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
If an all-out demolition is in the works, you’re looking at a big job and probably a lot of money. Once the firebox and chimney are gone, you’ll be looking at a big hole from foundation to roof. On the outside, the foundation and footing will have to be rebuilt. Then the wall, ceiling and roof must be framed to match the rest of the exterior, the interior ceiling and the roofline. Sheathing, building paper and siding to match the existing exterior wall is next, followed by insulation, drywalling and finishing the interior. Finally, the roof will have to be patched.
That is a lot of work to get a little wall space. If you can leave the exterior intact, the project is more manageable. It would involve stripping out the portion of the fireplace that extends into the house and removing the plaster from the wall. We recommend you take off the lath also and insulate the wall before you drywall and finish it.
With the wall open it’s also a great opportunity to upgrade your electrical system with a few well-placed receptacles. It’s also time to install TV cable in the wall. Have the electrician put a plate over the boxes and cover them with a picture until the flat screen appears.
As far as value gained or lost, it really depends on what the job is going to cost you. If the fireplace needs total demolition, our guess is that it’s going to be cost prohibitive. If the bones of the fireplace can stay, it’s probably doable. As far as future value, that depends on the next buyer. Personally, we don’t have fireplaces now and don’t miss them. So, for us, they have no intrinsic value.
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