Learn the proper steps to take when blocking up a fireplace or exposing an old fireplace.
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Closing Up a Fireplace
If you are blocking up a fireplace, it is important to ensure that the chimney is capped at the top to stop rainwater and birds from entering, but you need some ventilation. Cowls are available that are specially designed for this purpose. Inside the house, the fire surround can normally be unscrewed or pried away from the wall surface, and any hearth area that sits above floor level can be levered up. The opening can then be boarded or bricked up. Be certain to place an airbrick or static vent in the center of the blocked-up area that will still allow airflow into the chimney flue, otherwise there may be condensation problems. It is then simply a question of repairing and decorating the walls and floor to match the surrounding surfaces.
Opening Up an Old Fireplace
Exposing an old fireplace is a journey into the unknown ? there is no way of knowing what you will discover behind the boarding or blockwork. There might be an intact period fireplace, or little more than debris. If the latter is the case, you will need to get a new or reclaimed surround, and a grate and a fireback installed.
If you plan to use the fireplace, then notify your local building inspector. A previously blocked-off chimney must be tested before reuse to ensure that it is sound, gas-tight and free from blockages. An old hearth must also be checked to ensure that it complies with current building regulations.
If the fireplace looks like it was blocked off recently, there may be little to do once it is uncovered, other than getting the fire and chimney structure checked and swept. Get professional advice on how to proceed when unblocking very old hearths because you may need to get the integrity of the structure checked before removing any rubble or brickwork. You will then probably need to have some work done on the chimney and fireplace before you can safely use it.
Excerpted from Do It Yourself Home Improvement
© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009