Fireplace rehabilitation in CA
October 26, 2013 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Mr G and I are considering removing the wood-burning stove that inhabits our fireplace. I mean, we want to convert the thing back to a regular fireplace. The first step in attempting to beautify the whole ugly mess. We rarely have a fire.

What do we need to know? If there is a stovepipe inside the chimney would it need to be removed? I'm guessing a damper will have to be added. We'll remove the stove ourselves and then have it inspected by a chimney sweep company.

If you've done this yourself please give us your tips!

posted by goodsearch to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First I'm gonna try and talk you out of this. An open fireplace (with a fire going) is likely to cause a net heat loss from the house. Open fireplaces are terribly inefficient. If you've got an ugly old, windowless stove, take a look at the new ones available now. They have lots of glass, you can see the fire, many are very attractive, and they even qualify for renewable energy tax credits.

That aside... yes, you would need to remove the metal chimney liner and probably have a damper custom fabricated *or* install a chimney-top damper. The liner attached to the stove has to come out, assuming there is one, because its diameter will be appropriate for a stove that draws little air, as opposed to an open fireplace which draws a lot of air (which is why it's so inefficient). So far this is all likely to be fairly easy and cheap. The first potential hitch is the condition of the original chimney outside the metal liner. If it is in bad shape (and they often are) then you will be forking out quite a bit of cash to repair and/or re-line it with a liner appropriately sized for an open fireplace. Also, you may need to bring the surrounding hearth up to current codes, possibly extending the hearth further into the room and moving nearby woodwork further away.
posted by jon1270 at 2:16 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

BTW, if beautification is what's driving this then you could convert it into a purely decorative fireplace fairly easily and cheaply. All you'd need to do there is get rid of the stove and liner, close off the chimney, and you're done. But the fact that you rarely have fires doesn't mean you can do a halfway-sort of job and still have an occasional fire. If you're ever going to have any fires at all, it all has to be done right.
posted by jon1270 at 2:25 PM on October 26, 2013

I'm with jon1270. Our open fireplace definitely made the house colder.

We put in a wood stove insert with a glass door, which gives us cozy charm--as well as the option of heating our home with a chainsaw should the need arise.

You might want to get quotes for both options. I suspect the cost of a new insert may not be that much more than retrofitting the chimney back to a fireplace.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:40 PM on October 26, 2013

Check out masons who are familiar with doing Rumford fireplace conversions. The Rumford-style fireplace is designed to avoid smoking while minimizing draught (a major cause of inefficiency) for a fast, hot fire. When the fire has burned to ash, you can close the damper to stop the draught while the masonry continues to radiate heat into the room.
posted by Good Brain at 2:47 PM on October 26, 2013

we have a Jotul wood stove insert that we replaced our fireplace with. All the pretty of an open fire, without heating the great outdoors instead of our house.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:01 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make sure this isn't prohibited by building code in your town. Wood burning fireplaces are often made difficult to change.
posted by bananafish at 6:37 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

We put one of these in an almost one hundred year old house in which the fireplace was decommissioned due to its chimney blowing off in a winter storm. It warms the whole downstairs and looks startlingly nice when on.
posted by Lynsey at 9:32 PM on October 26, 2013

I have to agree that while an open fireplace has its charms, I don't want the one we have anymore. Actually, it was converted to coal about the turn of the last century, and yet we managed to have wood fires in it thanks to a jury-rigged thing my dad did which now makes me shudder. But when I can (barring calamity I'll end up owning the house) I plan to do a modern conversion, aware that many fireplaces have undergone generational changes over the years for convenience or whatever. With the advent of central heating, you just have no justification for sending your money up the flue.

It's actually not a good idea to use an open fireplace if you've done much work to seal up your house better. The air to fuel the combustion is coming from outside the house -- through all the cracks and crannies it can (while whisking along with it all the air your furnace warmed up). The more sealed up your house is, say with modern foam insulation and weatherstripping and the like, the more you risk recirculating CO from the fire if you can't get a good flow of air, and of course you don't want that for health reasons let alone the soot and discomfort.

I would look very carefully at a modern insert, and I'm much more open-minded about "fake" fireplaces like Lynsey pointed to -- and if you want the real wood-burning fire, consider if you can build a fire pit or install a chiminea outside, or just go camping.
posted by dhartung at 1:01 AM on October 27, 2013

This is a job for a professional. You want to have the masonry inspected to make sure that it does not have any leaks which could lead to a house fire. The liner protects from that. I agree with the previous comments about energy efficiency. An open fireplace really does not help heat the house. It can be made much more efficient though with outside air intake to feed the fire and some form of heat capture technology for redirecting some of the heat back into the room. Some of these are geeky and ugly but there are some that do a good job of retaining the charm of an open fireplace. I would definitely consider adding something along these lines to the project as it will be quickly paid back and the incremental cost is lower once you have someone hired already to remove the stove etc.
posted by caddis at 5:34 AM on October 27, 2013

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