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A builder has just scared the life out of me by saying that my chimney is about to fall down because it hasn't been pointed. How can he know just by a visual inspection?

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    Where did you find this "builder"? Did they knock on the door, and say "I was in the area and I noticed..." because that's a common scam.
    – Chris H
    Dec 8, 2023 at 13:32
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    I think, even though the question is a bit panicky & light on detail, we have all we need in the two photos to give a reasonably certain answer.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:08
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    This chimney is pretty bad, even in my limited experience. My dad had me help him remove his chimney that was in better shape, and I could remove the bricks with just my bare hands. The mortar just disintegrated as I picked up each brick so I didn't even need the chisel or 3lb hammer I bought for the task. Dec 8, 2023 at 23:40
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    @KevinKeane - the chimneys, even if no longer used for fires, vent the entirety of the chimney breast interiors throughout the house. You can't just block them off & hope for the best; they have to remain open [at both ends].
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 9, 2023 at 16:14
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    Additional points on the "Why don't you just take it down?" school of thought. 1) Only half that stack is yours, half of it feeds the neighbours' chimneys. 2) You need planning permission, which is far less likely to be granted if all the other houses are similar. 3) You need a structural engineer to do the plans, providing support & waterproofing to both your & your neighbours roofs for the span that's going to be missing. 4) You need to make provision for airflow to the existing chimney breasts, or have those taken out too. 5) Your neighbour needs to agree, because it equally affects them.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 10, 2023 at 10:18

3 Answers 3

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How can he know just by a visual inspection?

  1. Your second photo shows that the top left may have been pointed sometime in the past 20 years; the rest hasn't seen maintenance in considerably longer.

  2. Unless that's an optical illusion caused by the camera angle, your stack looks to be tilted over by a few degrees.

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I'd book the guy in as soon as he can make it, or you might be raining bricks next time there's a storm.

If you really don't trust him - & frankly, I don't see why you shouldn't, that's some pretty obvious damage - get a second opinion.
If you really have zero experience at this, get three quotes & get each of the companies to tell you what they would do, rather than you ask. Just go for "Can you fix my chimney?" Don't add detail, then see what detail they add. One may think it's fixable with pointing only, another might want to strip it right down. One will, of course, be more expensive than the other, but often you can get a feel for how competent they are. More detail, less arm-waving.

If the tilt on the stack is as bad as it looks from that ground shot, it may need to be completely dismantled & rebuilt.

The way your question is worded makes me think you're not really sure what pointing is, or how someone can 'just see it'.

Pointing is the cement in-fill between the bricks. Your chimney doesn't really have much of that left. It disintegrates over time and needs replacing. 100 years is plenty of time.

This is what you can tell just from your photo about the state of the pointing…

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    That's 2-3 degrees at most, considering the offset at the bottom. A second line should've been run down the more visible edge of the chimney.
    – isherwood
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:12
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    I didn't actually measure it initially; really because we don't have a square enough view of it. Photoshop makes it 4° on the right, 2.5 on the left… which I'd call 'unreliable'. It's still a lot more than it really ought to be. Oddly, though the stack is out, the nearest pot looks straight, which adds to my general feeling of unease about it all.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:20
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    Other than the comedy drain-piping, that looks so much like the back of my house I keep wanting to go outside & have a look;) [Mine was properly re-done just a few years ago, though]
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:25
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    That is a bit Dr. Seuss. :P
    – isherwood
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:25
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    BTW, just for those who have never seen such a weird bit of gutter piping, the roof slope comes down not to a regular gutter sitting on a bit of soffit, but to a lead-lined channel on the inside of the top of the visible wall. The wall extends another foot above the roof edge, rather than being below it with regular gutter to drain into. I think it was form over function & means the drainage runs through the wall. They are about as leak-proof as flat roofs & use a sh*t-ton of lead-work to try keep them water-tight. Roofer's dream, profit-wise, owner's nightmare, reliability-wise.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 8, 2023 at 18:58
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If you don't trust a professional's advice, get a second opinion.

You generally want to get three evaluations and price quotes anyway, unless you do trust them.

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  • the stack needs re-pointing.
  • some DIY is possible but H&S requires scaffold. Are you up for that (better result!)? -Raking out old mortar is crucial. (See above). -There are two methods.
  1. Angle grinder with either thick grindstock or X 2 thin masonry discs.

You grind in to about 20mm. I'd advise doing this stack in sections -worst first. [I'm not a great skill at "laying in" the mortar application (it needs an ultra dry mix)]

  1. The manual alternative uses a "plugging chisel". That's arduous, and why builders bodge the job.

In summary, anyone offering to do the job off a ladder needs to be avoided. Scaffold would cost £800:00 for this (alone, and for starters).

Hope this helps.

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    Trying to get the stack back to vertical is going to be sketchy (at best) doing it DIY. With the mortar in it's current condition, the wrong move could send the whole thing to the ground. Other chimneys might be ok for DIY, but probably not this one, unless the DIYer has a lot of experience with chimneys. I've got 35+ years of DIY experience, spanning various construction skills, metal work, wood working, electronics, and more, and I'm pretty impulsive with what DIY projects I take, but I wouldn't touch this one. Too much can go wrong too quickly with disastrous results. Dec 8, 2023 at 23:50

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