Buckley Rumford Fireplaces
Reconstruction and Replacement of
Earthquake Damaged Masonry Chimneys


"Reconstruction or replacement of a damaged masonry chimney is not allowed with masonry unless completely removed, redesigned and constructed to current code requirements. This will require structural plans and calculations prepared by a civil engineer, structural engineer, or architect licensed by the State of California. These structural plans and calculations must be reviewed prior to permit issuance at the plan check counter of a LADBS Construction Services Center."

Excerpt from Information Bulletin 1-2004 "Reconstruction and Replacement of Earthquake Damaged Masonry Chimneys" issued by the San Luis Obispo Building & Safety Division.

Granted that the San Luis Obispo guidelines address a narrow, specific problem - how to quickly and efficiently repair chimneys damaged in an earthquake. And granted that virtually all of those chimneys damaged were old or not built to code. We know from our own investigations. So the guidelines can be seen as a practical simplification.

But, by specifically and emphatically "not allowing" masonry chimneys to be reconstructed or replaced unless redesigned by an engineer or architect and completely removed and rebuilt. seems especially discriminatory toward the masonry industry. The building codes permit building reinforced masonry chimneys in seismic areas. And we know that modern reinforced masonry chimneys built to code don't fail in earthquakes. See FEMA Report.

Moreover, the residential building codes are "prescriptive" - a word the Bulletin uses in the introduction - which means that an engineer or architect is not required to design, do any calculations or approve plans.

We think the City of San Luis Obispo is out of line by favoring factory built chimneys over masonry chimneys when both are permitted by code and both perform well in seismic events.

Jim Buckley, 10/7/06

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