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Community and Q&A

Fireplaces. Should they stay or should they go?

handyhomehacker | Posted in General Questions on

Hello all. I’m a newbie here with my first question.  I’m planning to launch my retirement as a rental-income landlord. I’m completely down with the need for green in properties I’d acquire.

What is the prevailing wisdom on wood-burning fireplaces? They’re anything but energy efficient, with tons of ambient warmth going up the chimney. I understand that they can be de-commissioned but I assume they can act as a thermal bridge. I see older duplexes with brick chimneys running up through kitchens and are in the way of rehabbing.  If the roof gets replaced, it’d be the time to eliminate it and the opening through the roof with is good if you don’t have to have a hole in your roof, I’ve heard. Lot’s of reasons to just remove. 

My only hesitation on making a fireplace disappear is fear of hurting resale value. I also grant that having one for emergency backup in a house where gas or oil was replaced with electrification would not be unwise.

Aside from that, should they stay or should they go? Are there green re-habbers here who remove them as a standard practice without second guessing themselves on it?  Are they an anachronism that green home buyers  spurn nowadays?   

Thanks for your insights here.

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  1. Trevor_Lambert | | #1

    In addition to being pretty bad for air quality, an old fireplace is actually a net loser in energy. They basically just provide X amount of heat in one location in trade for a loss of X+Y amount of heat in the rest of the house. That can still be useful in short term, emergency situation.

    The general public isn't largely aware of this, and still consider a fireplace a plus in a house. I would say decommissioning it would hurt resale value. Removing it entirely may also hurt resale, and doing it properly will likely cost more than you could ever recover in energy costs due to heat bridging.

  2. DennisWood | | #2

    However, an EPA type wood burning fireplace is massively more efficient and in our case, easily heats our 2500 of total floor area at - 30C with no issues. Ours is more or less used for emergencies and the odd "ambience" burn. It's also handy for getting rid of company as the main floor gets to over 28 C in about on hour at a higher burn setting :-) If you want guests to disperse, try heat...

    No one here will remotely suggest you use or maintain an open fireplace as they are the opposite of efficient and will only cause problems in a tight home.

    Your other concern with a rental and fireplace is insurance. Wood burning fireplaces make a big difference on rates in our neck of the woods.

  3. anonymoususer | | #3

    We have an epa log-burning woodstove insert in what used to be our living room fireplace. We bought brand new in 2020. The community we live in is rural and poor. Each winter the town undergoes 1 or more outages lasting > 24 hrs. The woodstove insert has been a godsend. When shopping for woodstove—whether freestanding or insert style—look for fully sealed unit that can receive its combustion air directly from outdoors. I also suggest getting one with viewing window on door. The viewing window preserves “ambiance” and—much more importantly—enables users to see when it’s time to toss on another log without opening door

  4. charlie_sullivan | | #4

    We kept an old brick fireplace in our renovation. It used to be on the outside of the building but we positioned an addition to move it to the interior, leaving exposed brick in the new room. We like the way that looks and the thermal bridging is reduced that way. We planned to put in an insert, or a wood stove on the hearth, like anonymoususer, for backup heat.

    But we actually wish we had just removed it and left space for a small wood stove for backup heat. There's still some thermal bridging and it takes up a lot of space. Plus finding someone to do the chimney flashing well, and without using lead, was really hard--I ended up doing a lot of that myself.

  5. Chris_in_NC | | #5

    We had a roof leak at the chimney chase, so we got rid of the chase and decked/shingled over the hole. We still need to remove the fireplace itself, but that's waiting for some future interior renovations. Our chimney was not brick, but disabling the fireplace is the pertinent detail here.

    The fireplace obviously hadn't been used for years before we bought the house, and the wife is allergic to strong wood smoke, so it wasn't getting used.

    I don't have the slightest care about the deletion of a fireplace hurting resale value. Tell your friends that you got rid of a fireplace, and watch the gasps of resale-value horror!
    My house renovations aren't being done for the next owner, they're being done for the current owner.

  6. Danan_S | | #6

    > I also grant that having one for emergency backup in a house where gas or oil was replaced with electrification would not be unwise.

    An all electric house with an open fireplace sounds like an electricity bill disaster to me.

    Also, the thought of somebody who doesn't regularly light open flames suddenly lighting one to stay warm in their house during a power outage sounds terrifying.

    I guess I've seen too many people light fireplaces with the flue shut to trust them doing it the right way during an emergency.

  7. jollygreenshortguy | | #7

    You're probably not in earthquake country. But getting rid of a couple of tons of bricks which could easily fall through a roof and land on unsuspecting sleepers just as they awaken to the at first gently rocking motion of an earthquake (been there, done that) is another plus in some localities.

    In my designs, however, I do include modern gas or wood fireplaces as a "feature" for occasional use or backup when need be. I also like to include a "brick" chimney, actually thin brick veneer over wood framing, to signify the warm hearth that is the center of so many homes. I do it because I like it but also because I know how much it would annoy my modernist architecture professors from my school days. Heatilator and Lennox are my first choices.

  8. nynick | | #8

    We're renovating an old house where the fireplace is the centerpiece of the living room and was most certainly used as the primary heat source back in the day. It's on an outside wall.

    The first thing I did was add fireplace doors. That cut down on the infiltration but didn't eliminate it. Next up is a new damper and an operable chimney sealing cap. Together this should bring the infiltration down to a whisper.

    People love an open fire (and so do we) but we'll have one maybe 2-3 times per year. To eliminate the FPL would dramatically change the feel of the room.

    If I was a LL, I'd block the chimney off at the lower flue and the upper cap and call it inoperable. Too much risk having tenants operate it anyway.

  9. pico_project | | #9

    We removed the fireplace and chimney on a remodel. A fireplace does nothing for me. Especially since this one was converted to gas.

    A wood stove is different. I had a wood stove in my previous house and loved it. But that was on 100 acres in the woods. The house was also an old farmhouse and way less tight. I don't think I would get a wood stove now except maybe for a small cabin or something.

    The main reason for removal in the remodel was to free up a wall in the living room for TV/media and of course to tighten up the house.

    As a bonus, the chimney removal gave us room for a full-size shower in a small bathroom on the opposite side of the wall.

    I see zero reasons to keep a fireplace if it's feasible to remove.

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