Find out the essential elements of renovating a fireplace, including tips on choosing your surround and ensuring you have a safe and effective fire.
Fireplaces are having a real resurgence in popularity. In a time when Scandinavian decor, open plan living, a love of light and space and bringing nature inside all beat at the heart of modern interior design, the fireplace truly has its spot in the home again. Some homeowners have opted for trendy log burners. But many have chosen to dust off the unused fireplace, take away the lifeless decorations placed in the hearth to make it look nice, and instead bring it back to life.
Original fireplaces are once again a real asset. But of course they do come with their problems and it is important to be aware that there are plenty of pitfalls ahead.
Reinstating your fireplace is a very easy way to add value to your home and to enrich the aesthetics and feel of the home. It should be high on your list when you consider what you are renovating in the home. Who knows, it could just be a case of removing a thin wood cover to reveal a beautiful barely touched original fireplace. It could have original porcelain tiles, gorgeous colourful gems from times gone by. It could even be an original marble fireplace worth a lot of money.
Even if it doesn’t quite live up to those standards, a fireplace still provides the opportunity to create a beautiful, warm, social feature. It really does depend on what you’re hoping to achieve. Modern, traditional, or a mixture of both? It also depends on how old your property is and what style the rest of the home is.
In some instances log burners will be perfectly suitable. In houses with chimney breasts you can of course keep it in, or possibly move it elsewhere in favour of a log burner. If your chimney breast has been removed but you still have a stack, it is possible to rebuild the chimney breast. There’s always a way to get a proper wood burning feature in any home. There is a world of possibilities. You just have to do your research and be open to creative comprises at times.
If the building you live in is listed then you’ll have plenty of paperwork to get through before you can renovate the fireplace. However if it is not listed then you probably don’t have to apply for planning permission. The only time it might apply is if you’re installing your stove or fireplace in a log cabin, summerhouse or other outbuilding on your property. Do check with your local authority if you aren’t sure.
In all instances the work does need to comply with building regulations and if you make structural alterations you need to make sure they are legal and safe and that they comply if you hold your property on a lease.
When you are renovating an original fireplace it makes sense to clear the room completely first. Then put down protective sheeting everywhere. The main danger is soot. It can get in every single nook and cranny if you’re not careful. You may also want to warn the neighbours about the work being done if your walls are close to theirs or you are in a semi-detached or terraced property. The work you are doing may cause vibrations that could bother your neighbours.
Once you have done your preparation you will need to expose the fireplace itself. In some instances there are lots of bricks and bits of debris that need removing, as well as dust and soot. Once this is done the chimney can be prepared by a professional who will sweep it and line it.
The opening itself will also need to be altered at this stage unless you love the original look. In which case you will want to clean it and restore any parts that are damaged. The hearth may well need to be adjusted to comply with building regulations. Usually it needs to be raised and this can be done with concrete or with materials like marble or natural stone. You may want to plan out the kind of look you want so you’re ready to go once the chimney has been prepared. Alternatively you might not be able to decide until you clean up the original fireplace and see what you’ve got.
Once you’ve prepared the hearth and the chimney your fire will be placed and attached.
Oxygen supply is important for the fire to work and to ensure you are safe. You may need some vents adding to ensure there is adequate ventilation. Or you may need further ventilation. It is advisable to seek professional advice about this, even if you have completed all other work yourself.
The flue is the most important part of your fire. It removes all the smoke and dangerous gases created by your fire. In most cases a flue has to be lined to make it work at an optimum level. Although scaffolding is often required to perform this job, professionals won’t take long to get it done correctly.
It may be that you have to get rid of an old chimney breast to replace it with a new one. Or to provide space for a log burner set up. When this happens the building sitting above it has to be supported properly. It is not advisable to simply remove the chimney breast with no further adjustments. Seek professional advice and ensure you keep complying with building regulations.
It may be you have restored your new fireplace only to find that the fire is not burning as it should be. Maybe it isn’t lighting properly or you’re getting smoke blown in. There are lots of reasons this could be happening. For example, the chimney may be too cold, the chimney stack is too short, large or small or you could have trees surrounding your property that provide a lot of wind blow back. Often though, the issue is a lack of air. It is important to get somebody to check the chimney stack for a blockage as a first priority, and then take recommendations for adjustments that will help.
Chimney fire prevention is very important as chimney fires can damage the property and possibly spread to the whole house. One common cause of household fires is a flue that hasn’t been regularly cleaned, so the debris inside sets on fire. The best way to prevent chimney fires is to have your flue swept properly every year. Also have a professional come and look if there are any signs of a problem.
In the case of all practical sides of your fireplace renovation, it is important to remain safe and seek expert advice for all aspects of the build. Use professionals who are qualified and experienced in their field.
The practical side of renovating your fire is the most important part. Both in terms of safety and having a fire that you can use and enjoy. However, the aesthetic side is important to ensure this wonderful feature is emphasised well and fits in with the rest of the property. It should enhance the visual aspects of the room and provide a warm and welcoming focal point.
The fire surround is going to be a very important visual aspect of your fire. The material and style you choose depends on lots of different factors, but one thing is for sure, there are plenty of options for you to choose from. Wood is a popular choice because it comes in so many different designs. Stain or paint wood to suit your taste and it can be shaped to be modern and simple with clean cut lines, or to be ornate to suit a period property. Combine wood with raw brickwork for a warm, modern effect. Or combine it with natural stone like slate to create a country style look.
In period properties, stone may feature much more heavily with marble being extremely luxurious and suiting homes from the Georgian era.
The hearth is very important because it is both a safety element and aesthetic element of the fireplace. There are so many different materials to choose from but you are limited with a real fireplace because it is hotter than a gas or electric fire. Floor tiles or natural stone tiles are your best option because they are unlikely to crack. Beautiful floor tiles can look exceptional and they are very easy to clean. They look equally great with a log burner.
With your tiles you should think about the shade and colour and how it will look in the room the fireplace is in. Think about what you want your fireplace to say. Neutral and pale colours are very traditional, whereas red brick or stone is much more ‘farmhouse’ and country in style. Certain tile types will provide a more modern look, particularly if they are light in tone, e.g. large tiles or white porcelain tiles . Durability is an issue and wood effect porcelain tiles or slate effect porcelain tiles will prove resistant to burns from hot coals or falling logs.
When renovating a fireplace you have to think about practicality first. You want primarily, a safe fire that doesn’t kick out fumes or smoke, that provides you with a warm, attractive focal point. Following the practical side being in the best possible shape, you can then spend your time getting the visual elements of the fireplace right. All the elements have to work in harmony together otherwise different parts can look a bit ‘make-do’ or stuffed in. The stove you choose has a big impact on the overall style of the fireplace. However, even more modern stoves can look at home in a more traditional hearth and surround setting. Style combinations can work well, but they are more risky.
If you don’t want to risk the aesthetics and you want to play it safe, raw brickwork and wood suits most homes and looks really lovely with most wood burning stoves. Traditional fires with marble and vintage wall tiles are also a safe option. They look great in most settings as long as the look is not too dark or Gothic.
With both the practical and aesthetic side of fireplace renovation, do your research. Only true experts in their field can provide you with accurate quotes. You should never skimp on safety so make that your primary focus for the budget. Following that, you should go and view as many different fireplace styles as possible to get a feel for how they look and work in a home. Online images are a good source of inspiration, but try to look at he bigger picture and consider the overall aesthetic in order to make the fireplace look good. This will include things like lighting, ambience and even a set-up social situation and it may well not work that way in your home. Instead, try and see fireplaces in person to get a real-life feel for them as they are, when they aren’t on.
Creating the fireplace of your dreams involves a lot of work. However, done right it could provide you with many benefits including:
As long as you always seek expert advice, prioritise safety and take your time researching the aesthetic aspects of your fireplace, you’re going to benefit from having the most amazing feature in your home.