Fire! Fire! Don't try this at home.
September 19, 2008 12:24 PM   Subscribe

My house had two fireplaces which were walled over by the prior owner. I'd like to reopen them and possibly retro fit them to be gas fireplaces. How horrible (read expensive and time consuming) of a construction job would this be?

House is stucco from the 1920s. Raised foundation which makes running the gas lines easier. My house is in San Diego and does have a floor furnace in one room, but the house gets chilly/clammy in the winter. Also, would this renovation add any value to my home at resale?
posted by 26.2 to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I don't know if they were filled in before they were walled over. The walls now look just like the rest of the walls in the house which are plaster.

Here are some photos:

This exterior shows the chimneys.

This is the best shot I have of the living room location.
posted by 26.2 at 1:02 PM on September 19, 2008

I can't imagine it being that horrible a job. Unless they were truly nuts, they didn't fill in the entire fireplace with bricks or anything. Probably frame and wonderboard (like concrete based sheet rock) with stucco skin. A good carpenter or mason would be able to tell you pretty quickly. You can also drill into it with a long masonry bit and see.

If they were deactivated for cosmetic reasons, it won't be too expensive to reactivate them. I'd guess (and it is a GUESS!) that it might run to a few thousand bux, worst case. Again, it depends. If it truly is a cosmetic deactivation, it is in DIY-land almost. Mostly just demolition, cleanup and finish work.

(I'm a little 'different' of course, but if it were my house, I'd unhesitatingly poke a medium hole in the wall and peek inside with a video camera and lamp. That would give me some info and risk only a little wall damage to repair if I decided it was not worth pursuing.)

As to the resale value, who knows? Depends on the specific buyer. To someone who MUST have fireplaces, it obviously has value. Again, it it is a cheap mod, you'll probably get your money back with the right buyer. Odds decline as the cost goes up, obviously.
posted by FauxScot at 1:15 PM on September 19, 2008

It's hard to say what it might cost unless you know why and how the fireplaces were covered. I say that and I do estimating for a restoration and building contractor in Portland.

It's possible that the fireplace/chimney had problems prior to your purchase of the house and the previous seller decommissioned them without removing the chimneys. (This happens semi-frequently.)

It's also possible that the previous owner just wanted the wallspace so they simply covered over the fireplace.

Unfortunately it might be hard to tell until you pull some lath and plaster down. A properly set skillsaw with a good blade would allow you to pull a patch off the wall and see what's behind.

You might contact a chimney and fireplace inspector/specialist and see if they can help.
posted by brandoniain at 1:15 PM on September 19, 2008

I'd install a direct vent gas fireplace/insert. That way it doesn't matter what the condition of the chimney is, you just punch a hole straight out the back. The money you save not buying a liner offsets the increased cost of the unit. Plus direct vent gas appliances are by nature more efficient than B-Vent units.

Also because they are generally zero clearance so if you would rather the fireplace be in the corner or something they can do that too. It would just involve a bit more cost for framing up an enclosure or mantle (and of course a loss in floor space).
posted by Mitheral at 5:32 PM on September 19, 2008

I'm really, really late to this, but wanted to point out that we did this. The previous owner had chiseled off the original fireplace front and had torn out the built-ins and windows on either side. The killer was that they filled the chimney with 15 feet of Portland cement and rebuilding the chimney was not in our budget. (Interior fireplace paneled over, interior fireplace uncovered)

We installed a rear-venting gas fireplace unit. (After installation, here.) We REALLY wanted a wood-burning fireplace but would have had to rebuild the chimney to make that happen. Had a box built around the unit with tile board. Poplar trim and bookcases, new casement windows, and handmade tile. Looks very different from what was there previously (we've seen in neighbors' houses how it SHOULD look), but we love it.

This was not a cheap project (not under $5,000 for example). I wish I could remember the costs specifically, but it was part of a larger project for the whole front of the house. However, the value it added to the house was worth it for us.
posted by jeanmari at 11:07 AM on March 4, 2009

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