BRICKS ON THE STOOP? – Marilyn Armstrong

A Slight Chance We’ll Need Some Major Chimney Repairs?

Only slight?

What was (I hoped) a slight chance that our home insurer would reject our claim to fix our chimney became a much more solid reality when I got an 8 am call this morning. They are coming tomorrow to take a look at the roof. I need them to do that anyway because someone needs to go up there and see what’s happening and it sure won’t be Garry or me. Or, for that matter, Owen, who is afraid of heights.

What were the odds that this would be the month the chimney started falling apart? Slight? More than slight? If I could actually see the chimney from anywhere on the property I might have a better grip on it, but sadly, I don’t.

So here is the story. You’ve all heard it — or some similar version of it — before, so you are welcome to sing along.

Life comes in waves. One year, everything is about dogs or cats. Or bugs and the trees. Another year is an automotive year, as one car leaves and we need to start again. One year was about furniture. All the old stuff left and the new stuff arrived.

And from the backyard …

One year was plumbing. Pipes broke. Toilets and sinks were replaced. And the basement flooded.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – In the blizzard

This is “the house is crumbling” year. Last summer, we put in a new front door. Which was a very big deal. We also replaced the water heater — which was a huge deal and a financial wipe out. Oh, and then there was the washing machine and installing the lift chair, two minor and one not so minor car accidents — without any injury to life or limb, but considerable pain and suffering financially.

This year, we attacked the ants and the mice (who knew there were so many?) and the bathroom, at least to the extent we could afford it (so much more needs doing (sigh) — including the shower outlet and the lighting. The builder came and replaced the window in the front of the house and a good piece of the whole front wall of the house too. Also, the new vacuum cleaner arrived today, but we’re too tired to take it out of the box.

A computer sort of died — and new computers arrived. During this period of change, I have spent more time talking to people in customer and technical services than most people spend in the better part of a lifetime. I breathed a sigh and thought: “Maybe now we can relax for a while.”

Until  I found the bricks.

One more payment, honey, and it’s all ours!

I was coming in the front door yesterday and I looked down and saw bricks.

Bricks? There are no bricks in this house. It’s wood (or something related to wood), vinyl siding, and asbestos tile. Except … the chimney is brick. A part of the chimney was laying on the stoop.

What were bricks from our chimney doing on the front step? “This cannot be good,” I said to myself.

It’s hard to see the chimney. Even if you back up all the way to the fence, you can’t see the whole thing. I went inside and pondered the meaning of storms, blizzards, and wind events. How we had three huge storms in a single week in March. How the trees broke — and many remain broken — and how the branches flew around in hurricane-level winds.

Then, I collected myself, realized there was no reason why we should be different than everyone else who is replacing pieces of chimneys and roofs and siding. You live in New England and deal with the storms, physically and architecturally. The only remaining issue is who will pay for the repairs? It would be nice if it were insurance, for which we pay big bucks annually, but usually, it’s us.

Footsteps — mine — from house to road

This was a damaging, rough winter. March alone was worth two normal winters. I thought we had miraculously escaped serious damage. Not.

The bottom line? Was it “officially” storm damage or will they deem it something that was due for repair anyway? When I talked to the guy at the insurance company, he asked me if anything else had gone wrong “up there.” Like I would know?

“I have absolutely no idea,” I assured him. “I’m 71 and my husband is 76 and neither of us is going up on the roof to look around. I’m pretty sure someone is going to have to go up there and see what happened. I know a big tree didn’t crash through the roof. I’d have noticed that. But did tiles blow off? And how much chimney is damaged? No idea.”

Oh the irony. We haven’t used our fireplaces for a long time because using the fireplaces raises heating costs. The heat from the fire turns off the thermostat. When the fire dies and the house gets cold enough to trigger the heat, it has to reheat the whole house.

We have terrific insulation and if we keep the house at a low, but even temperature — like about 68 — our heat costs half what it used to when we used fireplaces. It has been at least five years since we lit anything in either fireplace, so it is just one more piece of household money-pit irony that we need to fix chimneys we don’t use.

We got away with years of minimal repairs to the house. Mostly because we had no money. It’s amazing what you can live with when you’re broke. But we are in a bit better shape now — though by the time we’re through with this summer, I have a feeling we won’t be. Expensive summer just beginning.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I suppose it’s time to set it to rights, within the limits of what we can afford. I wish I thought insurance would pay for the chimney, but it’s unlikely. I suspect they already made the decision — and they haven’t even looked at it yet.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

37 thoughts on “BRICKS ON THE STOOP? – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. There was no way I was hitting ‘like’ on this. I will keep my fingers crossed that you get the best insurance rep in town and he sees something up there that spells storm damage. I did a painting project a couple of weeks back, in the process I noticed two water spots on the ceiling. That area in the attic has no flooring so I will not be crawling over there anytime in the future to check that out. From the ground, I don’t see any roof tile pieces missing. So, maybe it was ice that melted? I guess I’ll fix it from within even though we’re talking 12′ ceilings to climb up to and see if it happens again. Yes, at some point maintaining a home without an unlimited budget gets to be a real financial burden. If you want to feel better, envision me – we have to either hook up to city sewer which is not cheap or replace our entire septic system. We’re into five figures, and there is no insurance guy anywhere who can assist me. Good luck.

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    1. We were lucky to find a guy who knew a guy who would repair rather than replace our system. It STILL wasn’t cheap — $5000, but it beat out the $25,000 it would have been for a NEW one.

      It’s endless. And our money isn’t endless. I have NO idea how I’m going to get this done. I wish I thought there was any chance they’d pay for at least SOME of it. But I doubt it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Its never ending. I can imagine the shock finding bricks at the front door and I hope that you managed to get it fixed with no big financial catastrophe. I often why we have insurance. The first thing the guys do is to try and prove that what has gone wrong is not covered.

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  3. We needed a new boiler a few years ago, as if that wasn’t enough the chimney liner needed replacing before the boiler went in. That was a whopper. Last week , no hot water….hot water heater gave out fortunately I found out before a major flood ensued…just a minor one, but $1600.00 later we had hot water. Ready for the condo!!

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  4. Could’ve been worse, though, right? Someone could have been standing on that porch when the bricks came down.

    I had a roofer come to my house to check on the “new” roof that supposedly was installed prior to our purchase. The good news is, the roof really is new-ish and is in good shape. The bad new is, the chimney has quite a few large holes and needs to be repointed. I told the roofer we don’t use that chimney as both the furnace and hot water tank vent out the side of the house, and could he maybe just cap it off somehow? Nope, needs repointing unless we want to remove it and then re-do the roof. Don’t think so. Repointing is not a huge cost, but it’s not in the budget, and the budget is already stretched to the very limits, so our chimney is going to wait. Hopefully, it won’t fall off before we can take care of it, and hopefully if it does fall off, no one will be under it.

    Good luck with your house, Marilyn. The house will figure out when it’s sucked as much money out of you as it can.

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        1. I’m getting an estimate. After that? We’ll figure it out. I will also ask if it can last a winter’s more. I’m afraid with the winters we’ve been having, that it might actually collapse and take out the roof, too.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. lmao yes indeed. I’m trying to work Slight into today. All time record highs for 20 – 30 years we hit 27 yesterday – 80.6 F so went from cold, to rain to blistering hot. It’s scheduled to remain for a week. Yikes! I wanted spring, didn’t mention summer! lol, um slight miscalculation there. 🙂

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  5. Never a dull moment or season… Last year it was chimney repairs and garage roof replacement. Now we’ve got a leak where the garage and breezeway meet. Besides that, there’s the never ending job of getting the wood in. Fortunately, Dan has done all the work himself so far; but, we’re getting to old to pretend like we’re kids anymore. 🙂

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    1. It is worrying. We are getting pretty old too.

      Garry’s 76 and was never a really handy guy — and my son just turned 49 and he has back problems. While he does a LOT of the work, there are things he can’t do — and fix the chimney is one of them. I really hoped the house insurance would take care of this, but they have a “routine maintenance” attitude. Short of a massive fire, I don’t think they EVER pay for anything.

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  6. Good luck with it all–we tend to be low-maintenance ourselves, but I keep having to learn how to fix things. Sometiumes it works out. Sometimes we just have no heat for the summer or whatever until we start buying lottery tiuckets again and win–

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      1. I hate to borrow, and since I found out the average plumber visit here for a non-event like a little leak on the boiler that may be Something Bad is $400.00, I used the guy twice and that’s my bankroll gone for now. A family friend won a million dollars in the lottery a few months back, and they gave him about $600,000.00 of it after taxes. I think that’s great–he’s got to be 60+ in age, so that’s what in the old days people used to retire on. One time in Vermont I got 4 out of 5 numbers, and although the big prize was big, tens or hundreds of thousands, I got a semi-measly $341.00 and felt rather cheated. Oh well–back to learning more householder skills!

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          1. It’s really too bad that some of these jobs are so specialised and just hard to do. I’m not voluntarily climbing out on my roof anytime soon either!

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  7. I maintain that owning a house is very nice but can be a BIG pain in the ASS. There is always something. Out here in the west, we live in terror of the A/C going down which is a huge expense to repair or replace being that the units tend to live on most roofs here in “paradise.” We also have our roofing problems since the building codes are a bit lax in that department due to folks not worrying about snow or ice, but leaking can be an unwanted surprise. Also, the plumbing in many older homes runs up and over or through the attic, other systems route through the concrete slab that accounts for a foundation in our single story buildings. Each location presents new, and wonderful, horrors if you should have a problem with water or sewage. But let’s not get depressed.

    On an observatory up-note; I noticed that the 4th photo down, the old house, was shot with your old Canon PowerShot 650…, amazing little cheap cameras those old Canons. I really like that shot too.., good job.

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    1. I took that back in 2010 or maybe 2011 … so that must have been the tail end of that camera. It just died. I think someone, probably my daughter-in-law, dropped it. I LOVED that camera. It was a really wonderful lens and it felt good in your hands. Many of my best pictures were taken on it.

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          1. You may not agree but those wrist straps are really a lifesaver for little cameras that can easily be mishandled, or dropped. I use mine all the time and they have saved my ass more than once.

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  8. It’s always something with houses. It makes you almost wish this had happened during the storms it might have been harder for the insurance guys to get out of it but when it’s sructural you have to fix it. I haven’t used wood heat for several years either. When we first moved here we had a wood heater in one room and an open fireplace in another. We found that the open fire did not heat the large room sufficiently, we don’t have central heating, it’s not common here especially in the country. The woodheater was fine and did heat up a large area but David could not bend down to light it and I did most of the wood carrying and stacking. I got fed up with coming home from work to a cold house so we got what Tasmanian’s call a “heat pump” which everyone else in the country calls a reverse cycle air conditioner. It’s not cheap to run but it does keep the living areas warm and it doesn’t make the rooms dirty and dusty like the open fire.
    It sucks that you get taxed on lottery wins, ours are tax free, you win a million dollars, you geta million dollars.

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    1. Our wood-stove tended to produce a ton of smoke unless you kept it closed, in which case it made the living room feel like a furnace. Since the thermostat is in the LR, it turned off the heat throughout the house, so the living room was REALLY hot and the bedroom was like outside level cold. Garry got tired of hauling wood … and getting cut wood — aged for burning — got really expensive.

      And fires were dirty. The walls turned gray. Then the electric company decided to completely insulate our house (free, for some reason) and our heating bills dropped and I soon discovered NOT using wood was a lot cheaper. So we haven’t lit a fire for years now. In theory we could, but why?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know what you mean. I love the idea of an open fire but when it makes your house dirty, costs you money and doesn’t keep you warm anyway I think I’d rather enjoy them elsewhere.

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