Q: Our house, built in 1931, has a traditional fireplace in the living room, but there is also what appears to be a slim brick fireplace in the kitchen — although I can’t see where the opening was — it appears to be more of a brick flue from floor to ceiling.
Are you familiar with this type of thing? The flue does exit the roof like a traditional chimney and we have it capped to keep out rain and protect against embers and sparks. But it is blocking us from opening up the kitchen the way we’d like.
I don’t know that it should be completely removed, but it would somehow have to be sealed somewhere — between the kitchen’s ceiling and the home’s roof, perhaps?
A: We’re quite familiar with this setup. Brick flues were regularly built in kitchens to vent gas or gas/wood stoves and often gas water heaters. In the 1930s, natural gas was the predominant cooking fuel. Electric stoves were in their infancy, and the all-electric kitchen was 20 years in the future.
Bill had to deal with stand-alone brick flues in two of his homes. Fortunately, in both cases he was able to remodel around them. In his 1920s Craftsman bungalow in Alameda, Calif., the water heater and the gas stove vented into a brick chimney. The flue shared a chimney with the fireplace in the dining room. One flue vented the smoke from the fireplace, and the other flue vented the gas stove and gas water heater in the kitchen.
The chimney did not jut into the kitchen and Bill did not remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room. He was able to move the water heater, and continued to use the flue to vent a new range hood.
If your kitchen flue is separate from the fireplace, a teardown is the way to go. To remove it from the kitchen space, you’ll have to remove it from below the kitchen floor all the way through the roof. The reason is simple: Brick is heavy. Removing the center section will shift all the weight of the remaining bricks to whatever support you construct. We suppose it might be possible to support the remainder of the chimney above the kitchen ceiling, but it would take a lot of engineering and, in our view, is hardly worth the effort.
Removing the flue is part of a much larger kitchen remodel. The job involves taking the chimney down from the top to below the kitchen floor. Then some new framing will be needed for the floor, ceiling and rafters. New subfloor and roof decking will be installed and the roof patched.
It is not that big of a job in the scope of a complete kitchen remodel. Alternatively, depending on your proposed plan and the location of the flue, consider framing around it and making it a part of the new kitchen.
In either case, it requires the help of your local building officials. Make sure to buy the building permit and get the job inspected. We wish you happy remodeling.
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