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Q&A Spotlight

What to do With an Unused Chimney

Remove it entirely, take it down to the attic floor, or cap it—what is the best option?

The energy losses through a chimney are good reason to remove it entirely. But there are a few benefits of partial removal, bringing it inside the building enclosure to eliminate the thermal bridge.

Besides the visual appeal of a chimney, what good is it if you’re not using it? Not much, according to “Michaelbluejay” (we will call him Michaelb), who posted about his situation in this Q&A thread. He writes that he knows his chimney should go because
it loses conditioned air and it’s a huge thermal bridge. As he understands it, he has three options:

1. Remove the exposed portion above the roof, cap/seal it, install new roofing at the hole—most effective but most expensive.

2. Cap the top of the flue—easy and cheap, and stops air but still have a thermal bridge.

3. Install a vented cap—a web-sourced solution that begs for some clarity.

Michaelb notes, too, that he is thinking of building out the fireplace into a small cabinet/closet.

So, what’s the best course of action for dealing with an unused chimney? That’s the topic of today’s Spotlight.

Take it all the way down

The responses are fairly uniform in their agreement that Michaelb should take the entire chimney down to the basement. Yes, it’s a dirty job, but it’s straightforward and the reward for the effort is extra space and much-improved thermal performance.

“DCcontrarian” offers this seasoned piece of advice for performing the work:

“Resist the temptation to toss the bricks to the ground; it’s dangerous and makes a mess of the yard that’s hard to clean up. For the section above the roof, I like to drop the bricks down the chimney so I can deal with them when I get off the roof. Once through the roof, all the work is either standing on the ground or, at worst, on a stepladder. I prefer to take the bricks out and carry them out of the house…

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  1. michaelbluejay | | #1

    Thank you for the article. As I noted in the Q&A, once I found out about fireplace inserts, which minimize the air lost up the flue, that really seems like the best option. It's easy, cost-effective, and provides a source of heat if we lose power like happened in Austin a few years back. The alternative is getting a battery backup to power a mini split (thousands and thousands of dollars), or a gas generator, which is polluting and requires me to store gasoline on-site, and which goes bad quickly. Yes, DC Contrarian said that the fireplace would still be a thermal bridge, but as I noted, so are windows, and I have some of those too.

  2. Expert Member
    DCcontrarian | | #2

    Sometimes it's hard to know you're in the middle of a revolution when it's happening.

    For maybe half a million years, humans and their ancestors have burned stuff in their homes for energy. Mostly wood, but all kinds of stuff -- fuel oil, natural gas, coal, kerosene, vegetable oil, whale oil, peat, tallow, paraffin -- if it burns, we've burned it. But today we have all-electric homes, and nothing burns. It's really a paradigm shift. And it changes the way houses can be built. We don't need chimneys, and they can be a lot tighter because we don't have to worry about combustion products.

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