I Want to Change My Fireplace

Fireplaces are the heart of living rooms in historic houses. Before the middle of the 20th century, almost all the rooms of a house, including bedrooms, were heated by open fires. Even though gas fires and central heating are now used for heating, many houses still have old fireplaces.

If your house is a listed building you may need listed building consent to remove or alter your fireplace. Seek advice on this before carrying out any changes.

Anatomy of a fireplace

Fireplaces have three main parts. The chimneybreast contains the flue and often projects into the room. The hearth is the opening that contains the grate where the fuel is burnt: this is usually iron and may have tiled sides. The chimneypiece is the ornamental surround to the hearth opening, and is often made of stone or wood. Normally there is also a stone slab in front of the fireplace: this is the hearth slab.

The chimneybreast is part of the structure of your house and you should think very carefully before planning to remove it. You may think that the chimneybreast takes up too much useful space, but it almost certainly helps to strengthen the wall it belongs to.

It also contains flues and if these are not blocked, they help to ventilate your home. Blocked flues can also create damp problems. You should seek structural advice before removing a chimney breast, and will need building regulations approval, as well as listed building consent if your house is listed.

Fireplace design

Whether it’s plain or ornamental, a chimneypiece is part of the history and design of the room. It helps to tell the story about how the room was used. Quite often the chimneypiece is one of the original fittings and a deliberate visual focus. It may even be a work of art in its own right, but removing it to sell it would forever damage the history of your house. If you want to take out or change your chimneypiece and the house is listed, you will almost certainly need permission.

You will first need to find out whether or not the fireplace is an important part of the house. You may feel that your present chimneypiece is the wrong date or style for the room; it’s not unusual for chimney pieces to have been altered to fit in with changing taste. It may also have been adapted from a larger opening with the insertion of a smaller fireplace.

If you need more advice, the Georgian Group and the Victorian Society publish illustrated leaflets on fireplaces. It will help your discussion with your local authority if you can find a picture of the kind of chimneypiece that you want to install.

Changing a grate

The grate is the functional part of a fireplace. You may want to install a different kind of grate, or convert it to gas or electricity. Or you may want to install a wood-burning stove.

You will usually be able to make the changes you want, unless the grate is of special historic interest. Wherever possible you should make sure that the installation is reversible, meaning that you or a future owner can undo the change without causing damage to the original building.

You should keep the hearth slab if you are going to have any kind of live fire. The purpose of the slab is to keep fragments of burning wood or coal away from the timber floorboards or the carpet.

See our energy efficiency guidance note on open fires, chimneys and flues for further information.