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Every boiler guy in my area said UNlined chimneys are OK for my system...crazy?

barnumandbailey Member Posts: 4
edited February 2023 in Strictly Steam
Hi Wallies,

I read up on the How Not To Get Steamed page, and read a lot of the entries here that came up when I searched "chimney liners" but I still need advice. Buckle in, I'm including all the details everyone asks for up front, first!

I have an old Crane 209 Series steam boiler on natural gas. Judging from the phone number on the installation plate I'm guessing it's from the 50s or 60s. The house was built in 1927 but I've only been here for two years. The mechanical chimney has two flues, one vents the hot water tank and the other vents the boiler. (there's a chimney on the other side of the house I'll call the fireplace chimney.) At one point ye olde Kernerator incinerator was also exhausting through the boiler side flue but the Kernerator has been out of use long before I bought the joint.

I have no idea if the chimney is unlined, or lined with terracotta. My guess is it was probably lined with tc at one point. After 96 years of what I can only describe as creative neglect to this house, the tc is probably crumbled to dust or caked in soot. Last time my go-to boiler guy stuck a mirror up the flue he said "I see daylight!" and left it at that. The caps look alright...to me...an untrained person...as I stand on the ground.... I have a few chimney inspectors lined up to come out and take a look, but a lot of them wont even bother coming to my city or just seem shady/incompetent when I describe the home so I'm leery to trust them.

Anyway, the boiler is on its last legs. It's survived this long but it's singing a swan song. Which I knew this when I bought the joint. It heats up just fine...except when it doesn't. It's not leaking, but the soot buildup and subsequent service calls to clean the thing and then put humpty dumpty back together again...rinse and repeat, is not fun. I know I should look at a replacement boiler this summertime.

I have been getting quotes from companies in the area, including the one company whose owner and minion get the boiler working every time something fun and exciting happens (like my heat going out in Februrary). This boiler might last me another year or so while I cobble together the rest of the house. But I need a replacement and it's going to be another big boy. When I measured I got 1002sq ft of steam needed. The guys who measured the rads and took a look at the rest of the house all came within 5-10sq ft of my calc. (I didn't call back the ones who didn't bother measuring.)

Here's where I think I'm going insane:

Everyone I've had out here says the same thing: you DON'T need to line the chimney, even if you get a new boiler.

One told me that three stories of house and a giant chimney means plenty of air pull, and that it'd be "a hell of a liner" if anyone tried to install it.

Another guy said "no, not this type of boiler" with no other explanation.

Another proclaimed "it's been this long and it's been fine" (famous last words) and also "the size of a new boiler you need means you don't need to line the chimney." ???

My go-to guy claims Michigan code specifies "atmospheric vented non-high-efficiency boilers don't get chimney liners due to their exhaust not being acidic enough to warrant it."

I do not have access to a Michigan mechanic code book, and I don't really think my vague knowledge of how stuff works is good enough to interpret it, either. I have only ever heard that every chimney must be lined no exceptions no excuses since 1927...but every single company saying the same thing is making me think I'm nuts.

So here I am asking the Wall, because I'd call another boiler company but...there simply aren't that many left! All of them have been here and said the same thing: no liner!

?????? Who is crazy here, me or them??

Here's the pictures of my unit and the chimney. That little brown thing abuot 3/4 way up is a metal stay attached to the roof, I guess so the damn thing stays attached to the house. And the floor is wet in the pictures because the guys just got done cleaning the f#&*!^ thing and putting it back together. Excuse the rubble in the basement... Oh and there's a steam condensor pump that has been unplugged since I got the basement asbestos remediated. The pump being unplugged had zero effect on anything from what I can tell. Nobody can figure out why the previous owners put that thing in to begin with, because the only rads in the basement are mounted on the ceiling or high on the walls, and the all condensate pipes seem to flow just fine down to the boiler. Another mystery of the ages.

Knock knock. Who is it? It's steam.


  • Waher
    Waher Member Posts: 235
    edited February 2023
    Ask a chimney sweep to evaluate the condition of the flue. If the terracotta isn't in good repair it is not going to be suitable for use with the typical 86%+ efficient steam boilers installed today because the exhaust is acidic. A stainless steel liner is not that significant of an expense for a good chimney sweep to install for you.
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,188
    edited February 2023
    The simple answer is that it depends on the provisions of your local code, the condition and size of your chimney, the size and flue temperature of your boiler.

    Now, the chimney should have some sort of liner whether clay or stainless as a gas boiler, under certain conditions can emit dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide. A liner gives you added protection to keep it out of living areas should that failure occur. More efficient burners also have lower flue gas temperatures. If the flue is too large, the combustion products may not produce sufficient draft to raise them out of the home, especially when first firing in a cold exterior chimney under certain atmospheric conditions.

    Lastly, the present chimney should be carefully inspected to determine exactly what you presently have.

    Short of a code requirement, all these variables can be weighed by a competent professional to make this determination. Most professional would lean on the safe course and specify a liner.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    The right corner on the outside of the chimney looks like it could be suffering from condensation inside the flue. That is where the water heater is??

    The flue pipe for the boiler could be pulled out of the opening and you could feel for a liner?

    IIWM, your boiler looks to be the correct size, certainly would not go larger,
    I would put in a SS liner that would handle the WH and boiler. Caution on the height of the WH flue pipe connection.

    The more BTU's you put into a liner and with the height you have it can be surprisingly small.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,353
    Don't know the Michigan code but ALL the national codes call for an outside chimney (one that does not run up through the middle of your house) to be lined in you cold climate. End of story.

    You need to find a good certified chimney sweep and have him install the liner when the time comes. Search for one maybe call the wood stove or fireplace dealers. Doesn't sound like the boile guys know much
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,768
    You really Need an insulated new Stainless Steel liner by a pro. Mad Dog
  • Corktown
    Corktown Member Posts: 34
    That “Kernerator“ incinerator door is pretty cool!

    If you’re in the Detroit area, stop by the Cadieux Cafe any Thursday after 7 PM, and we can talk boilers and featherbowling,. I’ll throw in an Anthony Bourdain story, to boot.

    The first Orval is on me ….
    Mad Dog_2PC7060
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,768
    Can I come too, Cookstown?  Mad 🐕 Dog
  • Corktown
    Corktown Member Posts: 34
    edited February 2023
    Sure thing, @Mad Dog_2! We’ll get you started with two beers, how’s that?

    They have best selection of Belgian beer in the ‘D’ there, and plenty of the regular stuff, too.

    There’s only 40 of these places back in West Flanders, Belgium. Here in the States, there’s about six places now, and we are the original location. We are the “mothership” that the other places trace back to. For decades, it was just us. Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace) filmed part of his “Rustbelt” episode here awhile back.

    Here’s what you’re in for. It’s basically bocce and curling meet “half-pipe”….

    barnumandbaileyAlan (California Radiant) Forbes
  • Corktown
    Corktown Member Posts: 34
    With apologies for getting off the subject of ‘Steam’, here’s the links to the two ESPN stories that they did about us. It focuses on my friend “Farmhouse Steve”. Also, it’s about an art heist.

    I’m first mentioned in the story in the second paragraph as “the kind of kook who believes in Detroit”.

  • barnumandbailey
    barnumandbailey Member Posts: 4
    @JohnNY I'm inclined to agree with you, though I suspect the majority of the very visible efflorescence on the right side of that chimney is from a leaking gutter/soffit issue (which has been since fixed but we all know that white stuff is never really going to leave the brick).

    Thank you all so much for responding!!
    Knock knock. Who is it? It's steam.
  • barnumandbailey
    barnumandbailey Member Posts: 4
    @Bob Harper I appreciate your serious and thoughtful response!! THANK YOU!! Only thing I'll say is I doubt I'm going to get a replacement boiler above 83% efficiency...seems like the big residential units for steam on natural gas aren't going to get that high...but no matter because...

    End of story: getting a liner, and the boiler guys around here should stick to boilering and leave the chimneys to the chimney guys.

    Next up: finding a reliable chimney guy...
    Knock knock. Who is it? It's steam.
  • barnumandbailey
    barnumandbailey Member Posts: 4
    @Corktown I had a Kernerator in my little 50s ranch in Oak Park, too! Just about everyone in that subdivision had them in the basements, and a few people still remembered using the old things - can you imagine the smell if anyone tried with today's plastics??

    And I'm terrible at featherbowling but I'll take you up on that Cadeiux Cafe offer! :D
    Knock knock. Who is it? It's steam.
    CorktownAlan (California Radiant) Forbes
  • jimna01
    jimna01 Member Posts: 33
    As a homeowner who replaced a Crane Sunny Day oil fired boiler from 1960 with a new Basi 10 87% afue oil fired boiler some 12 years ago you want a chimney liner. I did not at the time and several years  later during a chimney cleaning the sweep found significant damage to the terra cotta lining from the acidic exhaust from the more efficient boiler . (Chimney is on an outside wall with three sides exposed .) I had a liner installed and my service company was able to make a significant improvement to the combustion settings and hence my efficiency. 
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    A SS liner will certainly cost less than any rebuild of a chimney of that height and mass.

    It is pushing 100 years old and has been internally exposed to moisture it's entire life.

    The liner flashing and cap would seal the top from rain etc. Also seal the top of the 2nd flue.

    You might want to use the left flue as it is higher in the basement and may simplify the WH connection to share the liner.
  • PMJ
    PMJ Member Posts: 1,265
    Isn't the white stuff on the chimney on the side with the incinerator/now WH flue? From the location are you sure it isn't now or wasn't from the gutter spilling over and running down at some point? Bricks and mortar really don't like that.

    BTW I have a two flue chimney with a Kernerator in the other side too.
    1926 1000EDR Mouat 2 pipe vapor system,1957 Bryant Boiler 463,000 BTU input, Natural vacuum operation with single solenoid vent, Custom PLC control
  • John Mills_5
    John Mills_5 Member Posts: 950
    A water heater alone in an oversized chimney certainly needs a liner too. I'm sure it is condensing like crazy looking at the size of them. We dry heads do it all the time when we take a furnace out of a chimney and leave the water heater. We drop a 3 or 40" liner down.
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,095
    edited March 2023
    What you really need to know and do is every gas boiler w a outside chimney needs a liner . Every or any chimney vented boiler gets a chimney inspection by a licensed chimney company . A lot of guys do the liners themself I personally leave it to the experts I have a company who does them there prices are reasonable and they come when they say and do a nice job always stainless .
    For those who deem it un necessary well let them pay to get your chimney repaired and then lined when it falls apart and see how they feel ? As expensive as it may seem to get a real stainless steel liner installed the cost for repairing and re bricking your existing chimney will be a small fortuene and to match bricks good luck a liner will be about 1/3 the cost of masonry work and yet u have to find some one to do it scaffolding and all that stuff ,be intelligent and not a cheap stake and get a liner your only convincing yourself . As for your contractors in New Jersey any chimney vented appliance being replaced needs a chimney certification ,smart guys get a outside company to do this why because this is what they do and they are left holding the bag not you and they are liable not you . A lot of guys see it as a easy buck to be made u til they can’t get the liner down and must chip the terra-cotta then you ain’t made a penny . Any heating contractor who negates chimney cert and do it themself or not at all are not competent heating contractors.
    A contractor who is looking at your best insterest would not hesitate to recommend a certified chimney sweep to inspect and cert it’s what they do and lessen the liability to the plumber and or heating installers .
    I learned this from all to soon to be old timer who is very smart in the ways of liability and long ago realized that you cannot do everything especially what you are not completely tooled up to do like chipping terra-cotta 20 ft down a chimney a 30 ft ladder and a feearless sense of height .
    Don’t listen to your heating contractor go out on your own and get it lined anything less is foolish and will cost you way more in the future . Every job I do I get a outside company to inspect and They deem it necessary . Why because I not going to be responsible for a collapsed chimney and 10 g to repair for some one looking to save a buck or someone who thinks I,m out to raise the price or selling something unnecessary in which case find that low bidder who going to make 10 dollars off your job and never return and most likely do a crap job .
    Simple mantra you make your money doing what you know not what is put in front of your face for you to ty to do, that’s fine in the time and material sense or for a research and development job . Stick to what you know not what looks like easy money ie chimney liners every body has a profession why take food outta some one else mouth ain’t you eating enough already spread the work when required and let each pro do what they do not everything nobodies likes a know it all especially when they are only giving advice from arm chair in front of a screen w knowledge learned from a screen zero every day experience not from the point of the guy who does this as there primary livelihood and income and accepting liability for all they do ,there’s a huge difference between giving advice to others as a home owner w limited experience as compared to guys who have spent 40 or 50 years in the trenches making money and losing money that makes you learn real fast and I think that’s something a lot of customers don’t comprehend . It real easy to sit back and give advice how about stuff but ya go do in a timely manner and make enough to pay your bills and eat and then it’s different story . Stick to what you know not what you think you know . As for advice take it from people w experience in the field not some who yeah also has s a boiler if that means experience then there s a lot of them out there but be careful they may have just got lucky on there own but that had to come here to gather knowledge nothing wrong w that it’s the USA that’s the way
    Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • captainco
    captainco Member Posts: 792
    This is always one of my favorite subjects in class. The first thing I ask is what is the function of a chimney? I guess I should also ask, what is the definition of a chimney?
    Unless you have tested every installation with a combustion analyzer and a draft gauge then you are just guessing and using data from others that never have done testing either.
    What is a draft interference test? What is a combustion air test?

    When you say a chimney is too big what does that mean? Too much area, too much surface, too tall etc? I believe we are the only industry that blames inanimate objects for malfunctioning.