Fireplace teardown raises resale issue

Will demolition hurt or help value?

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Q: I live in a 900-square-foot house in East Oakland, Calif., built around the 1920s. I’d like to remove my fireplace. My living room is very small and has only one open/available wall, which faces east. The front wall faces the street to the north and is all window. Then there is the wall with the fireplace (west), which is flanked by awning windows, and the third wall (south) opens entirely into the dining room, with beveled-arch corners.

I need another surface for art/decorations, or perhaps there is a flat-screen TV in my distant future. With only one wall to work with, demolishing the fireplace would add value to the room/house. The wall already needs significant plaster work that’s going to take it down to the lath to be repaired. I figure whenever I get that done, I could have the fireplace removed. In the four-plus years I have lived here, I’ve fired up the fireplace twice. What are your thoughts regarding value lost or gained?

A: We see your point about ripping out the fireplace. Over the years we’ve had fireplaces in many of our homes. We really didn’t use them much. Our family home in nearby San Leandro had two fireplaces. We used the one in the family room once or twice each winter, and the one in the living room wasn’t used in the 20 years our family lived there. On the other hand, there is some primal pleasure we all seem to experience from the warmth of an open fire.

Most people view a fireplace as a plus. The disadvantage is that a wood-burning fireplace is messy and inefficient. Modern builders compromise by installing more efficient gas fireplaces with all of the ambience and none of the mess.

All in all, taking out the fireplace is not a bad idea. But it may take a lot more than ripping out the brick and installing drywall. You’ll have to fill in the hole you’ll make, and that could involve the structure from the foundation to the roof.

If the fireplace is sound, there is a possibility that you can avoid a full-blown demolition by removing the fireplace face, then bricking in the opening and extending the wall framing to cover the opening. Look outside where the brick meets the exterior wall. If there is no cracking or separation between the siding and the brick, the fireplace is sound. If there are gaps or cracks, there’s probably some settling and the fireplace should come down. Consider getting a professional to take a look. A civil engineer would be a good choice for this job. …CONTINUED

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