Chimney breast removal

At the heart of every Victorian home, the fireplace possessed great significance to a family both practically and socially. However most modern homeowners have a different view of the fireplace and the chimney breast that houses them.  Chimney breasts are now often seen as being a little ‘in the way’, using up valuable floor space.  Central heating systems and advances in insulation technology have also made the chimney somewhat redundant.


Can I remove a chimney breast myself?

We spoke to James Nevin, structural engineer and director of Blue Engineering for advice: 

James: Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as getting a sledgehammer to the chimney breast and making good the wall behind. Chimney breasts are typically formed of brickwork flues that are toothed into the brickwork wall they’re attached to. It is important that engineers design an appropriate solution to support the remaining breast and stack above the section of the chimney that is being removed. Failure to do so can quickly result in adverse effects to the remaining structure and its integrity.


How do you remove a chimney breast?

James: Here are some common methods we often implement to re-support a chimney breast:


Three-Beam Solution

This solution is one of the most popular for supporting chimney breasts/stacks, especially when supporting them in the outrigger of a Victorian property. The ‘three beams’ are arranged in a H shaped grillage on plan, with two of the beams spanning perpendicular to the chimney breast itself and bearing onto the flank wall and party wall of the outrigger via padstones. The third beam then runs underneath the external face of the chimney breast and is tightly dry packed into position, with an endplate connection into the webs of the other two beams. The major benefit of this solution is how seamlessly it can be hidden within an existing floor plate, whilst using relatively light-weight steel beams. However, this solution is limited in its usage and can be difficult to implement in every situation.


Beam Parallel with Party Wall

This solution is ideal for supporting a chimney breast along the party wall of a terraced property. A single beam is installed parallel to the wall, spanning between the front/rear façade masonry wall of the main body and the property’s internal spine wall. This beam often follows the span of the existing floor joists, making it easy to hide within the floor plate and is tightly dry packed into position under the chimney. The two main items to consider here are the spanning distance of the beam and the construction of the spine wall. Although only a single beam is installed, the spanning distance of this beam, paired with the height of the chimney breast and stack it is supporting, can sometimes result in a heavier than desired section size.  Also, If the spine wall of the property isn’t masonry, an adequate support must be designed for the beam this end. This is often a slender steel column that is fixed into a new mass concrete pad foundation within the ground. This can sometimes be a surprise for the homeowner.


Inverted Gallows Bracket (NOT a conventional gallows bracket!)

A gallows bracket is a prefabricated steel arrangement typically formed of a series of steel angles welded together that is designed to cradle the remaining chimney breast and stack. This cradle is resin anchored to the masonry wall either side of the chimney breast with a shelf that is then tightly dry packed below it. Gallows brackets are very easily concealed within a loft space without the need to bear any steel beams onto internal or external walls, which is why they’re often so desirable. The main issue with a gallows bracket is that some Building Control Officers do not like them and may be hesitant to sign them off when considering the age of the property and the condition of the existing masonry. The conventional shelf gallows brackets are no longer accepted by Building Control in any scenario.


Opening-Up Chimney Breast and Retaining Piers

Rather than removing a chimney breast completely, some homeowners chose to turn it into a feature by opening up its façade. This is the cheapest option of all, other than keeping the chimney breast as is. It is achieved simply by creating an opening in the front of the chimney using a standard off-the-shelf lintel that spans onto masonry piers retained on either side of the opening. The internal flues are then removed to create a hollow space.


Whole Removal Including Stack

Simply remove the breast from every floor and the stack from roof level. This solution requires no new structure, only making good the wall that is left behind. Although this seems like that most logical solution if the stack isn’t going to be used, there are some items that need to be confirmed before the contractor goes ahead and pulls the stack down. If the chimney stack is shared its removal will have to be agreed with the neighbouring owner, who may or may not have an objection to this. Then there is Conservation Area Consent. If the property is in conservation area, permission will have to be obtained from the local authority to remove or alter the chimney stack, even if it isn’t being used. This can often be determined through planning.


Where to start?

Whether you are a design professional, builder or homeowner, you will need to seek assistance from a structural engineer for a chimney breast removal. We highly recommend getting in touch with James and his team at Blue Engineering – they’d be more than happy to help.


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