Restoring fireplace

denver1908November 29, 2009

We live in a 1908 Victorian bungalow (or at least that's what it's called here in Denver). Before we got the house, someone had capped off the fireplace, but we'd like to make it useable again. I'm going to have some different masons come look at it, but I'd like to educate myself a little first so that I can ask good questions.

The question is, what used to be there, and can we make it useable again? We still have the original tile surrounding the opening, which is 30"x30". From the front of the tile to the back of the firebox is about 13". About 4" back from the front, the sides step in about 2.5" on each side and then go directly back, so the back of the firebox is 24" wide. The flue is 24" wide by 5" deep, and it rises straight from the back of the firebox. Neither the firebox nor the chimney is lined.

I imagine that it at one time may have had some sort of cast iron insert, but I don't know for sure. So any ideas about what this fireplace was originally built to burn? Wood? Or coal? And given that the firebox is shallow and so is the chimney, is it something that we can make safe in order to use? Ideally, we'd prefer a wood burning fireplace, but also realize that we may have to instead do some sort of replica, gas-burning insert.

Thanks for the help.

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I'd go with a ventless gas-burning insert. They have a high efficiency and produce a fair amount of heat (that stays *in* the house) and they're not too bad looking.

If you go back with wood-burning, you'll have some expense for chimney inspections, chimney cleaning and possible repairs, too.

Houses built around the turn of the 20th Century were typically coal-burning because "wood burning" was considered old fashioned and also, we'd depleted the forests so much by then, raising the cost of firewood.

By the late 1910s, we were back to wood burning fireplaces.


    Bookmark   November 29, 2009 at 2:17PM
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Given its dimensions and the time frame in which it was built, it was probably sized to burn coal.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 1:39PM
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My 1908 house has one fireplace which had an insert when I bought it--it had the vertical ceramic blocks which heated up and turned reddish when the gas was on. I think it dated from the '30's or '40's as it definitely didn't go with the original firebox.
The gas company disconnected it after doing work at the street before they would turn my gas back on--anyway, I replaced it with a set of gas-burning logs which look really nice. The only problem was finding a set of logs to fit--I finally got the smallest I could find (18"), and they just fit inside the firebox. The problem was that the angled sides would only allow about 18" at the back.
The fireplace has its original white tiles (about 1" x 3"?) and the original cast iron surround. When I use the logs, it looks great behind the pattern of the iron fire-guard.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 5:15PM
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As to inserts, I don't like the looks of them. My logs use the original flue to vent, and the top of the chimney has a damper installed since there wasn't one originally--just remember to open it before you light the logs!

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 5:20PM
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Your description is not of a typical wood burning fireplace. The dept would make it a Rumford fireplace but normally the throat above the firebox is at the front of the firebox and might be of the proportion you mention but above that would be the smoke shelf extending toward the back of the structure and then above that would be the chimney flue which should be about 8x8 for a 30 x 30 firebox opening. A 5x24 flue would be a very strange proportion and far too large for the firebox opening. Have you looked at the top of the chimney? How was it closed off?

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 7:47PM
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If your fireplace is a true Count Rumford (aka Benjamin Thompson) design, the chimney flue may be aligned with the back of the firebox with a small damper/smoke shelf detail. Go to the link below and open the design guides for "BIA Rumford Fireplace Plans" and "Technical Notes 19 - Residential Fireplace Design" to see the difference between a Rumford and a conventional fireplace design.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brick Institute of America (BIA)

    Bookmark   December 23, 2009 at 9:56AM
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I just purchased a 1920 brick bungalow in Cleveland, Ohio. I am trying to keep integrity of home through my renovations and i was wondering if changing push button style outlets to toggle switch is something that should be done. Thanks to anyone that can let me know how to keep special details of my older home.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2009 at 5:06PM
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If you want good responses you should start a thread instead of hijacking an existing one.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2009 at 10:00PM
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I had a rumford fire box in a house I rented a while ago. It drew beautifully. I would try to keep that configuration if I had it.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2009 at 1:49PM
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