Chimney Breast Removal

27/03/2018
You may be considering chimney breast removal if you've bought an older house with a chimney breast because of the gains you can make from the extra space.

Houses which were not built in the last few decades generally have a chimney, a chimney breast and fireplaces feeding into the breast so the smoke from the fires can escape.

New houses don't normally have chimneys - although some do - simply because in space terms you might almost gain the space of a small bedroom were an existing chimney breast to be removed. Depending on what you do with the space when you've finished taking out a chimney breast, this might equate to tens of £1000s.

What about the issue of heating houses with open fires or wood burners being cheaper overall than central heating?

There are some debates over whether you can gain in fuel efficiency terms by having open fires over central heating, but these are beyond the scope of this article.

This article considers the following:
NB You are always likely to require the services of a Structural Engineer if you intend removing a chimney breast. If you don't get an expert involved, you risk serious structural degradation to your property which might result in the building collapsing which carries the risk of death.

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    1
    What problems might you encounter when removing a chimney breast?

As stated, a chimney breast invariably forms part of the basic structure of a house and you have to be particularly careful in your preparations before you carry out work to remove it.

Unless you're going to remove the whole chimney, from the bottom fireplace right up to the roof stack, you need to incorporate suitable support beams to support any masonry above to avoid structural distress or damage or even the collapse of the building.

Chimney Breast Removal Party Wall Considerations

It's also very common that your chimney breast is on a party wall (click to find out more about party wall matters) with a neighbouring property - this of itself is a major process and has to be factored in in terms of costs and time.

Click if you require a RICS Surveyor to assist you with Party Wall Matters or call 0333 344 3234


You'll also have take special care if the chimney breast of an upper floor is going to be removed while leaving a working fire in the room below. Partial removal is possible but a smaller chimney breast for the fire below must be left in place.

Finally, once you've removed your chimney breast, you'll need to make good the floor where the chimney breast was - this also takes planning and involves more costs.


    2
    How should you go about your chimney breast removal?

Once you instruct a Structural Engineer, they will then examine the chimney breast in your premises, after which they will draw designs and create an appropriate method of work for the job.

They then submit both the designs and the work method to your local building control office (click to find out more about Building Regulations/Building Control) for approval.

As discussed above, should your chimney breast be on a party wall, you'll also need to inform your neighbour/s and get approval from them for your work in line with the Party Wall Act.

Once your Structural Engineer's proposal has been approved all work must be carried out to the approved designs, and the local building control officer invited to inspect the work carried out.

The local Building Control Office will, upon satisfactory completion of the work, issue a completion certificate.

NB You should carefully keep the building control completion certificate for your chimney breast removal with the deeds/Land Registry documents for your property so that it is available for any re-mortgage or sale.


    3
    What are the planning permission and building regulation guidelines/rules and other rules regarding removal of your chimney breast?

Essentially there are 5 main things to consider:

  • 1 - Planning Permission
You are unlikely to require planning permission (click to find out more about this) unless your property is listed or in conservation area, but you may wish to consult the Government's online planning portal just to be sure.

  • 2 - Chimney Breast Removal Building Regulations
Your Structural Engineer has to abide by Building Regulations 2010 regarding chimney breast removal - and these, as stated, entail at least one inspection from a local Building Control officer -to ensure compliance regarding the following:
  • Structural strength;
  • Fire safety;
  • Sound insulation;
  • Maintenance of any neighbour's chimney;
  • Damp prevention; and
  • Ventilation to rooms.
  • 3 - Party Wall Implications
As stated above, under party wall legislation in England and Wales, you need to get written consent from the owners of any neighbouring property which your chimney breast affects before any work on removing it starts.

  • 4 - Landlord's Licence (only if your property is leasehold)
If your property is leasehold, you'll need to get the permission of your landlord in the form of a licence, for which you may have to pay a fee.

  • 5 - Safety of gas appliances which use a party wall's flue
Sometimes your gas appliances make use of a party wall's flue in yours or your neighbour's property. You should ideally get a Gas Safe Engineer to inspect the appliance and get a proof of inspection and safety in writing (this can also be added to your store of essential house documents needed if you choose to remortgage or sell up).

Should you choose to remove your chimney stack to below the roof, you'll need to extend the roof timbers to fill the gap and use matching roof covering.

If you retain any unused chimney breast, you need to ensure that it is ventilated at both the top and bottom. Any moisture in an unventilated wall or chimney will interact with the soot remaining in the used chimney and can cause staining.


    4
    Can you remove a chimney breast without removing the stack?

Yes you can. Sometimes it suits to remove the chimney breast while leaving the stack intact as opposed to removing chimney stack in loft as part of the job. This might be because, for example, your neighbour refuses you permission to remove their side of the stack.

Once you've obtained your party wall agreement, you can proceed with putting your approved Structural Engineer's plans into place and removing the chimney stack in the loft area.

Essentially you have to prop the chimney up in place first by using supports. It used to be the case that two or more gallows brackets would be used for this purpose with a concrete lintel across to support the brickwork above but lots of local authorities won't accept gallows brackets now and insist that you a Rolled Steel Joist (RSJ) to achieve the support.

Additionally your party wall (if relevant) must be at least 220mm thick to be strong enough but your Structural Engineer will ensure that their designs are legally compliant.

The same methodology would be used regarding chimney breast removal ground floor only but exactly what sort of supporting is required and how much of it in each case depends on the size of the masonry above and the strength of the adjoining walls which will need to bear the load.


    5
    What can you do if you're looking to buy a house and the vendors have removed the chimney breast without the correct planning permission/building control sign-off?

People have been known to remove either part or all of a chimney breast without getting building control sign-off/building regulations approval. This is a triple challenge because not only might you be left to find this out yourself, but also your RICS surveyor may not be able to be sure how the chimney stack is being supported and finally the structure of the property may be dangerously compromised.

If this is the case, you are strongly advised to instruct a Structural Engineer who can visit the property to calculate what the risk is and advise and plan what work needs to be done. It may be that the Structural Engineer advises you to pull out of the purchase altogether if the expenses and risk are too great.

Regardless, you should bargain via your solicitor with the vendor to pay for your Structural Engineer report either in full or share the costs with you or give you an appropriate reduction in the asking price. Given that once the vendor's estate agent becomes aware of the issue then they would most likely expect the vendor to hire a structural engineer themselves, then you should be able to reach an acceptable compromise.

You might, as another option, ask the vendor to get an appropriate letter of regularisation (retrospective building control sign-off: click to find out more) but this is likely to take time even though it might work out cheaper for the vendor.

Regarding indemnity insurance, you may be able to get the vendor to pay for this, but it only covers you against future council enforcement charges and won't, for example, cover you in the event that your building falls down or you need to do remedial work.


    6
    Chimney breast removal cost

So how much does it cost to remove a chimney breast?

As referred to above, there are many costs involved. At press time, one media report suggested you might look to pay £1,500 for removing a 1st floor chimney breast and the job might take 3 days. You have to add to this the cost of a Structural Engineer, which is likely to be in the £100s of pounds, depending on the work involved.

Another report suggested that for an entire breast removal, leaving the stack, you might have to pay around £2,000 or so. If you get the stack removed, you can expect to pay a further £1,000 to £1,600 for a professional job.

So for a hypothetical semi-detached house, at press time, if you wanted to get a whole chimney breast and stack removed and ensure it is done in a legally compliant and structurally sound way (i.e. by instructing a Structural Engineer to produce drawings), you are likely to have to pay something in the region of around £4,000.

*Structural Engineers – Detailed Drawings – Same Week Availability
Want help now? Call us on 0333 344 3234 (local call charges apply)


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