Behind a sealed fireplace opening

graywings123November 7, 2009

My house was built in 1919. It had working fireplaces that have been sealed off. One is now in use as a furnace vent, the other one - in the living room - had the chimney removed.

Is it feasible to unseal the living room fireplace and turn it into a decorative area? What can I expect to find back there? The mantles are still in place.

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You cannot 'expect' anything. It's hard telling what you will or will not find back there. If the chimney has been removed there was likely a reason it had, so you may even find bricks in the firebox, where the chimney had been deteriorating and crumbling into the stack, or bird bones where they'd flown down there and got trapped. There may be decades of wood or coal dust settled into the pit, or it may be clean and tidy. You won't know until you open it and look.

We do not use our fireplaces for woodburning anymore, although my husband used to use the one in the kitchen. We had a fireplace in every room of the 1820s house. Some of them had been cemented shut before he bought it, and some of them he dry-walled over and some of them he left just sealed with mantles intact. The one in the living room, although it's open we don't use and's open with glass doors and used decoratively. One of these days, I'd like to install a gas line coming up from the cellar and put in vent-free gas logs. The kitchen hearth is also open but we fitted in an antique looking cast iron gas grate and it's very practical for us when we don't want to kick on the boiler system in fall or spring.

As for venting flue gasses up old chimneys. That's fine if it's a safe chimney and has been checked for leaks and you are sure it's open and your local codes (if applicable) are not violated. Hopefully somebody checked out the patency and integrity of the chimney before they did it. If you do have a chimney problem, your gas appliance may as well be not vented, however and it may impose an unsafe situation as far as carbon monoxide.

I had an investment house in town, and installed a new furnace and gas fired hot water heater. The installer vented the high efficiency furnace through the wall, because the hot water heater was already vented through the chimney and codes allowed only one appliance to be vented through each stack.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 10:06AM
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Thanks, Calliope! I had a liner installed in the old chimney being used as a gas furnace vent. I would love to take a hole saw to the other fireplace and investigate, but November may be the wrong time to open it.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 11:10AM
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LOL, yes, it might be, but you can always temporarily cover it with something if you get too curious. We had an energy audit done many years ago and the technician put a huge fan at one door and kicked it on. You would not believe how much air we were getting down the chimney in the living room. Come to find out, it didn't have a flue! I have found everything in that fireplace then. One time a duck came down it. Baby chimney swifts were commonplace, where they'd fall out of the their nests. I was the one who had to play Cinderella and clean it out. So, ask me how I know.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 3:12PM
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Obviously, you aren't going to know what is back there unless you check. Old houses are notorious for hiding all sorts of surprises.

Our house is a 1912 colonial. The prior owners renovated in the 70's, and the fireplace was covered in fake wood paneling. When we took it off, the box was full of junk. Not just ashes and bricks - newspaper, a sock, etc. There was tile originally, but much of it was cracked or falling off. There was no flue. The cleaning up didn't take that long and it now looks like a fireplace. Now that winter is setting in, we are going to get one of those fireplace balloons to seal it up. Matching the old tile is about impossible, so it looks like we have another tiling project to get to soon. Still, it looks 100 times better than paneling already.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 9:30AM
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One of mine had been bricked up & a stove pipe hole put in the opening. When the soot came to the level of the pipe, some PO cemented over that hole & knocked another one near the ceiling. When I opened it, soot was at least 4' deep - one of the dirtiest jobs in old house restoration!!!!! Definitely, I would wait until windows & doors can be opened to start this adventure.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 1:06PM
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