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How to open up a fireplace
by
Checkatrade

Having an open fireplace is a luxury many homeowners dream about. What is more relaxing than gently flickering flames and crackling logs? Add to that the soothing experience of sitting in front of a deliciously warm fire on a chilly day, and you would have a fantastic feature to be enjoyed for years to come.

The only barrier to opening up an old fireplace is the cost involved. While it can be expensive to hire a professional to complete the project, this may be a fascinating challenge for DIY enthusiasts. Learning how to open a fireplace is a truly rewarding experience, full of curiosity and skill-building.

In this article, we will guide you through creating a functional and authentic open fireplace with instructions on jobs that include how to open up a fireplace for a stove, how to open up a closed fireplace and so much more. If you’re looking for the cost for a professional to open up your fireplace then take a look at our cost guide.

Things you need to consider before you start

What you see when it comes to an old fireplace, is only the start of the complex structure that is hiding behind your walls. Therefore, hiring a surveyor is essential before you begin your project. They can help prevent structural damage and advise whether this job is viable, or you need to call in a professional.

You may need to put in or repair an old lintel, otherwise your wall could completely collapse. You will also need to ensure your chimney hasn’t been removed when the fireplace was closed off. If this is the case, the flue and chimney will need to be re-installed by a professional.

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How to open up a fireplacehow to open up a fireplace for a wood burner

So, you are ready to begin. But before you dive in head first, you will need to prepare the area and ensure you have the correct tools and materials at hand. Please note, compliance with building regulations is not optional so you will need to ensure you are sticking to the legalities of this job.

You will need to ensure a good amount of oxygen is present in your home, which may see you installing vents adjacent to your fire. Also, any work done with regards to gas will need to be conducted by a gas safe engineer. Use our free search tool to find trusted gas safe engineers in your area.

Preparation

As a good neighbour, it is up to you to let those living either side of you know that you will be making a lot of noise. This is especially important if your house isn’t detached. Also, this project is going to get messy so ensure you properly cover up all your furniture and keep any surfaces protected.

Tools and materials

Now gather the following:

  • Skirting board
  • Lime mortar
  • Hammer
  • Saw
  • Crowbar
  • Pointing trowel
  • Torch
  • Bolster chisel
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure

Step-by-step instructions

  • Firstly, you will need to check the old chimney breast is in good condition. This involves using a torch to look into the vent over your skirting board.
  • Remove the skirting board itself.
  • Expose the hearth.
  • Check whether there is a board blocking the fireplace and if so, remove the board.
  • If bricks were used you will need to carefully remove these with a hammer and chisel, without damaging the surroundings.
  • Remember to use lime mortar to make good any old joints in the chimney’s bricks as you go.
  • You can now see what condition the old fireplace is in. You will need to repair any cracks or holes with fire cement and allow this to dry for at least 3 days.
  • Next, use a lit candle to check whether the chimney is blocked. If the flame is drawn upwards there is nothing blocking the chimney.
  • If necessary, remove any blockages.
  • Now is a good time to hire a chimney sweep to check the flue and sweep the chimney.

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How to open up a fireplace for a wood burnerlog burner installation

Often fireplaces in homes today are simply not big enough to house a wood burner. These burners require space for air to circulate around them to be effective. If owning your own wood burner is something to aspire to but your fireplace is too small, don’t despair.

You can easily learn how to open up a fireplace for a wood burner with the following steps:

  • To start with, it is highly likely that behind your small fireplace sits a larger builder’s opening.
  • Before uncovering this, you will need to first protect your furniture, flooring and surfaces from dust and debris.
  • Detach the old mantel with a crowbar. Do this carefully so it comes away in one piece to prevent damage to the brickwork.
  • Check where the lintel is and ensure you do not damage this during your renovations.
  • Break down the brickwork on either side of the fireplaces, being careful to only take a few bricks from both sides.
  • Clear up the old bricks, plus the dust and debris.
  • You can now install your new mantel as per instructions from the manufacturer.

How to open up a fireplace for a stove

Stoves can be up to 80% efficient, around four times as much as an open fire, so it’s no surprise many people are choosing these clever little heaters. In addition, there are three different types of stove to choose from, including wood burning, electric and gas. Each of these options has its own benefits but in general, choosing a stove is a wise decision.

For more information about wood burning stoves, please see our handy log burner cost guide. As with wood burners, stoves will also require space for air to circulate, so follow the above instructions for how to open up a fireplace for a stove.

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How to open up an old fireplace

Fireplaces used to have pride of place in homes throughout the country but unfortunately due to modern design, many were closed up. However, it isn’t too late to make use of your fireplace and we will help you learn how to open up a closed fireplace.

When fireplaces are particularly old there are a number of important stages for restoring them to their former glory. You should always ensure you follow building regulations and seek professional help if you need it at any point.

In the first instance, it is worth getting a survey of the structural integrity of your fireplace and chimney to ensure you are proceeding in the correct way. This may throw up issues such as flue pipes damage or holes in the brickwork which will need to be fixed before you continue for safety reasons.

You will need to clear out the materials and debris that were used to close up the fireplace. To do this follow our ‘how to open up a fireplace’ section. With old fireplaces, always proceed with caution, you don’t want to further damage the structure. It is also possible to restore a damaged, old fireplace depending on its material.

For example, cast iron fireplaces can be buffed with a dedicated polish or fireplace paint. Alternatively, a stone fireplace can be cleaned and resealed. Unfortunately, if your fireplace is badly damaged or degraded, building a new one may be your only option.

Stuck? Panicking? Confused?

If at any time during the project you feel this way, do not hesitate in calling a professional to take over. This job may be outside of your DIY skill base and it is always wiser to be safe than sorry. Mistakes could even mean structural damage to your home which would be very expensive to remedy.

Unsure where to look for skilled tradespeople? Use our free search feature to find trusted professionals in your area.

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FAQs

What are the signs of a concealed fireplace?

In some homes, an old fireplace is so well concealed that you would never know one existed. Thankfully, there are ways to help you locate a boarded-up fireplace.

First, locate the old chimney breast. Next, simply skim your fingers across this surface and feel for a lintel. You can also knock on the wall and listen for any sound differences between the chimney breast and a normal wall.

Do I need planning permission when opening up a fireplace?

This is not required unless your home is a listed building.

Is it safe to open up a fireplace?

The main risk when opening up a fireplace is structural damage to your home. This is why it is important to hire a surveyor who can give you advice as to the structural integrity of your fireplace. Having a lintel in place is essential to support your wall so if this is damaged or non-existent, you will need to deal with this before beginning.

How much does it cost to open up a fireplace?

Knocking out a fireplace usually takes around a day, although this doesn’t include any extra work that may need to be done. A day rate for a tradesperson to knock out your fireplace will be £200. For full information on costs, take a look at our cost guide.

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