flashings and repointing so removal could well be cheaper.
No way remove the stacks (or the chimney breasts). They are a tremendously distinguishing feature, entirely in tune with the style and period of the house. They add value and character to the property.

Believe me, because i've seen it happen to the most mean, but authentic, country cottages, in a few years houses like yours with any period details, especially structural details, will be gold dust.

The stacks appear to be in excellent condition. You have choices:

1. Leave as they are but re-new all flashings, flaunching and the pots. Re-point and replace any perished bricks.

2. Lower the top of the stacks to the string line brick course (the lower projecting course) and re-build, in new brick, at that level to the old style.

Whatever, do sweep all your flues and vent them top and bottom.

There are much thinner, higher stacks still in working order from two centuries before yours - they've been maintained.
I agree with you but the plastic windows kind of negates the point you're making. I suppose they could revert back to suitable wooden ones.

If there's no sign of damp in the attic penetration then the brickwork is sound so flashing replacement (with real lead) is the way to go. And it always leaves the option open for a wood-burner.
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Thanks for the inputs.

Unfortunately the house is almost completely devoid of any period features.

This house has been a poor state of repair for 20-30 years if not more. We bought the house a year ago from a "professional" developer who bought it from the previous long-term occupant/owner and "refurbished" it. Both the long-term occupant and the developer made sure that the house retained very few of the charming Victorian features.
I think you are spot on, Russell.

This is SE London UK, right? Wood burners might be fine for the country, where you can grow your own, but wood for burning also means fuel for transport, even if a log vendor could park his truck outside. Which means £££ for a warm crackle in one room and the smell of wood smoke for the neighbours.

Repairs to roof features are inevitably scaffold jobs because of H&S - even more £££. Get the roof overhauled and the chimneys taken away, no-one will miss them, especially yourself and the next buyer of the house.

Nunhead and Peckham have some pretty Victorian housing stock, but as far as these two chimney stacks go, I'm not even sure they are original - the chimney stacks are in the same red common Fletton brick that makes up the central section of the flank wall, and does not match the well blackened and weathered yellow London stocks at front and back corners - neither in age nor appearance - possibly the roof and wall was repaired following WWII bomb damage.

The Flettons will deteriorate faster than the stocks. Don't use a modern breathable paint on them, there are incompatibilities. They are not the best brick for exterior walls, and definitely not chimneys. If you compare these with the stack on the party wall at the back (in your album "Roof"), you can see that is built with yellow London stocks.

I doubt that even original fireplaces in these fairly standard 1890s terraces would have been very pretty. Probably a brown marbled slate mantel and half a dozen brownish tiles in the iron surround. There were a maximum of 6 flues for the property, 3 bedrooms, a back parlour with a range and 2 drawing rooms.

These most likely are long gone, no doubt, when the GasMiser was installed in the 1960s because of the Clean Air Acts.

The chimney breasts also crowd the rooms - removing them will make the bedrooms and receptions appear much more spacious and easy to furnish.

If you don't control that overgrown Lonicera henryi(?), that too will be forcing its way into the roof too, in the next few months!
Dear Flyboytim - thanks for the great advice on all fronts! It is much appreciated. I especially commend your powers of observation and analysis :)

I will talk to our neighbour about his plant. I will offer to get him a new plant (or few) to replace this one. Any recommendations?

We also plan to remove the chimney breasts but due to budget reasons that will have to be a project for another year. I do agree with you - each chimney breast occupies about 1.5-2.0 square meter of space in each room (each chimney breast passes through a room each on each of the floors so about 6-8 meter square in all). Removing them will indeed make each room more spacious and make interior decoration and furniture arrangement more flexible.

Thank you.
The period details dont have to be "pretty" or in good condition - they just have to be there, especially as i pointed out above "structural details".

Its been common practice since whenever, to use good brick on the front elevation (& occasionally the rear) and cheaper brick on other elevations - common practice and common knowledge to anyone who has ever worked a days labouring on a building site.

Whether there is yellow brick in the above photo, or in the roof pic, i cant tell from the pics??

The chimney breasts on that gable might be acting as structural piers, and a surveyors or SE's opinion is required before any removal.

Removing the breasts will make the rooms look like boxes. Then again, some prefer to live in boxes.

Have you mentioned at any stage in this thread that you intend to use "modern breathable paint"?
Ree, thanks for your comments. To each his own I suppose.

I checked WW2 bomb maps and it seems that 3 bombs were dropped in the vicinity of our house. I am still doing some research to figure out what the bomb markers exactly mean, what kind of bombs they were and what the probability is that the damage was caused by bombs and not by something else (or as you mentioned was just designed that way to have different bricks on the side).

If I were to get the chimney breasts removed I will surely involve a structural surveyor. If and when we do that work it will be in conjunction with a couple of other structural modifications we have in mind.

I suppose the comment about the paint came from the fact that the front of the house and rear of the house is painted white (which I do not like but will live with for now).

Thanks for your help, much appreciated.
Rambling roses and Clematis don't have the potential for damage that Ivy, Virginia Creeper and some other Grape relatives have, nor the vitality and longevity that Wisteria, Russian Vine, Passiflora spp. and some honeysuckles (Lonicera henryi included).

All of these can look fabulous in the right place, but that is not on a neighbour's suburban terrace end wall, in my opinion.

Clematis and roses do not have the evergreen habit, and both need a little annual maintenance to keep them tidy, but nothing like the plant that is there already - which can be kept in check with an annual springtime heavy pruning.

I mentioned the paint as a precaution - Flettons become much more likely to spall if painted, and it is hard to remove masonry paint. They are best left to age naturally, but they are not very graceful. The granular nature of the clay they are cut from forms little cracks which harbour and shed water, but once spalling begins, they continue to crumble like an expanded polystyrene block.

Here's an end of terrace from Nunhead in the original brickwork, thanks to Google Streetview:

You will know what to do if you win the lottery! :)

The wall is not a gable as ree seems to have said in the last post. As you stated originally, it has a hipped roof, although the small roof at the back is probably gabled.

I was looking on Google Street View of some of the roads around Nunhead Station that had bomb damage - Kimberley Avenue in particular - where Victorian houses still standing, next to 1950s and 1960s houses, still had the neighbouring adjoined Chimney breast & chimney stacks standing and rendered, sometimes painted white.

I then found this site:

It seems Peckham and Nunhead had a lot of "doodlebug" damage from 29 missiles, as well as 3 of the 14 V2 rockets that landed on London, not forgetting considerable conventional bombing.

It has been an interesting thread.
The generic use of the term "gable" for a wall returning from the front elevation is common usage in the building trades in parts of the UK.

Where there is a triangular portion between sloping roofs, its referred to as the pike (or occasionally as the pediment, especially if its on a dormer).
Not in my parts of the country, ree, and they stretch from Yorkshire in the north to Hampshire in the south with several major cities and counties in between.

It is a flank wall, a side wall. Topped with a hipped roof. Simples.

To paraphrase "The Matrix" - There is no gable.

In my native Brummy, I might say "Yow know, it's the wall that roises to a pike in between the rooves!"* - in answer to the question "What's a gable?", but that's the closest it gets. (*translation " You know, it's the wall that rises to a peak in between the roofs!")

Please show me, or give a book reference if you would, and I'd be pleased to write to Encyclopaedia Britannica and the OED with your findings, that it is your assertion that:

The generic use of the term "gable" for a wall returning from the front elevation is common usage in the building trades in parts of the UK.

Where there is a triangular portion between sloping roofs, its(sic) referred to as the pike (or occasionally as the pediment, especially if its(sic) on a dormer).

Also that in reference to:
The chimney breasts on that gable might be acting as structural piers, and a surveyors (sic) or SE's opinion is required before any removal.

...That the term "Gable" applies in relation to the wall in this image:


Shall we have a vote on it here, perhaps?

You have more than adequately proved to me that you have little practical knowledge of the construction of the housing stock of many important period styles in several parts of the UK, and are willing to argue that black is white to emphasise your depth of knowledge of the matter.

Don't stop though, it still remains a very interesting thread.
Good to hear that you have read books about the building trades in various parts of the UK. What happened, were you chased out for smug, pretentious irrelevancies?

Read what i wrote, read carefully and understand context. And please, do stop copying from my posts.

If you are not still in consultation with the Matrix, I'm still waiting to know which non-existant yellow bricks you claimed to have seen beneath the patina? To paraphrase your nonsense - no yellow bricks in the pic.

Further, you glibly babble on about removing the chimney breasts without any mention, of the possibility of structural failure to the gable wall. Because you've not yet got to that part of the book.
Unless the paint that you mysteriously introduced, is meant to provide some structural stability. You know, i never thought of that.

"Chimney breasts crowd rooms" - the most comforting and traditional structural feature in UK housing, and you say it "crowds" - what about brick walls? They "crowd" even further i would imagine by your standards.
Roofs are even worse, they compress - off with the roof says Flyboytim.

Oh, there's a telephone tough guy here.

Its one thing to argue and judge but quite another to pretend, behind the anonymity of a user name, to be a tough guy. Only weak people do things like that.

When you do that you not only lose any argument but you lose any prospect of the respect that you probably desperately crave.

I'm sorry that you are leaping up and down in speechless rage but there's still the matter of a bunch of questions that haven't been answered from way back.

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