Removing a Fireplace
December 27, 2008 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Fireplace removal. We just bought a house (an Eichler if your familiar with that style) and it has an outdated, ugly big red brick fireplace in the middle of the room. We really hate the way it breaks up the room, but we're not sure who we would even call to have it removed. It's an especially difficult removal since there's a hole in the roof for the stovepipe. So: 1. who would you call to remove the fireplace and 2. how much would something like that cost (ballparking it)?
posted by bananafish to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
If you're in a development with other Eichlers, ask around for contractors who are familiar with them. From what I understand from Eichler-owning friends, Eichlers can be quirky when it comes to renovation. It is possible to put foam roofs on Eichlers, if it comes to that.

Googling for "eichler renovation" turns up some pointers that might be useful.
posted by dws at 9:46 PM on December 27, 2008

Seriously seconding the suggestion of finding a contractor experienced with the style. Maybe they are more common in your area but where I am residential flat roofs are rare because they are synonymous with near annual maintenance and repair. You don't want just any random roofer sealing the hole left by the chimney.
posted by 517 at 10:22 PM on December 27, 2008

Rather than simply removing the fireplace/chimney and sealing the hole in the roof, the fireplace may be a structural element or have structural members around it supporting the roof. Remodeling an Eichler to this extent may also reduce its resale value.
You may want to rethink this.
You might talk to an interior designer about other less drastic (and more cost effective) measures first. For instance, a lot can be changed to the 'ugly red brick'. You can panel and paint it a more neutral color, and add a mirror to lessen the visual impact of the structure. Just saying, think about your options first.
posted by artdrectr at 1:09 AM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

If the fireplace is wildly out of keeping with the Eichler style--due to an unorthodox impulse on the part of the builder--removing it is an option. If that's not the case, for heaven's sake, leave it in. Eichler houses are distinctive and will gain increasing recognition (and value) with time.

If I were you, I'd study up on Eichlers, and make those cosmetic changes necessary to have it conform to a purist version of the style. Then, leave it alone and learn to love it.

Also, repair and clean the fireplace and fix the stovepipe as needed. Fireplaces are meant to be used.
posted by Gordion Knott at 1:28 AM on December 28, 2008

Seconding talking to an interior designer first. My parents just removed a structurally necessary chimney from a three story Victorian (it literally ran through the middle of rooms). Even doing most of their own work (as my father is a contractor), it cost about $2,000. I would imagine that if they didn't do their own work, it could cost five times that.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:34 AM on December 28, 2008

If you do go for it- actually, regardless of what you do, I suggest you get an angie's list membership since you're a homeowner. At least, if you're in an area where angie's list is active. I've been extremely happy with all sorts of services I've found on angie's list (i.e. plumber, movers, car repair, gutter cleaning, doctors...), but it's also helpful because you can get a sense for what a given service might cost, and you can get a list of reputable service people and call them for quotes.
posted by n'muakolo at 6:56 AM on December 28, 2008

That brick fireplace is likely an original Eichler detail.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:08 AM on December 28, 2008

Seriously, it looks like ass. (This is bananafish's husband--I've gotta live with this thing too). God bless Joe Eichler for making nice houses, but I don't know what he was thinking.
posted by bananafish at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2008

I don't think it looks like ass! I think it would look a bit more, um, modern? with some sort of mantle update, though.
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:47 AM on December 28, 2008

FWIW, I curse daily - DAILY - the moron who ripped out one of our two original 1870s cast iron fireplaces and replaced it with a 1970s burgundy tile monstrosity. We've removed and wallboarded over it, but I mourn it's absence in an otherwise well-balanced room every day.

Houses have quirks, not all of them loveable, that are innate to their character. My mother's house has pillowing plaster on the walls downstairs. Yes, the walls are actually wavy and yes it is unusual but only because so few people bother to preserve this feature.

My grandparents lived in a FLW house that has the uglisest fireplace you have ever seen. It's vast, it's brick, it's really really really freakin' ugly. But it's also integral to the layout, style and design of the house - and its value - and removing it would be a travesty.

Paint your red brick fireplace white, live with it for a while, and see if it grows on you. You've bought a home of unique architectural character, and you should make a commitment to preserving that character if you can.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:50 AM on December 28, 2008

Try sandblasting the brick to get rid of the excess mortar (concrete?) on it. It would look better if the bricks were more evenly colored.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:54 AM on December 28, 2008

Also, you may want to ask a real estate agent if or how removing it would effect resale.
posted by cestmoi15 at 10:42 AM on December 28, 2008

Good news! It doesn't appear to be holding anything up.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:00 AM on December 28, 2008

I don't think it's ugly- it looks like a proper Eichler fireplace. You will probably lose resale value for removing an integral detail, because these houses are valued by modern home aficionadoes in their nearly original state. You may find some contractors who understand Eichlers on the Eichler Network.

God bless Joe Eichler for making nice houses, but I don't know what he was thinking.

He was probably thinking that since he was working with some of the premier West Coast modern architects of the day, that he would let them design houses as they liked. I'm not being snarky- these architects created seminal modern houses for the general public, and changed the face of vernacular architecture in California. The design elements are the most enduring piece of the Eichler legacy, as many of the construction innovations are now failing. Frankly, what's ugly to me in that pic is the wall-to-wall carpeting. But then, I grew up around Eichlers and recently gave a presentation about them in an architecture class. So I am quite biased.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:25 AM on December 28, 2008

It's hard to tell from the picture, but it looks like that is an original fireplace, as opposed to something someone did after the house was built.

Structurally, it doesn't appear to be load bearing, so removing it shouldn't be a huge nightmare from an engineering standpoint.

However, I would consult with someone who knows more about that style of home first. There are all kinds of things you can do to work with that fireplace, and removing it may dramatically decrease the value of the home...believe it or not.

And it's not really as hideous as you think it is. It's dated...but ya know...duh. ;)

Sandblasting the bricks to clean it up will help. I'm not sure about that extension wall...that may be an add-on, it's hard to tell from the picture. If it was something a previous homeowner did, and isn't in the original plan, and it's easy to separate it from the fireplace itself, I might consider losing that bit.

You can also stain bricks darker, and paint them lighter. (Talk to your paint guy, regular latex isn't the right kind of paint.)

But above all, I wouldn't make any architectural changes without talking to someone who is an Eichler expert. This lady appears to sell a lot of them, I'm sure she's got a phone directory of doom when it comes to getting them renovated.
posted by dejah420 at 11:30 AM on December 28, 2008

This site also has a service directory (on the left side menu).
posted by oneirodynia at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2008

Is it the red brick that bothers you the most? How about created a façade around it and paint it and the stove pipe the same color as the walls? When you move, tear out the façade and you're back to the original design.
posted by Tacodog at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2008

I'd cover it like Tacodog says. I don't really like it either, but it does match the rest of the house design well and looks like it's original to the house. Yanking it will hurt the resale (And put a new hole in your roof and floor.) Since you're not going to use it anyway, I'd panel over it and put a built-in bookcase around it. Make sure you get the chimney plugged or at some point you'll have a squirrel trapped behind your nice attractive bookshelf.
posted by Ookseer at 12:22 PM on December 28, 2008

Stop! Walk around the neighborhood look at your neighbors with the same or similar design. It's an Eichler because of the design, many people like them for the design your ready to tear out. Give it a while to grow on you; these houses are unique for just these features. Is your house still empty? Try to imagine what it will look like when furnished or wait until it is.

Angie's list? A for-pay recommendation service is inherently flawed. This is from a business owner who is constantly solicited by the Angie's List folks, who, for a fee will list you and help advance your ratings. (Yelp is now doing the same thing.)
posted by pianomover at 1:08 PM on December 28, 2008

Dear gods, please don't paint it.
Tacodog has it. You could panel over the bricks, and get yourself
a fireplace insert. Then you would have a fireplace that actually served
you, and you wouldn't have to rip it out, and you would be able to
pass that fireplace along to the next owner intact, if they wanted it.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:47 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Removing a fireplace like this a a simple, medium hard labour intensive job with the exception of the gaping hole it'll leave in the roof. Obviously that should be handled by a roofer familiar with low slope roofs and if 'twas me I'd leave this job until I planned to reroof. However your chimney appears to penetrate at the centre line of the roof which make a leak free patch a lot easier. An apex patch on a tar and gravel roof is going to run a few hundred dollars if the rest of your roof is in good shape. One of Tar and Gravel's advantages is that it is very alterable.

However Tar and gravel, at least around here, is pretty well only used on commercial properties nowadays so look under commercial rather than residential roofing. And ask you neighbours if there are similar roofs around. Even a good tar and gravel roof is going have a 15-20 year lifespan so long time residents are going to be on their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th roof.

Any good contractor could handle the rest of this job. It'll probably take the better part of a couple days but on the upside the downturn will have reduced labour costs in the housing sector.

To give you an idea of the process: First you'll need to first remove the chimney. Hard to say from the picture but it could be simple insulated metal in which case you can just pull it out, the sections are fairly light weight. I'd have the chimney cleaned first as it'll greatly reduce the amount of soot that will other wise get over every single surface of you house. You'll also want to tarp in the fireplace area again to reduce the amount of dust that gets into the rest of your house.

Second using a 2-4 pound hammer and a 3-4 inch cold chisel start knocking the bricks loose at the mortar joints working from the top to the bottom. This is where the hard labour comes in as each brick and chunk of mortar has to be trucked out of the house with a wheelbarrow. You can reduce your disposal costs by advertising the bricks on your local freecycle/craigslist.

Once the fireplace is completely removed you'll need to do something with the fireplace sized hole in the floor. If you're lucky the concrete foundation of the fireplace is below floor level. If not you'll need to jack hammer the concrete to below floor level. Either way you'll want to build support for new or salvage hardwood to match your existing floor. Cost here is going to be pretty variable depending on the exact work needed and how picky you are on the match.
posted by Mitheral at 2:34 PM on December 28, 2008

Once the fireplace is completely removed you'll need to do something with the fireplace sized hole in the floor. If you're lucky the concrete foundation of the fireplace is below floor level. If not you'll need to jack hammer the concrete to below floor level. Either way you'll want to build support for new or salvage hardwood to match your existing floor. Cost here is going to be pretty variable depending on the exact work needed and how picky you are on the match.

Eichlers are slab-on-grade with 1950's era radiant heating throughout. There's also a possibility that the floors around the fireplace are original asbestos tile with carpet over them. California state and local laws about asbestos tile removal and disposal can be highly variable, and often more strict than other parts of the country. Asbestos tile is really not a problem to have in your house, but when you start doing demo may become a costly dump fee. Talk to contractors that are familiar with these houses before doing anything.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:11 PM on December 29, 2008

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