Why a exterior chimney?

Discussion in 'Homesteading' started by Tribent, Jan 11, 2017.

  1. Tribent

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    I have a question about chimneys to the cabin-nerds out there:
    Why do you north Americans construct the cabin with the chimney on the exterior of a wall? Most of the small cabins from north America I have seen have this type of chimney and I wonder if its a safety matter (if the chimney would leak smoke then it will leak outside / less of a fire hazard) or if it is a construction matter with easier construction in mind?

    The European cabin often has the chimney in the center of the cabin as a heat accumulator witch are a huge benefit during wintertime. Is there a obvious reason not to build the chimney this way?
    chimney.jpg chimney2.jpg
  2. Verkstad

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    I suspect its to conserve interior living space. Also, I can understand during frontier times when a chimmey was made of wood & mud, those chimneys needed annual rebuilding. That would much easier with all that stuff outside. Maybe its a holdover from then, I dunno.

    But,
    America evolved with a "fuel is cheap" frame of mind. Perhaps, it was thought easier to use more fuel vs. more thermal mass within the living space.

    Said that...If you look at New England houses (not cabins) from 1700s, a good portion of the house interior central was occupied with fireplace & chimney.
  3. Seacapt.

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    These days it's mainly a matter of aesthetics and inside space saving in smaller homes as previously stated. In large older homes it was generally considered safer to have the chimney on the outside in case of chimney fire and possible smoke leaks (depending on quality of construction) even though outside chimneys are more prone to creosote build up due to outside condensation factors in flue. You will notice in smaller older homes the fireplace/woodstove chimneys were mostly placed on the North wall as in the Northern Hemisphere heat circulates from North to South within the house, I was brought up and lived in a large Federal style house for 55 years built in 1804 with 4 large center chimney flues, the wood heat in the Southern rooms would sometimes drive you out and at same time you could get chills in the North side rooms.
  4. alukban

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    For newer construction, it was primarily space savings for me. That is also why I went with a small wood stove.

    There is not as much concern about thermal mass because double wall pipes don't really give off much heat.

    It would have been easier to install the pipes inside by just poking through floors and the roof but I also wanted as near zero roof penetrations as possible. Replacement of the whole thing is less messy and involved with exterior surface mounts and cleanout for most of the length outside is also great :)

    [​IMG]
  5. Polecat

    Polecat Polecat in a Poke Supporter

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    Easier to add later, IMO. Also since less of it is in contact with the house, less chance of setting the house on fire if there are holes and you have a flue fire.

    I live in an old farm house. Originally, it had two interior chimneys. In the distant past, one of them caught on fire and burned up the attic. The new chimney they built after that is actually offset from the house about a foot and only touches at the peak of the roof.

    I don't like the exterior chimneys, because they don't stay as warm, so more creosote forms in them. Eventually, I plan to tear out the old central chimney and replace it with a modern double-wall stainless one. But it will still be up the center of the house.
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  6. Seeker

    Seeker Woods Bum Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    In addition to the above, the first cabins were tiny and made entirely of wood, including the mud-lined log chimneys. The were often deliberately leaned out away from the cabin and held up with a couple poles. If it caught fire, the poles were removed, the chimney collapsed, and the fire quickly went out by itself for lack of fuel, removing the danger from the main cabin itself.

    There is also the issue of being weatherproof... cutting a hole in a roof might not have appealed to a builder. Cutting a hole in the side of the cabin may have been simpler than having to find/carry flashing to seal the opening.

    I think that where immigrants from timbered countries (Scandanavia) came over, they built structures in their native fashion... you see this in the finer cabins built by Swedish immigrants in MN, for example. In places where there was stone, the Irish and Scots immigrants built homes they were already familiar with.

    But the quintessential "log cabin", with it's log chimney, is probably where the 'exterior chimney' started.

    edit: I see Polecat beat me to it. on another note, my parents once owned an old farmhouse with two interior chimneys... one for the living room wood stove, and one for the kitchen wood stove. Both were metal pipe, not true brick chimneys. Many US colonial style homes had two interior chimneys, providing heat to 3 or 4 rooms per floor as they passed upward through two stories.
  7. HeadyBrew

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    This is more for my own curiosity but for those in the know on codes, etc., does concerns about CO and CO2 leaking through any chimney cracks and subsequent accumulation play a role in construction considerations?


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  8. lodge camper

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    sod was roofing for most and they didn;t want to dry it out. i think they also did it so chimney fires were mostly outside and if by chance cabin did burn down they could reuse chimney.
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  9. x39

    x39 Guide

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    That's interesting. Can you explain the physics behind it? I remember once hearing some Maine backwoods wisdom "You can't make heat go north", and I've often wondered about it.
  10. Seacapt.

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    Coriolis effect, same as clockwise swirl of water after flushing toilet, opposite in Southern Hemisphere.
  11. x39

    x39 Guide

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    Very cool, never thought about that affecting the flow of heat, thanks!
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  12. NJStricker

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    Something to keep in mind--early American log cabins were built by European settlers. Have European designs changed in the last 300 years?
  13. Tribent

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    I have worked with log-houses for periods in almost 20 years now and have never seen a old cabin with a exterior chimney in Sweden. I think we went from open fire indoors (and smoke-huts as discussed in:
    one more cabin... a swedish/finish "smokecabin")
    directly to big massive interior chimneys. But if someone else has seen one I would appreciate some pictures and data of construction year and localization.
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  14. Chili

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    I just heard a story mentioned on the radio recently that said that was a myth / urban legend. I intended to look into it after hearing that (it was a very brief snippet), but hadn't yet. I'm glad you mentioned it, so I can now go fill my head with more useless information! :D
  15. HeadyBrew

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    I recently heard/read this as well, at least as far as toilets go...

    According to Wikipedia (not sure how to link from my phone), the toilet thing is a misconception and the direction of flow is unrelated to the Coriolis effect.

    That said, again according to Wikipedia, it does affect weather on larger scales and so a hurricane in the northern hemisphere spins to the right and a cyclone in the Southern Hemisphere will spin to the left.

    SCIENCE!

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  16. Steven Long

    Steven Long Guide

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    Flow of water in a toilet is as simple as how the manufacturers made the toilet. The water jets either point to the left or right. Hemispheres have nothing to do with it. The Coriolis effect is real but only on a mass scale can you see it... hurricanes and such.

    And to the op... great question. I learned something today.
  17. Terasec

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    coriolis effect has nothing to do with home heating
    heat on the north side is prevelant because south side naturally gets more sunlight and hence is warmer
    as for toilets flushing that is part of their design
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  18. Seacapt.

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  19. Chili

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    Same basic info I read. Thanks!
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  20. vdeal

    vdeal Supporter Supporter

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    As others have stated this is not the case:

    Contrary to popular misconception, water rotation in home bathrooms under normal circumstances is not related to the Coriolis effect or to the rotation of the Earth, and no consistent difference in rotation direction between toilet drainage in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can be observed. The formation of a vortex over the plug hole may be explained by the conservation of angular momentum: The radius of rotation decreases as water approaches the plug hole, so the rate of rotation increases, for the same reason that an ice skater's rate of spin increases as they pull their arms in. Any rotation around the plug hole that is initially present accelerates as water moves inward.

    Of course, the Coriolis force does still impact the direction of the flow of water, but only minutely. Only if the water is so still that the effective rotation rate of the Earth is faster than that of the water relative to its container, and if externally applied torques (such as might be caused by flow over an uneven bottom surface) are small enough, the Coriolis effect may indeed determine the direction of the vortex. Without such careful preparation, the Coriolis effect is likely to be much smaller than various other influences on drain direction such as any residual rotation of the water and the geometry of the container. Despite this, the idea that toilets and bathtubs drain differently in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres has been popularized by several television programs and films
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  21. Verkstad

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    Getting off topic...
    Wonder if coriolis affects launched projectiles?? I expect it would but so minute, probably impossible to measure.
    But artillery, some guns can range miles. I expect its measurable then.
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  22. Polecat

    Polecat Polecat in a Poke Supporter

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    Yes, it does, but unless you are launching something into the next state the effect is so minuscule as to be nil.
  23. Tribent

    Tribent Tracker

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    How wonderful that my chimney question could lead to a long range shooting discussion...
    The Lapua Ballistic calculator, an excellent tool when it comes to hit small things at long distances, has a coriolis calculator where you state your latitude and aiming direction with ballistic correction as an output.
    As an example the coriolis affect a bullet traveling a mile (in 90 degrees to the earth rotation) about 3 inches sideways (if you are located in Kansas).
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  24. Zaveral

    Zaveral Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    This is an interesting idea, because here in Arkansas when you find an old home site in the woods the only thing still standing is the chimney.

    I don't have an answer to the OP Question. I never considered why they built chimneys that way. When I designed my cabin (which I never actually built) I put the chimney in the middle with a huge amount of rock for thermal mass.
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  25. Bitterroot Native

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    I don't know for sure why the chimneys are external. I've came across quite a few but I can really only speculate.
    Like Seeker mentioned the cabin builders often designed and built what they were familiar with which were houses from their native lands, or their parents, grandparents, ect.

    The part of America I'm from wasn't really settled by whites untill the mid 1800's. All of the old cabins I have seen are in the Northern Rocky Mountains near the Canadian border which to this day is still a very wild and remote part of North America. Being that far out from civilization the cabin sites I would come across were often fairly undisturbed.

    These were mostly very small cabins built for one, maybe two people. The older ones sometimes had a stone external chimney but most of them were built with the use of a woodstove in mind, usually the chimney was to the side as well.

    Overall I think space and ease of building/maintenance was the primary reason. Trappers, miners, and settlers needed shelters to be built quickly, sturdily, and have ample work space available. Someone also mentioned how fuel was widely available, that is spot on. There was the mindset that there were endless resources to be had, so the solution to inefficient heating was probably just make a bigger fire and burn more wood.
  26. Wewillsurvive

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    I'm not real sure why our homes are built that way but this American thinks it ignorant. The house my wife and I are planning on building will have the fireplace and chimney built squarely in the center of the house. Our current home has it on the far west end and the bedrooms are always colder and take the longest to heat up. We will just figure out the square footage we will "lose" to the fireplace/chimney and compensate for it if losing a pantry/closet amount of space becomes an issue.


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  27. jackruff

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    It may have more to do with the fact that, when it is cold, the wind blows out of the north.



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  28. Bad Little Falls

    Bad Little Falls Scout

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    It has to do with the house orientation. The south side is bright, warm, friendly, the north cold and dank. Then there are the poor saps that had to build with the front of the house facing north due to the orientation of the road that passes by, so the back of the house was the place to hang out, in the winter.
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  29. Polecat

    Polecat Polecat in a Poke Supporter

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    The north side of the house is the first to rot out once the house has sat empty for 30-some years, too. Not as much sunlight to dry up the frost and dew, I guess. I speak from personal experience, and probably should have just torn this place down instead of fixing it up... :( Lol.
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  30. x39

    x39 Guide

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    Sounds like you're in the same boat I'm in, LOL!
  31. x39

    x39 Guide

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    Even worse when the garage door doesn't face south as far as work goes!
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  32. Polecat

    Polecat Polecat in a Poke Supporter

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    Random Tip: Old barns were built in a direction such that when both big doors were opened, the prevailing winds would blow through. When it was time to thresh, the old timers would throw their beaten wheat and barley up into the air. The wind would blow the chaff out of the barn, and the heavier grains would fall to the floor. Then (some guy) automated the process, and barns started being built in whatever direction was most convenient. :p
  33. marbleman

    marbleman Scout

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    From memory, I think Eli Whitney perfected the cotton gin. Cyrus McCormick built the first mechanical reapers.

    Edit: Now I had to go look it up. Cyrus McCormick built on the work of his father, as well. He started a company that was called McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, later known as International Harvester. I spent 2/3 of my life on a farm, we had several IH tractors.

    Cyrus perfected the way to cut the grain, and get it out of the field. It was hauled to threshers, which were big standalone machines to separate grain and chaff.

    Much later, the functions of cutting the grain and threshing the grain out, were combined into a single piece of machinery. Aptly, they were called "combines". Early ones were pulled by tractors, later ones were self-propelled. I've worked with both.

    But? I'm veering dangerously off-topic. On the chimney, without knowing, I would guess that early/primitive chimneys could easier be rebuilt/repaired if they were not integral to the structure. Being indoors makes sense, from the radiant heat aspect. Being outdoors makes sense from a repair standpoint.
  34. Polecat

    Polecat Polecat in a Poke Supporter

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    Oh yeah, I got confused. LOL.
  35. gila_dog

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    If you are interested in passive solar house design you soon find that having "thermal mass" inside a well insulated building is one of the key elements. This mass soaks up heat when there is plenty of it (wood fire burning, sun shining into the south facing windows) and lets it off slowly when the heat source goes away. This also works in the summer to help cool a house. Open the windows at night and let cool air flow thru, and your thermal mass gets cool. Later, when the hot sun comes out, it has to warm up all that thermal mass before the house starts getting hot. Having no, or low, mass inside the house means that the temperature of the house will follow that of the outdoors much more readily. So having a massive chimney inside the house would make the house more efficient to heat and cool. Putting all that mass outside serves no purpose at all, except maybe for simplicity of construction. Instead of having to build the house around the chimney (and provide support for it in the floor) you just stick it off to one side and build up against it.
  36. Chili

    Chili Scout

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    Down here in the heat we like our garages to face north (or east, at least!) :p

    And we usually have minimal windows on the south side of the house, if possible.
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  37. Jean

    Jean Guide

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    While the origins of chimney design are well stated above. I think the modern practice is a function of building codes and insurance costs.
  38. Bad Little Falls

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    A warm chimney draws better than a cold one. We are now building an in ground house, concrete walls, shed roof facing south east, to take advantage of early morning to mid day sun and avoiding the afternoon hot sun. There are 3- 40' 10" culverts that dump into the back wall, running to daylight, letting in an air exchange. A solar green house type of structure will be incorporated this spring. This building will not have a chimney. A simple vent for the on demand Rinnai water heater to run domestic and radiant floor when needed. One solution.... avoid the chimney all together.
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  39. Terasec

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    I wouldnt build /buy a house without a fireplace
    Source of heat when power goes out
    I have electric/gas/and a fireplace
    Would give up gas or electric before giving up the fireplace
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  40. Bad Little Falls

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    In all reality, a small generator will run the circulation pumps for the radiant heat, that is if it is greatly needed, the sun from the front southeast face will provide warmth for most of the day, if it is sunny. As well as the thermal mass provided by the ground. I do understand the desire for wood heat, I have had wood heat my whole life, it is now via a outdoor wood boiler, though. I admittedly miss a wood stove in the house.
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  41. TWill

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    Looking back at the original question the folks that settled the US were building without the resources that we have today so a stone and masonry chimney would have been possible in a nice home near such tradesmen or materials but those that built cabins way up in the hills and hollers had to use what was there. So mud and stave chimneys or stacked rock with mud gap filler instead of mortar or a combo of the two was how it got done....very spartan indeed. They also would have ran into issues putting a chimney in a house space central and projecting out of the roof with sealing it to keep out rain while still having it accept the seasonal movement of a wood house. The practical answer to these factors was to slap it on the side and all the other logical reasons already stated made that all the better of a way to do it.
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  42. gohammergo

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    The home I live in was built in the late 1800's. Chimney is dead center in the house. Brick, built on a wood platform. Heated the house with that chimney with the exception of a few years my dad had a gas heater in it. Still going strong. Home is vertical hand hewn logs, made with timber that was cut on the land by a Polish immigrant.

    As to the Coriolis effect.... well, not too sure about it, but all of our sinks, the bathtub, and the toilet all swirl clockwise when draining. In fact, if I use a funnel to put fuel in the wheelers or dozer, it goes clockwise as well. :)
  43. Stophel

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    Typical 18th century PA German cabins, with the typical central fireplace.
    IM000061.JPG IM000057.JPG
    (the brick floor is modern)
    LandisLogHouse1.jpg Here you see the rather massive stone chimneys (usually with an attached iron stove to heat the back room), with the simple floorplan of entrance to kitchen with big fireplace, on one side of the house, and one or two rooms on the backside of the fireplace.

    Cabins built in the South generally will have exterior fireplaces. Borrowing the log cabin from the Germans, but keeping the English Georgian fireplace, which would typically be one at either end of the house (the chimney could be internal or external). Simplifying that, you get the single end, exterior chimney log cabin. Besides the reasons given above for fire safety (with stick and mud chimneys, which were common), you just might not want all that heat inside the house in the South. ;) It also takes a LOT of work to build a big stone fireplace, and many simply could not afford it, or did not know how to build one.
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  44. Poeschel

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    As stated above, a warm chimney draws better than a cold. Where I live, per code, when we install a new furnace that vents into a chimney shared with a water heater, were required to install a chimney liner to avoid condensation and help with overall draft. This is only required on an external chimney as an internal stays warmer.

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