There are many things that can be daunting about a home renovation project and one of the most common questions I am asked is how to go about chimneys, whether keeping an old chimney is a good idea and if removing one or more of chimneys would damage the structure of the house.
Here’s my short answer: Just get rid of them. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
Don’t be afraid of the cost.
I visited a home recently where the fireplace was right in the centre of the living space at the back of the house making it really difficult for the clients to see how to reconfigure the space around it. The solution: take it out. Not only was it completely compromising the living space on the ground floor but it was taking up a huge amount of space from the bedroom above too.
Our clients had ruled out taking it out because they were afraid of the added cost to the whole home renovation project but when you’re doing a complete refurbishment of your home taking out a chimney is not a major cost. In fact, taking it out completely is actually less costly than leaving it partially intact as this requires you to put in steel beams to support the section above.
They are legacies of the past
These fireplaces are legacies of a different time when fires were the only heating system available. Modern families are increasingly less likely to use a fire. Often the fireplaces are nothing more than an ornamental feature in a room.
We had other clients who had become accustomed to the fireplace as a feature in their home and were really concerned about the implications of taking out a chimney. They wanted to create a more open living and dining space to the rear or their home and to add an en-suite to their bedroom above. The fireplace completely prohibited us from making the layout work so it absolutely had to come out.
Because we were demolishing most of the internal walls at ground floor and extending to the rear the demolition of the chimney was a relatively minor cost and the freedom it gave us to create a layout that worked was fantastic.
Free up valuable space in a bedroom
Bedrooms are also often really compromised by fireplaces and unless you plan on using the fire below it’s worth looking at the cost of removing them. We had clients who had a 2-up-2-down victorian home with a fireplace in each room. In the bedrooms the location of the fireplace meant that there wasn’t enough space for wardrobes. We removed the fireplaces leaving the chimney stack intact above roof level. This freed up valuable floor space in both bedrooms.
The external stack can be left intact
This kind of work will need the input of a structural engineer. If you are joined to your neighbor’s chimney the contractor and engineer will need to inspect your neighbor’s chimney also. You will need permission from your neighbor to carry out the work and the chimney will need to be supported at attic level so that the external chimney remains intact.
Unless the whole chimney, from the fireplace to the roof stack is going to be removed, suitable support beams will need to be incorporated to support any masonry above to avoid structural distress or damage, or even the collapse of the building.
Keeping it may be as costly as taking it out
If you are considering keeping a chimney simply because of uncertainty of the cost of taking it out, weigh up the cost of working it into your home renovation scheme. The cost of installing a new fire or stove and lining the chimney with a flue may well equal or even outweigh the cost of removing the lot.
Once a chimney breast has been removed, you will need to make good the floor where the chimney breast once was. If you are removing it completely the roof will also need to be patched up.
If the chimney stack is to be left in place and only part of the chimney breast below is to be removed, the brickwork above must be supported with a steel beam. What will be required will depend upon the size of masonry above and the adjoining walls, which will need to bear the load. Your structural engineer will work out the appropriate size for the steel required.
If any unused chimney breast is retained, it will need to be ventilated at both the top and bottom. Any moisture in an unventilated wall or chimney will interact with the soot remaining in the used chimney and can cause staining.