Q: My husband and I are in escrow on a home that has an old fireplace. We had it inspected by a professional who has a good reputation for restoration. The report came back that it is in hazardous condition and requires removal or major renovation. Removal is our preference.
It is on an exterior wall of the living room that would be better suited to having French doors in its place.
Neither of us has a problem with getting physical in removing the fireplace, but what harm to the house (or ourselves) are we in danger of getting into?
A: We can promise that you will get physical. You won’t harm the house, unless a wayward brick goes through a window. And you won’t harm yourselves — except for some sore muscles — if you pay attention and work safely.
These days, fireplaces don’t have the same panache as in days gone by. Yes, a fire is nice on the occasional winter’s eve, but for most folks, the mess and energy inefficiency outweigh the occasional coziness. We’re not surprised that, faced with a big repair bill or demolition, you’re opting to rip it out.
Kevin gave his wife Heidi the option of having a fireplace when we built his house. She said no thanks. Rather strange for a mason’s daughter, but true.
Taking down the fireplace is a job you can do yourself, but it will take some time and you must use extreme caution.
When Kevin first moved to Boise, Idaho, a friend from Alameda, Calif., was already there. Mike was a renovator. He owned a little house on a big lot in an old part of town. The house had a chimney that needed to come down. One day a crew of guys showed up. They tied one end of a rope around the top of the chimney and the other end to the bumper of a pickup and yanked it down — quick and efficient, but dangerous and felony stupid. …CONTINUED
Demolish your fireplace from the top down, one brick at a time. Erect or rent a scaffold and work from it. Make sure that the scaffold is equipped with stable flooring and safety rails and that it is securely attached to the building.
Then, equipped with a hammer and cold chisel, begin removing the bricks one at a time, starting at the top. Don’t throw the bricks off the scaffold. Stack them on the scaffold deck until you get a pile.
Lower them to the ground using a 5-gallon bucket attached to a rope. Neatly stack the bricks in an out-of-the-way place.
As you get below the roofline, you’ll probably notice that there will be a fair amount of reconstruction you’ll have to do to close up the hole created when you remove the chimney.
It will include patching the roof and framing and finishing soffits and eaves. Going down the exterior wall, there will be siding that should be patched in. When you finally get to the firebox, you’ll have a gaping hole in the wall letting the outside in.
So far, none of it will affect the structure of the house. Below the floor line might be a different story. You’re definitely looking at fixing some floor framing and, depending on how the foundation was constructed, possibly doing a little foundation work.
From this point on, it’s a relatively simple matter of framing the opening for the new French doors and installing them.
Make no mistake about it: It’s a lot of work, but doable. The added bonus you’ll have is hundreds of used bricks that, once cleaned, can be recycled into handsome walkways, planters or even a new barbecue.
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