So, you moved into your new home, started decorating and prepping the house for furniture when you notice the remains of an old fireplace. So you began to wonder, is there anything I could do with this? Will it be worth my while opening it up and returning it to its former glory? The general answer would be yes… if you know what you’re doing…
In most cases a fireplace should have been blocked off using sound building practices, but in some homes this may not be the case. Therefore the first thing that you must do is get professional advice from a surveyor or architect to ensure that this is not going to be a dangerous or disastrous.
Once this has been confirmed you can begin this extremely messy process. First of all you are going to need some tools, these include:
- Bolster Chisel
- Tape Measure
- Pointing Trowel
- Trimming Knife (possibly)
- Wrecking Bar (possibly)
- Lime Mortar
- New Skirting Board
As previously mentioned this is going to be an extremely messy job, so it is probably best if you cover the majority of your furniture with dust sheets. Trust us, you will regret it if you don’t.
If the fireplace has been blocked off correctly there should be a vent in the wall just above the skirting board. Remove this vent carefully and look inside so you can get a good idea of the size of the fireplace. (HINT: A torch will probably be useful here.)
Once you have determined the size make a cut in the skirting board on either side of the fireplace, then remove this section.
Your next task is to uncover the hearth in from of the fireplace. This is usually a solid concrete block which has been set into the surrounding floorboards. Do not worry if it looks old or battered, you can always customise and fix this later.
Once this is completed tap the wall where the entrance to the fireplace should be. If it sounds hollow than the most likely reason is that it was filled with a board. In this case find the edge of this board and try to pry it away from the wall with a trimming knife and wrecking bar. (Hint: If this does not seem to work then drill a hole into the board to see if it is timber or plasterboard. If it is plasterboard break through it with a club hammer.)
Going back to when you tapped the wall, if it was not hollow then it has more than likely been filled with bricks. Unfortunately this means that you have the hardest and messiest job. Start from the vent and slowly knock out a few bricks at a time using a club hammer and bolster chisel.
Cut the bricks back to the original edge of the opening before fixing any joints in the brickwork at the side and back of the fireplace. (Hint: Use Lime Mortar to do this as regular sand and cement mortar will crack with the heat.)
Once this has been completed you should be able to see whether the original firebrick is in good condition (or if it is there at all). This is usually a shaped section, made from iron or fireclay at the back of the fireplace. It is designed to reflect heat into the room, rather than allowing it to rise straight up the chimney.
The next task is extremely important, you need to make sure that your flue pipe has not been blocked up and this must always be done properly. Take a lighted candle and place it just in front of the fire opening. The smoke and flame should be drawn up the chimney, if not then the fireplace is blocked or capped and you will more than likely require professional help.
Make sure you get the chimney swept, and also get a professional to make sure it is all safe and in working condition before lighting a fire.
Find a qualified chimney engineer in your area by contacting the National Association of Chimney Engineers (NACE) at https://www.nace.me.uk/ or calling 01526 322555.