SNEWS, July 2007, pgs 3 – 6
By Aaron Zambrana
A to Z Chimney Sweep
“An inaccessible, very tall chimney surrounded by ice, snow, and a steep, wood shake roof. What more could a chimney sweep ask for in a reline job? I’m gonna die.”
Thee are the thoughts that ran through my head as we drove two hours northeast to Tahoe City, California, where we were scheduled to reline Sunnyside Resort’s massive main chimney, the focal point of its impressive lodge-style lobby.
A month prior, the hotel’s chimney experienced a massive chimney fire which lasted two hours. A video scan of the flue revealed that the terra cotta flue tiles were damaged extensively throughout, and the chimney was no longer suitable for use in its current state.
Being a rather upscale lakeside resort in the midst of its busy ski season, the owners and managers were eager to get their fireplace going again as of yesterday, but they couldn’t find anyone willing or qualified to do the job, let alone in the middle of winter, due to the height and difficult access of the chimney.
In addition, Sunnyside did not want to have their main lobby encroached upon for weeks on end while a crew of grubby chimney sweep guys made a noisy mess. What to do?
Janet Gregor, the Lodge Manager, tracked my company down and asked if I would be willing to make the two hour trip from Sacramento to take a look – not only a paid Level 2 inspection, but a weekend’s stay with my lovely wife in a romantic room overlooking Lake Tahoe – ah, the perks of being a chimney sweep! As luck would have it, I was already heading up to Lake Tahoe to speak at the American Institute of Inspectors’ (AII) annual convention at the Reno Hilton. What could I say other than, “Where do I sign up?!
But now that the contract was signed and the deposit paid, Sunnyside’s chimney was my problemk my headache, my baby. I had never done a job with scaffolding before, let alone scaffolding set up on a steep wood shake roof covered in snow and ice! What was I thinking?! But it was too late to turn back now, and I was focusing intently on the job at hand.
We arrived Monday, January 1st, about 10am. My guys were a little grumpy due to the fact that I forbade them to enjoy themselves too much on New Year’s Eve the night before. Steep roof and dangerous conditions require a clear head, and we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
New Year’s Day was mostly consumed with the scaffold erection and getting all the equipment in place. Surprisingly, work on the ice covered roof proved to be a little easier than anticipated. With corker spike studded shoes and sunshine that brought temperatures well above freezing, the scaffolding erection went very smoothly, and by day’s end, we had arrived at the chimney’s peak. The view overlooking the lake from about 65 feet above the ground was breathtaking!
The various planks, roof leveling jacks and pieces of plywood anchored the scaffolding firmly to the rooftop and gave us a safe platform on which to work. At the top, we secured the scaffolding to the chimney with ratcheting tie down straps. On the back side of the chimney was a rather large cricket-like structure on which we set up a Little Giant A-frame ladder and tied it off onto the chimney as well. A block pulley and rope helped us hoist buckets full of tools to the top deck safely. With all ladders and equipment where we needed them, we were read for day two.
We made sure to get an early start in order to wake the slumbering guests to what must have sounded somewhat like a machine gun going off in the lobby. While demolishing the MASSIVE firebox, it was quite fun to watch the groggy (and sometimes irritated) guest peek over the balcony railing to see the jerks making all the racket so early in the morning. Hee hee! Yeah, I guess I never outgrew the sheer joy of things that make lots of noise – big engines, big guns, and demolition hammers. MANLY !
While my guys made quick work of the dilapidated firebox, I was outside trying to coax the reluctant electricians to get up on the precarious roof so they could wire the Exhausto fan. With much coaxing, assurance, and a little double-dog-daring, one of them finally donned my spiked corkers and got to work while the other guy kept his feet planted safely in the parking lot – big chicken!
With the firebox demolished and smoke chamber cleaned out, and the wiring set for the Exhausto fan, we were ready to winch the liner into position. We dropped our tin down the chimney to assure a hang-up-free liner ascent [See “The Shoe Horn” by Aaron Zambrana in SNEWS – November 2004], and prepped the liner with ceramic wool insulation and a sleeve of ArmorMesh™.
Winching the liner up from the bottom went smooth as silk, and we soon had secured the liner in position on top and bottom.
While my guys worked on getting the liner into position, I was on my hands and knees in the parking lot fabricating and welding steel parts for the large steel chimney cap perched on top of the chimney. It had been badly damaged from the heat of the fire, and from the firefighters who ripped it apart in an effort to extinguish the chimney fire.
That night dinner was on me in the resort’s top-notch steakhouse restaurant overlooking Lake Tahoe with the full moon reflecting off the glassy lake. Too bad it was a dinner with my guys rather than my wife – although that fat slab of tender American prime rib did help some!
By day three, my body was feeling the effects of nonstop ladder and scaffold climbing (and maybe a little too much prime rib the night before)! I think my guys were feeling it too because day three seemed like we were moving in slow motion!
Neal Hooper worked outside on top sanding and painting the repaired cap while Jared Nielson and I reshaped and parged the massive smoke chamber with eight buckets of Chamber Tech 2000. in addition, the decorative facing was sealed to the firebox, and the inside breastwork was smoothed and rounded to provide better airflow and help prevent smoke spillage.
With the chimney cap repaired and donning a fresh coat of high temperature paint, Neal went to work waterproofing the chimney with ChimneySaver Water Repellant. I was very surprised to discover that ChimneySaver overspray can really make your ladder and scaffold rungs VERY SLIPPERY! I almost learned that the hard way.
Next, Jared and I rebuilt the firebox, which went well into the evening (to the dismay of the restaurant manager who understandably didn’t want us there during the dinner hour).
By the end of Wednesday, I was confident that I was gonna die; not from falling but from fatigue! We were pushing hard because we promised to have the job wrapped up before the weekend ski crowd came in on Friday.
The weather had turned cold the night before and the winds had really picked up. Temperatures were at freezing, and the lake’s choppy white-capped surface testified to the fact that one strong gust could send someone falling off the scaffolding. We elected to work on cleaning up the firebox inside the warm lobby area for a while in the hopes of getting more cooperative weather outside. A few hours later, our prayers were answered and winds and waves receded somewhat.
With a break in the weather, we made haste breaking the scaffolding down and loading our gear into our vans and trailer. Again, I was a bit cautious next to the edge of the ice covered roof handing sections of scaffolding down. When it was all over, I breathed a sigh of relief and gave a small prayer of thanks that the job was done, on time, with no real hiccups or surprises.
All in all, I was eager to take this job on because I saw it as a challenging break from the normal day to day grind and I looked forward to adding another feather in my cap. But most of all, relining Sunnyside Resort’s massive chimney also gave me a good excuse to buy a nice set of scaffolding, and a new portable Lincoln welder, and various other new tools without wifely repercussions! It doesn’t get better than that!