Chimney breasts are often removed by homeowners because they wish to alter their property and removing the flues can be in effective way of enlarging rooms. In older properties it was common for there to be fireplaces in every room so as to provide heat. Since the 1970’s however, central heating has become the norm in properties, In fact the number of UK households now that do not have central heating stands at less than 7%. Some homeowners view fireplaces, whether in use or not, as welcome aesthetic additions to their home, however, for others, they are regarded as taking up too much floor and room space.
So, if you are thinking of removing a chimney breast or breasts, there are a number of points that you will need to consider. The chimney forms part of the original structure of a house and so its removal needs to be carefully considered. If chimneys are removed without the structure being supported by the insertion of suitable beams, then this may result in structural distress, damage or even collapse of the building. You may face prosecution for breach of building regulations if these were not sought beforehand or difficulties with re-mortgaging, selling the property or with insurance.
If 1 or 2 storey houses with external or party walls that measure 225mm and with front and back walls less than 9mm apart, then these may give adequate resistance to lateral loads. It may be possible to remove chimney breasts without affecting the strength of the wall. However, for larger buildings, a structural engineer should check the strength of the wall and a buttress wall or pier may need to be constructed. New full length floor joists would be required to replace the existing floor joist hearth trimmers where the hearth and breast have been removed. These will then support the load from flooring and ceilings.
If chimney breasts are to be retained, then they need to be well ventilated at the top and the bottom. Otherwise, staining will occur if there is any remaining soot and moisture in the flue or wall. If the chimney above the roof is to be retained, then this would need to be fully supported. This can be achieved by using gallows brackets or inserting a steel beam or post. It is highly inadvisable to remove chimney breasts and hearths without consulting a structural engineer. Structural engineers can assess and design suitable supports, how to ensure your property is safe and to prevent any neighbouring buildings from damage. Before any work takes place, any designs should be submitted to the relevant council building control office. The local authority building control officer should inspect any work undertaken. If the work is safe and satisfactory, then a completion certificate will be issued. This document is essential for re-mortgaging, selling or for insurance purposes. Finally, chimney breast removal may also require you to obtain the written consent of your neighbours so be sure to include this in your planning as well. So, hello larger rooms, but sadly, bye bye Santa.