General Question

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

How difficult is it to construct a fireplace/chimney in an older home with none in it?

Asked by DarlingRhadamanthus (11273points) July 9th, 2011

I have been looking for an older home to purchase (for awhile now.) And I noticed that in some of the older houses (1930’s) surprisingly there are no fireplaces even though they are in colder areas.

From a design standpoint, a traditional brick fireplace would look best in a house of this age. I also find those small black woodburning stoves just not attractive (unless it is a home that is in keeping with that sort of stove….for example….a contemporary house or a cottage in the woods.) I’d like something more traditional. I realize that it’s a matter of taste, but aesthetics do mean something to me. I think you can have something functional and still in keeping with the design period of a house.


1. Can you erect a brick fireplace/chimney where one doesn’t exist? Even a kiva would look nice in this house (because of the design.) Would that be expensive?

2. Barring that you can’t do the above…does anyone know of a company that sells more attractive woodburning stoves? For example, maybe, Scandinavian tiled stoves or something that’s just a bit nicer in design?

3. As an alternative, is it possible to heat an older house with a woodburning stove in the basement that somehow circulates the heat through the central heating system? I remember my uncle had something like that rigged in his house in Pennsylvania. He would stoke up the woodburning stove in the basement and it would make the house really toasty and he only used the central electric heat in extremely low temps.

I would just like to find a way to heat a house in a colder climate that is not dependent on electricity all the time. Having had the heat shut off during ice storms at different points in my life, I think it’s a good thing anyway.

I would welcome any suggestions. Thank you very much!

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20 Answers

WasCy's avatar

A “traditional brick fireplace” is going to be very difficult to erect in an existing frame house that doesn’t have one, and even more so if it’s a typical house in the Northeast with a full basement.

The reason for that is that you also need a very substantial chimney, and that means “brick” and that means “tons of weight”. For that reason, you need to build from the bottom up. So the fireplace you want on the ground floor needs support from the basement. Most often, that is done by extending the masonry work to the basement floor and building up from there. (A lot of houses with ground floor fireplaces will also have basement fireplaces, since the foundation for the chimney is there anyway, and all that’s required is a separate flue.)

That all means a lot of expense, moving brick and mortar through the dwelling (and a lot of mess as people and materials move in and out), as well as wall or roof opening for the flue (or flues).

A wood stove is simpler, because it doesn’t require the same chimney. Wood stoves can get by with uninsulated stovepipe until you run through the wall (usually) or roof with an insulated “thimble”. Much cheaper, much less work – insignificant weight considerations.

You could compromise with a gas “fireplace” that allows you to simulate the look of burning of (artificial) “logs” hiding a gas ring. That also requires much less flue ducting, since a gas fire doesn’t have as much to exhaust (and even heat considerations can be lessened), so that you can often get by with a horizontal PVC duct through the outside wall to exhaust.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

If you are looking to supplement your heating, use a wood stove, it will help to have no cost hardwood supply. The cost of heating is pretty equal for oil,. gas or wood for BTU’s.
There several moderate priced stoves from both the USA and Europe.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@WasCy…..I wouldn’t want to use gas…..I’d like to use something that was more off-the-grid…if that makes sense? Yes, I can see what you are saying about building from the ground up. The houses do have basements.

@Tropical_Willie…Yes, there are…I just wanted to find one that was “different” and not exactly typical of black woodstoves (which are the norm) if this is the only option I will have.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@WasCy….Just to get this straight….what I picture is that you would go to the outside of the house, living room wall (for example) dig a hole straight down, exposing the basement wall. Then, you would smash through the basement wall and then start lining the hole with brick all the way up to the first floor, where you would make a opening for the fireplace in the wall and then keep going outside making the chimney, etc etc. Right? Despite the big palaver and mess, it is possible, right? Yes, no? If it was done correctly, it wouldn’t compromise the structure of the house, or would it? (I am looking at very solidly built houses, by the way with strong foundations.)

Just wanted to know….do masons do this sort of work?

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Jøtul is one European brand this a great for looks and heating WEBSITE

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@Tropical_Willie and everyone else….I would be probably getting the house in the US…by the way.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

YES and Jøtul is sold in USA and the web page was for their USA customers. Your idea of of drilling through a basement wall / foundation is a MAJOR structural, engineered solution to get the chimney outside..

incendiary_dan's avatar

You could also build a brick structure around a cast iron stove, that way you’d get the aesthetic of brick and the ease of installation of a wood burning stove. Plus the thermal mass of brick would mean longer heating.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@incendiarydan…I should have thought to ask you “incendiary”.....! lol

@WasCy , @Tropical_Willie and @incendiary_dan…..

After my last posting, before dan’s post, I started to do some research and came up with something similar to what dan suggested….check this out link

That sounds quite good!! No big digging project and very fuel efficient and aesthetically nice!

What I had been thinking about was this sort of thing: link

Thanks so much for your help….! Lurve has come to you, but sending more for new postings! DR

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

Links in above posting should be working now…oops

And while the Swedish tile ones are beautiful, and very efficient (by the way), the other traditional US style will work spankingly well, I think….as will a Jotul.

Thanks again!

Judi's avatar

A full masonary fireplace will be dificult and expensive in new construction OR remodeling. If you want to do it consider a zero clearance fireplace
Although still a major project, it will be a lot less expensive to retrofit. It is what most new construction builders (in my market anyway) use these days, and no one ever really notices the difference.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@Judi….The fireplace that I found (above) is zero clearance, I think…and also quite lovely. Thanks for the posting…it gave me a GREAT option to look into.

Lurve coming.

Judi's avatar

You can always put a brick facia, mantle and hearth on it too. It should fit the feel of the house. I don’t know if this link will work, because it goes to my facebook page, but we changed the entire appearance of our fireplace.
It is a massonary fireplace, but we have done similar changes with zero clearance fireplaces.

woodcutter's avatar

It’s going to a lot of action.

blueiiznh's avatar

adding on a brick fireplace to an existing structure is no easy task. There are considerations from a support point of view and there may be building code and insurability issues.

There are plenty of alternative measures. Wood Pellet stoves are very efficient and can be added.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@woodcutter @blueiiznh…....You probably didn’t read my response…where I found an alternative to doing all that digging and masonry….there are other ways to have a traditional looking fireplace that burns wood without doing all that masonry, etc. (See above.)

blueiiznh's avatar

@darlingrhadamanthus sorry, I didn’t see you answered your own question. My apologies.

john65pennington's avatar

First, check your local government and codes to see if your house even qualifies for a fireplace and chimney. You would be surprised at the number of houses that do not qualify for various reason. Some older homes were not built to codes specifications by todays standards.

blueiiznh's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus Let me know when the fireplace is done so I can delivery the seasoned oak.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

I hadn’t seen that answer.

that was so sweet

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