Chimney Breast Removal

Today we are talking about chimney breast removal.  Most people in older houses have some kind of knowledge on chimneys. Those items that are used to convey smoke, embers and a little heat away from the rooms in a house and up through a turret in a building.

Now that these are effectively obsolete in many homes, with the advent of central heating, under floor heating and better insulation, it is left to builders and designers to remove these structures to create more room for storage.

Here (below) is a bedroom at this current property that still has it’s chimney breast in situ. The resulting space has been used for a bookcase. It may seem you would gain a limited amount of space but actually chimney breast removal can effect a rooms layout and proportion enormously.


chimney breast removal


Yes, they can look lovely. So there is the option to leave as a traditional feature for the property or to repurpose the structure. Either to accommodate a wood burner or even a bioethanol fire. One that takes liquid to ignite and give off the ‘oh so lovely’ flame fire effect.

Chimney breasts can be repurposed for other things of course. Often they house TV and Media equipment, as seen here, below. Chimney breasts make good structures for TV brackets!


Chimney breasts can be repurposed for other


The Choice of Fires

My clients are going to go for  the ethanol fire, after thinking about a gas fire for some time. Gas is nice to do and again, gives that flame glow warmth to a room. Nice and cosy.  But you have to think of cost and how much you’re actually going to use these fireplace.  They sound and look desirable but can actually cost time, money and space.

Space is at a premium in London and many other cities. It is therefore prudent to think before you commit to squaring off a part of a room for nothing more than a device for heat.

However, they do bring a focal aspect to the room, so take your time when thinking what to do with them.

Here is the original fireplace that was in my last project at Chelsea.  Whilst they replaced the surround and hearth, they kept the chimney breast itself for a gas fire.

chimney breast removal



In today’s video, as well as the all the other parts of the house, I show you some fully and some partially demolished chimney breasts.

Neighbours and Chimney Breast Removal

They are important structures for neighbours and you must get party wall acts (or whatever system you have in your country) to protect your neighbours property as well as your own. That said, builders are so used to getting rid of chimney breasts they can do it with their eyes closed!

Having said that, it’s best to get advice and in some cases, planning permission.  It’s a necessity but it covers you and them in the event of any problems.  All the advice and guidance is out there – you just have to ask and get the necessary documents signed.

Some structural engineers (including mine) will advise or insist on hand removal. This is best where neighbours and clients are nervous of the structure. Using a hammer and chisel is often the best way and can actually be quicker – if a little tiring for the builders.

We actually found some cement surrounds around the hearth of these fireplaces. These can only be broken with machinery but these were away from the party walls and so would not present a problem for the adjoining walls.

From The Top To The Bottom

Often builders will be removing whole stacks of breasts from the top to the bottom.  It sounds obvious but it’s the only way.  Then they can and sometimes do remove the entire flooring of a property to make it even easier and quicker.

In the video you can see a partially demolished chimney breast removal in situ and see what it consists of. Interesting stuff!

When we get to the top of the house, you can see a fully demolished chimney breast removal and see the patterns of soot going up the newly exposed wall.

Notice that we are keeping as many of the old and reusable bricks as we can. Some will be reused and some are too old and crumbly to do anything with at all!

Structural Steel

Once the chimney breast removal is complete, you often need to reinforce walls with steel so you will see a number of beams now in place keeping everything together. These will be woven in to the floor and ceiling structures..

Naturally as you remove bricks, plaster and mortar there is lots of debris that falls down the flue to the bottom of the house. Builders are prepared for the enormous amount of dust that fall down.  As seen in the video, they often pad out the last and lowest chimney. This is so that the builders working in the bottom of the house don’t get choked to death by the dust particles.

Joists Wear And Tear

We also take a look at some joists that have been eaten away by a “bat creature” (courtesy of my structural engineer!).  Joists and beams need to feed into chimney breasts.  So when removing a chimney breast it’s prudent to allow for renewal of some joists.  Best to take a view when the ceiling is uncovered and you can fully see the quality of the joists above.

If they do get taken away or replaced, that will mean more waste disposal to pay for. Never underestimate the amount of skips that you’ll need. Even if you do wait and load, (when a truck, van or skip comes along and you have a short amount of time to fill it before it gets taken away), the costs will still be on top of the removal costs. Waste disposal can be expensive.

On the video, we see the builders collecting everything that is to go and piling it into the skip – rather like a game show! Very funny thing to show you but worth seeing how things go onsite!

So that’s all from the house for the moment…see you next time and happy designing!