Posted by Karen Duke on 8/26/2019 to Tech
I love everything about urban renewal. I love that cities all over the country are creating programs to reintroduce the charm of old architecture, living downtown, uptown or midtown. Reintroducing city living and the joys of walking to local restaurants and shopping. I salivate over some of the great ideas being incorporated into old houses to remake them into homes with the features people want today. I look at listings on Zillow every day and watch all of the house flipping shows
What has been bothering me, though, is seeing these houses all modernized except for the fireplaces. Isn't one of the main features you want in an old home is a working fireplace? But then I see some nightmare fireplace remodels and realized that you may be better off buying a house where the fireplace HAS NOT been flipped.
We do work with some very high quality renovation contractors here in Richmond VA as well as across the country. They are perfectionists with very high standards and are a delight to work with. BUT that's not the norm. There's a big difference in a professional high quality renovation contractor and the average house-flipping contractor. The former wants just the right product that's both beautiful and functional, and the latter wants the cheapest way of saying "working fireplace" in the listing. (By the way, we know some of the greatest renovation contractors in the city and will be glad to refer you to them.)
Fireplaces and chimneys in old homes have unique challenges. The chimneys are nearly always unlined, or the rare "lined" chimney is in terrible condition. The original hearths are often separated from the fireplace opening, creating a potential fire hazard. The fireboxes frequently have deteriorated bricks and mortar. It is just horribly unsafe to renovate a fireplace improperly!
The contractor is too likely to install the wrong thing into that fireplace. They mistakenly employ the logic that since the chimney is unlined "we'll just put a vent-free gas log in there" which is enormously dangerous. Or they don't know what style to go with, and create a bigger mess to fix than if they'd just left it alone.
What we're seeing a lot of these days is tearing out walls with interior fireplaces and then knocking out the wall between 2 back-to-back fireplaces to create a clean line of sight. This is one of the worst things they could dream of doing - HERE'S WHY.
Way too often I'm appalled at the unsafe fireplace renovations I see on the house flipping shows. I see improper clearances to mantels, unsafe installations, completely wrong designs and just bad choices. Please don't believe that everything you see on tv is safe to do. And I'm pretty certain that there are pros in other areas of home remodeling trades also shaking their heads and muttering "why didn't they find us first so we could tell them the right and safe way to do this?".
All in all, you're better off when the contractor left it up to you what to do with the fireplaces in your new historic home.
- HUGE COST SAVINGS Whatever the contractor does to the fireplace, he's going to add this cost to the overall project and mark up the product and the labor to accomplish it, so you'll ending up paying more for that working fireplace on a house flip. (And you're probably paying that cost built into a mortgage, so you're actually paying MANY times more than it cost!)
- FUNCTIONALITY Do you just want a decorative open fireplace, or would you be thrilled if your fireplace could also help heat your home? We'll show you the options for just the right appliance to suit your heating goals.
- STYLE & DESIGN Is something modern and contemporary the right choice since the kitchen and baths have a certain modern style, or do you prefer a historic style that is congruent with the home's age or architecture? We are experts at helping design your fireplace so it will look FABULOUS!
- KNOW IT'S BEEN DONE RIGHT Discuss your fireplace project with a fireplace professional. Shameless self promotion here, but we consult on projects from next door to anywhere in the country. All we need are good measurements, some photos and to know what you want. If it can be done then we can tell you how. GIVE US A TRY - we can create a mockup of your fireplace with a whole new look.
Here are models designed specifically to fit into the smaller fireplaces typically found in vintage houses.