Abandoned chimney clues outside (C) Daniel Friedman How to spot Abandoned Chimneys from Outside

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This article describes visual clues that you can find on the building exterior and that can indicate the current or previous presence of abandoned chimneys and unsafe three-sided chimneys at a building.

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How to spot Abandoned Chimneys on Buildings - What are the Dangers?

Abandoned chimney clues outside (C) Daniel FriedmanDefinition of abandoned chimney: any chimney of any material (masonry, metal, transite pipe, other) that is no longer in use (or should not be in use) but has been only partially removed from a building.

Abandoned chimneys in buildings may be unsafe, risking collapse, falling masonry, water and air leaks, fire passage, or worse, sometimes one may even be connected to a stove or fireplace, risking setting the building on fire.

Notice that newer metal corrugated roofing patch at the right end of the metal roof in our photograph?

If outside the building you see roofing details such as shown in our photo, you should be alert for an incompletely removed abandoned chimney indoors.

Check the attic, the intermediate floors, and the basement for the remains of the chimney - it may have left a fire spread risk through the building or other hazards.

See details about how to find abandoned chimneys and what the hazards and repairs are

Most-likely found on older homes, a partially-removed abandoned chimney leaves these problems and hazards in the building:

  • An improperly abandoned chimney risks collapsing masonry - falling through ceilings below, damaging the structure and injuring building occupants
  • An improperly abandoned chimney forms a natural chaseway creating up-drafts in the structure, moving air by natural convection from lower building areas (even a crawl space or basement) up through the structure. This air movement can contribute to or even be a root cause of indoor air quality problems and mold contamination, and it certainly contributes to un-wanted building heat loss and thus higher heating costs.
  • An improperly or incompletely-abandoned chimney or flue presents two potential fire dangers:
    • The chaseway provided by the partially-abandoned chimney increases the spread of fire through the structure, often between floors
    • On occasion we have found that a later building occupant connects a heating appliance to the unsafe "abandoned" chimney, leading to a building fire or potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning
Collapsing brick chimney top - Brooklyn NY (C) Daniel Friedman

In cities and on larger multi-family buildings we often find old, single-wythe brick chimneys (photo at left) which have been abandoned but which continue to serve as an air and water pathway through the building.

If this Brooklyn, NY chimney were still in use we would be very worried about its safety.

The chimney top is collapsing, risking a dangerously blocked flue, carbon monoxide gas poisoning, as well as risking dropping a brick onto a passerby.

Chimneys of this size are large enough that a person could fall into and become trapped in the structure, as happened to Catherine Murphy.



Continue reading at BRACKET CHIMNEY COLLAPSE & FIRE RISKS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.



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