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Annie V. Schwemmer
Removing an unused chimney in the middle of a small basement can allow you to open up and expand an entire room, making a much nicer and more usable space.

Last week we discussed adding fireplaces and fireplace remodels.

Well, sometimes a fireplace needs to be relocated or removed all together in order to accomplish your design goals.

If your fireplace is not in an ideal location, you don't have to work around it. Nothing in your home is a permanent fixture. Everything can be moved and altered.

Of course, moving or removing a fireplace does take more time, money and planning than some other projects, but if it is the key to achieving your overall goals then it is worth the effort.

Sometimes it is not an actual fireplace that needs to be removed, but simply a chimney.

When would you have a chimney without a fireplace? Well, this is a common occurrence in many homes built before 1950 or '60. Furnaces need to be vented, and back then builders often plopped the furnace in the "cellar" smack under the middle of the house and provided a masonry chimney that went up through the house and the roof.

These chimneys are no longer essential when these old furnaces are replaced with more efficient units. If a furnace is 90 percent efficient (or better), it can now be vented horizontally — meaning through the basement wall — thus eliminating the need for the existing masonry chimney. (Water heaters must also be vented, but let's focus on furnaces for now!)

Our own Annie actually removed a masonry chimney in her home. She had replaced her old furnace with a more efficient unit, placing it in the corner of the basement because she was opening up the floor plan downstairs. The chimney was then not only unnecessary, but it was right in the way.

When we say that Annie removed the chimney, we mean it literally.

She and her father did the work in one day. She is proof it can be done by a homeowner, but she says it was a dirty job, to say the least!

Be prepared for soot, lots and lots of soot.

Cover up as best you can, and make sure to wear a mask to prevent inhaling years of grimy grit.

If you are tackling this project yourself, we can promise that you will get physical. You won't harm the house, unless a wayward brick goes through a window. And you won't harm yourselves — except for some sore muscles — if you pay attention and work safely.

Follow all the rules of ladder safety as you move up and down from the roof. Tie off the ladder, and use a safety harness as the pitch of your roof requires.

Do not work in wet weather, and wear proper, rubber-soled shoes. (See the OSHA guidelines for a complete list of safety measures.)

Demolish your fireplace from the top down, one brick at a time. Tossing the bricks off the roof will be an additional safety hazard to anyone below. The bricks need to be collected in a dumpster for removal and disposal.

Because bricks are heavy, they will incur greater dumping costs than most construction debris.

The cost of plugging the hole occupied by your fireplace is made up of two parts: labor and materials. And because you're not adding high-end finishes, such as cabinets, appliances or countertops, the lion's share of the cost will go to labor. There will be costs in addition to labor and materials if you contract the job, such as permits. and the contractor will also bill for overhead costs, which will substantially increase the price.

If you are removing an interior chimney, the only exterior repair will be to the roof, with other materials required to patch interior walls, ceilings, and floors.

If you are removing a chimney on the exterior of your house, you will have to patch and repair the outside wall as well.

Estimate the cost of materials for each component of the building. Figure the material for each component separately. Drywall should cost about $6 per sheet, 2-by-4 studs around $2 apiece, OSB sheeting $10-$15 per sheet. Roofing is called out by the "square," which is 100 square feet. The cost of asphalt roofing is about $60-$70 per square.

By now, although each job is unique, it should be pretty clear that the cost of materials is going to be relatively small.

When you're pricing out the job at the lumber store, add 15 percent for items you may have forgotten. That should be pretty close to what it will take to put the house back together.

Removing an unnecessary chimney or a seldom-used fireplace can make a huge difference in the design possibilities for your home.

Whether or not you tackle this yourself depends on your skill level and how dirty you are willing to get. Just remember, where there is a will there is a way — or a contractor just a phone call away!

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.