Bedroom retrofit – removing the chimney

Home » Bedroom retrofit – removing the chimney

The insulation process begins with removal.

  • Step one – get rid of all the old plaster
  • Step Two – work out what you want to do about the chimney.

Is your house old enough for a chimney?

Houses built before 1954 – when the clean air act came into force – were all built with chimneys. They will be situated either on an outside wall – the wall you need to insulate – or on a party wall shared with your neighbour. Either way, you have a choice. Do you use it, infill it or remove it?

In essence a chimney is just a dirty great hole in your house. A free flow of air is needed for a fire to draw, so there needs to be a massive draught coming down the chimney. You’ll know that if you’ve ever sat beside the fireplace when there’s no fire in the grate – your feet will be frozen.   

There are a number of questions to answer:

  • If you have a working chimney, do you plan to keep using it? If so, then think about ways of closing up the chimney when it’s not being used or your airtightness will suffer. For a list of options see my booklet on energy hacks.
  • If you want to use it, could you install a high efficiency wood burner in order to reduce your emissions? If this is an option, you’ll probably need a chimney liner and you can insulate around that with vermiculite 
  • If you just like it for the aesthetic, how can you close it up and lose the cold air? Options for draught reduction here.
  • If you’re not going to use it and you have no attachment, then can you take it out?

From a retrofit perspective, losing the dirty great hole has to be the way to go. We did this in our dining room and it made a big difference. Not only did we get rid of the draught, we gained back some of the space we lost to thick insulation.

In the recent retrofit of our bedroom, we improved our airtightness by removing the chimney in the bedroom and the loft, whilst keeping it for the aesthetic in the front sitting room. I must say, we are both very sad about the loss of the wood burning stove. It’s been so lovely to sit beside in the winter. But the constant news about pollution and particulates soon meant that the guilt outweighed the delight, so it had to go.

It’s a messy job

Be prepared, it’s a very messy job. The worst for us was the chimney in the dining room. In the early life of the house this fire would have been the prime source of heating. So when the builder went at it with a sledge hammer, the dust and dirt was unbelievable. Not sure why it never occurred to me that 120 years of dirt and soot was always going to be disgusting, not to mention smelly!

The front chimney wasn’t nearly so bad. It served the ‘parlour’ downstairs which traditionally would have been ‘saved for best’ and upstairs it would only have been used when someone was ill. So the build up of soot and dirt was considerably less.

You have to shore it up

It’s important to remember that you will only be removing the chimney breast and not the actually chimney that sits on the roof. This means you must add support for the chimney. This will probably be in the loft and usually means putting a metal plate and two gallows brackets below the chimney itself. 

It’s not unusual for people to miss out this stage, but it always causes problems long term with cracking and bricks dislodging. So please don’t be tempted to get out your sledge hammer before you’ve planned it all out and taken advice from a structural engineer or experienced builder.

And if your chimney is on the party wall, then it’s worth getting a party wall agreement in place with your neighbour to cover any difficulties that might arise in the future. You can read more about this in my book – Beginner’s Guide to Eco Renovation.

It’s good fun!

At least for our grandson. Retrofit has been a delight for him. He’s been using his hard hat for real for a long time now. He’ll have quite a shock when older to discover just how much Grandad set up for him. He swans in at the good bit and  makes it all look amazing! 

I’ll cover what to do with all those amazing old bricks in my next blog. 

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