Rampart Chimneys

        Besides masonry chimneys and prefab systems, there is another type of chimney system that can be found in many parts of San Diego & Riverside counties referred to as a Rampart General Pre-Cast Concrete Chimney system.   Ramparts are also known as "tilt-up"  chimneys since they are generally installed at the jobsite.   There is an "Achilles heal"  to this system that homeowners need to be aware of.   These chimneys were constructed in Santa Ana, California in a form or cast using a material consisting of calcium aluminate cement and lightweight aggregate.   After curing for about a month, these units were put on trucks and transported to the home site and "tilted up"  into place on a concrete pad by a large crane.   During the process of putting the Rampart into place, some of these chimneys twisted, which resulted in cracking the "breast plate"  or "insulation plate",  which is located inside the firebox directly above the fireplace opening.

Damaged Rampart General Chimney
        Other possible causes for cracks in the insulation plate is seismic activity or extreme wind load which has been documented.   In addition, we have also seen several cases in San Diego & Riverside counties where we believe extreme usage (heavy burning) may have created the cracks.

        Even hairline cracks are dangerous because they will widen with heat, and then allow this heat to transfer through the cracks to combustible materials used in construction around the chimney.   This is an extremely dangerous situation and a major potential fire hazard!   Following our training in Ramparts, about 60% - 70% of the Ramparts that were inspected had a cracked insulation plate.

        If your Rampart chimney has a cracked insulation plate, there is no approved repair and the system SHOULD NOT be used due to the high chance of a major fire.   Stove inserts (gas, wood, pellet or gas logs) SHOULD NOT be installed, and patching CANNOT cover the cracks for long.   No repairs have been approved by the manufacturer or by the Superior and Municipal Courts of California who have made rulings in cases involving cracked Ramparts.

        The company that constructed these chimney systems is now out of business so there is no recourse against the manufacturer.   These systems can be found throughout California.   If your home was built during the mid-1970's to mid-1980's, you may have a Rampart system.
Damaged Rampart General Chimney
        The use of THERMOCRETE on a RAMPART GENERAL.   Some misleading information has been circulating that THERMOCRETE is associated with or is part of RAMPART GENERAL.   First of all RAMPART GENERAL and THERMOCRETE are two unrelated companies.   RAMPART GENERAL manufactured a "one piece" concrete fireplace.   It was a complete chimney and fireplace that came on the back of a truck.   The RAMPART was made in a mold that concrete and re-bar was poured into.   The problems with RAMPART's were;

In order to increase or speed up production they added a product called "calcium aluminate" which when added to concrete causes it to "set-up" or harden quicker.   What they did not consider is when the calcium aluminate reacts with the steel re-bar that formed the structure of the fireplace, the steel would rust- a lot!   When steel rusts, it expands, and when it expands it cracks the concrete that surrounds it.   In a solid concrete chimney system when a crack occurs it will crack all the way through the structure.   This process happens over time depending on the variables.   A chimney or flue is what conveys the smoke and gases (by products of combustion) from the firebox (where the fire is burning) up to the atmosphere.
It also insulates the structure (house) from the heat.   If the flue system has a crack or hole in it, the smoke and heat can escape through the crack to the combustible material (wood) that is around the chimney.   With wood there is a certain temperature that can cause the wood to spontaneously combust (burst into flame).   It varies depending on the type of wood, how much moisture is in it, and so on.   Every time this wood gets heated up it gets a little drier or "pyrolizes".   This means that whatever the temperature was that would ignite it has come down a degree or more depending on the temperature it was exposed to.   The building codes vary from place to place and usually the code stated there had to be a minimum of 1" to 2" space between the chimney structure and any combustible material (wood).   This code was not always enforced.   Air is the best insulator for heat, circulating air.   So if there is a crack in the system allowing heat to escape and there is wood touching or too close to the chimney, eventually that wood will get heated up enough to ignite.
Another problem RAMPARTS have is what can be referred to as the "insulation plate" or "breast".   It is on the inside just above the lintel that slopes toward the damper.   In a brick fireplace the breast is 6-8 inches thick.   There is a large piece of lumber called a "header" that is in the wall and supports the wall above the opening to the firebox.   The header rests right above the breast.   6 to 8 inches of brick is enough to insulate the header from the heat.   In a RAMPART the "insulation plate" was 3" at most.   Even though it was made from a "heat resistant" cement it was so thin that it was very easily damaged in transport and installation.   Any flexing or twisting of the fireplace could cause it to crack.   This could be by unloading it off the truck, when it hit the ground, when it was loaded onto the truck, an earthquake, etc.   A crack in the "system" allowing heat and smoke to escape into the wall and most likely causing a fire.
        Now this is where THERMOCRETE comes in.   There is a big debate about this in the industry.   The CODE(IBC) STATES THAT THEY ONLY TYPE OF REPAIR THAT IS RECOGNIZED AS "APPROVED" BY THE THOSE ENFORCING THE CODE IS A METHOD OF REPAIR THAT HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE MANUFACTURER OF THE FIREPLACE WHICH IS RAMPART GENERAL.   There are a few ways that (IMO) these problems can be fixed or repaired to reduce the chance of fire.   RAMPART tried several different methods of repairing the insulation plate but found NONE that worked.   There official position was "..IF THERE WAS A CRACK IN THE INSULATION PLATE IT COULD NOT BE REPAIRED AND THE FIREPLACE/CHIMNEY MUST BE REMOVED AND REPLACED."   The main reason why they went out of business.   So then THERMOCRETE comes along, AFTER "RAMPART GENERAL" HAS GONE OUT OF BUSINESS and (IMO) WRONGLY gets approved as a repair for RAMPART GENERAL's" by the City Of LA Building Dept.   The CODE ,which is the LAW, states if the repair is not approved by the manufacturer it CAN NOT BE REPAIRED.   RAMPART WAS NO LONGER IN BUSINESS, SO THEY COULDN'T APPROVE "THERMOCRETE".   Even if THERMOCRETE worked as a repair the LAW says it cannot be repaired with THERMOCRETE....period!

        If you look up THERMOCRETE on the internet in the UK you will see that the THERMOCRETE SYSTEM they use over there is a "FLUE LINING SYSTEM" and in the US it's called a "FLUE SEALANT".   BIG DIFFERENCE!

        The Rampart chimney systems are usually white (instead of red) and the outside appearance is made to look like they are built with bricks.   The chimneys are usually on an exterior wall of the house.   Most homeowner will usually not be aware that they have anything other than a standard masonry chimney.   Even some professional chimney sweeps or home inspectors who have not been specifically trained in these systems may not know what they're looking at.   It will generally take someone who has had SPECIFIC TRAINING to be able to identify them and know where to look for the inherent problems with Ramparts.   The question to ask your home inspector or chimney professional is if they have received Rampart chimney training through Dale Feb.
Damaged Rampart General Chimney Damaged Rampart General Chimney
        For further information, please refer to the following article written by Dale Feb of Fireplace Investigation, Research & Education (F.I.R.E) Services, the leading expert for these Rampart systems at 805-552-9954.

Rampart Chimney Information  External Link

   [PDF Format]


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