North and South Chimneys at Central Energy Facility Undergo Repairs

August 19, 2016

A photo of the condition of the South chimney's concrete cap and upper elevations.

A photo of the condition of the South chimney’s concrete cap and upper elevations.

As one approaches campus, Clemson University’s Central Energy Facility looms large alongside Tillman Hall and Death Valley Stadium. Its twin “smoke stacks” serve as an unmistakable landmark for visitors and their presence adjacent to increasingly contemporary structures amounts to a vintage interruption to fast-moving modernization at Clemson. Despite their bygone appearance, the chimneys of the CEF continue to play an important role in keeping students, employees and visitors comfortable within campus buildings.

The CEF’s History in Brief

The Central Energy Facility was constructed in 1948. Its original purpose was to provide steam-based heat to most of campus.

“The north stack was constructed as part of the original 1948 plant,” according to Tony Putnam, Director of Utility Services. In 1964, the Central Energy Facility (known in those days as ‘the Physical Plant’) underwent an upgrade to keep pace with campus growth. “The south stack was added as part of the 1964 plant expansion.”

Near the base of the South chimney, taken in the 1960’s.

Near the base of the South chimney, taken in the 1960’s.

Today, the CEF serves as the key contributor to campus heating and air conditioning, serving much of the campus including various dorms, classrooms and research facilities, as well as Harcombe dining hall. Although it originally burned coal, on May 3rd of 2012 the CEF switched to natural gas in an effort to reduce operational costs. Coincidentally, natural gas has amounted to a major reduction in the university’s carbon footprint. Also, while the CEF’s primary purpose is to provide heating and cooling to the campus, it can produce electricity as needed. As it plays a critical role in the daily operation of Clemson University, it’s important to ensure that the CEF remains a safe and efficient facility.

Repair of the South Chimney

Prompted by concerns that recent construction adjacent to the Central Energy Facility could have affected their structural integrity, University Facilities commissioned Bednash Consulting, Inc. to inspect both the North and South chimneys on June 15th of this year. Their inspection report concluded that while the overall condition of the North chimney was good and required few repairs, several issues were found with the condition of the South chimney. The topmost 18′ of the chimney was recommended to be demolished and completely rebuilt. The chimney’s lightning protection system also needs replacing in order to bring it up to Underwriters’ Laboratories standards.

In order to perform the repairs, a wooden ladder is built from the base of the chimney to its summit. The ladder supports itself from the ground and the lightning arresting cable connected to the chimney stabilizes it. With the ladder in place, a platform encircling the chimney is constructed near the top to give workers a stable workspace to perform brick and mortar work. The material used to repair the chimney is hoisted from the ground using a pulley. However, the workers themselves must traverse the ladder each time they wish to reach or leave the platform. We’ve included a video that provides the worker’s perspective of what it’s like to climb the chimney, fair warning to those afraid of heights.

The “Smoke Stacks” continue to serve Clemson University as a part of providing a reliable source of heating and air to campus housing and academic areas. One day they may come down, but until that time the chimneys of the Central Energy Facility will continue to benefit from the maintenance necessary to ensure they are safe and sound.

Special thanks to Project Manager Tom Minor who provided inspection information along with footage of the repairs.