A very close look at a giant smokestack

Smokestack inspection at Louisville water towerImagine getting in a small metal basket with another person. Then a crane hoists you more than 200 feet in the air and suspends you above an enormous smokestack.

Two Louisville Water contractors took that trip during a recent inspection at the Zorn Avenue facility. The smokestack, which hasn’t been used for decades, was built in 1893 along with Pumping Station No. 2, which was powered by early Louisville Water workers who stoked a boiler with coal. Pumping Station No. 3 began operation in 1919 with a larger boiler house powering a 100-foot-tall steam pumping engine that ceased operation in 1970. Electric pumps are used today.

According to Louisville Water Project Engineer David Mulloy, the recent inspection was needed to make sure the smokestack is still in sound condition. The inspection documented the state of the masonry and mortar, Mulloy said, and it looked for any signs of corrosion.

Drone inspecting smokestack at Louisville water towerThe two-man crew lowered a 360° camera and lighting rig from the bottom of the metal basket into the smokestack and made several passes inside the structure to get high quality data. A small drone guided by a certified operator examined the smokestack exterior.

“The inspection was completed without issue and the structure was found to be in surprisingly good shape,” Mulloy said.  

A structural engineer is now looking more closely at the results, combining the observations with a review of the original construction drawings to produce a Professional Engineering Report of Detailed Inspection, which will be an attachment to the 2023 Biennial Inspection report presented to the Board of Water Works in August.