One of the most rewarding parts about fixing up an old house is finding and repairing those original features that give the house its essential character. The fireplace is one of those features that will add charm and elegance to your finished product. However, restoring a neglected fireplace to its former glory has some challenges. Here is what you need to know about bringing the fireplace back to life in your fixer-upper.
1. Know what you want out of your finished product.
Nearly all fireplaces in older homes were functional at one point: They served as a method of heating the room. Fully restoring a fireplace to functioning condition would mean making it safe to burn wood or coal again. Since many modern fireplaces use gas instead of wood, you will need to decide what look you are after. If you choose to go fully authentic and bring the wood-burning aspect back into the house, you still have some options to consider:
- Will you use a wood stove insert instead of burning wood directly in the hearth opening? Modern wood-stoves have glass or iron doors that help a fire to burn and heat a home more efficiently, instead of leaving the fire open to the room with a tile or cement hearth to absorb the heat.
- Would the fireplace be hooked up the the central heating system? You will likely still have a furnace that will distribute even heat throughout the house. Attaching a wood stove to duct work can be complex. It may be best to hire a professional just make sure you aren't opening up your home to certain fire hazards.
- If you go with an open fireplace, do you know the best maintenance and safety tips? An open fire is beautiful, but you have to make sure you are open to maintaining it. Wood stoves have controls that limit air flow and monitor how quickly the fuel burns, but open fires are less predictable. Be sure you are up to the task before opting for this method.
If you are not open to the wood-burning aspect of a fireplace, you can use the opening in an old fireplace to hold a new gas insert instead. Have a plumber run the gas lines and vent the stove properly during the restoration process. The simplest restoration option is for the fireplace to be decorative in nature, maybe able to hold a few candles for a romantic dinner.
2. Make it modern.
You need to know what elements of the fireplace are worth keeping and which are not. If you have an old, cast-iron insert that is original to the fire place, remove it if possible and have it polished, especially if there are any signs of rust. These are quite valuable, and you will want to have it in the finished product. Sometimes, previous owners of the home may have laid tiles or even plaster over top of the original stone or brick. Remove the tiles carefully in an small area, and check to see what is underneath. You will want to bring the original fireplace material back to life. Carefully chip away plaster or tiles with a hammer and chisel, only doing small portions at a time, because you do not want to damage the brick or stone underneath. One you have removed the materials, use sandpaper to remove any existing bits of mortar or plaster.
Have the chimney inspected, and if needed, have it fitted with modern fireproofing materials. Usually, this means that an old brick chimney needs to be lined and vented properly at the top. A roofer should inspect the roof and flashing around the chimney, and any existing creosote should be removed during the renovation.
You can bring an old fireplace back to life with some dedicated work and a few safety precautions. Talk to a wood stove and fireplace company in your area (like Aqua Rec's Fireside Hearth & Home) for more information.