Originally published in the May 2015 issue of Sweeping Magazine
Question: I'm thinking about offering factory built fireplace replacement but I have never done one. What do I need to know and how hard or difficult is it?
by Mike Segerstrom
Sometimes it's pretty straight forward and simple, sometimes it's more involved.
Let's look at some of the things we have to plan for, consider, and understand when planning a factory built fireplace replacement. For this discussion, we will focus on replacing an existing standard factory built fireplace with a similar size and style unit.
Permits and inspections. Depending on where we are working, a permit may be required for this type of job. If one is, we should find out what the AHJ will want from us. Most important, we need to know if there will be rough inspections. Do they want to look in the chase and see our firestopping and fireblocking? Do they need to see in the chase around the fireplace for rough inspection before we put the surround/mantle up? Will the AHJ require that we put sheetrock/drywall on the inside of the chase around the fireplace cabinet? Some jurisdictions do. These are questions we need to ask when we submit our permit.
Surround, mantle, trim. In some cases, we can remove and then reinstall the clients’ existing non-combustible surround materials, and their mantle / trim surround if they have one. If we are attempting to save and reinstall the existing materials, we must carefully review the dimensions and requirements of the new fireplace unit we are installing. If the client wants replacement surround materials, these are often available in standard kits. With existing or new materials, we have to carefully check the dimensions and requirements of the new fireplace.
With some installations, there is a brick veneer or facade, or stone veneer on the wall around the fireplace. It is often difficult to remove the fireplace without altering these materials, and the client may have to have us replace them. It may be a great opportunity to not only replace a worn out or damaged fireplace, but give the installation a facelift too!
Selecting the right unit. In many cases, we are able to find a new fireplace similar in size to the original. If we are able to obtain a copy of the installation instructions for the original, this can be very helpful. Certain older fireplaces are much larger in the chase than they appear and it can be beneficial if we know this in advance. It can help us to determine the extent of framing modifications.
Contracts with the client. It's important that when we provide a contract for a factory built fireplace replacement, we include several important things. Until we remove the existing unit, we have no idea what we will find in the chase. Often times, factory-built fireplaces are improperly installed from the beginning. Improper clearances, improperly constructed hearth extensions, missing fire stops, failing, missing or blown insulation are just a few things we may find. We should let our clients know from the beginning in our contracts, that concealed conditions may require repair, replacement, or remediation. Once we have removed the existing fireplace and chimney, and evaluated the chase interior, we can advise our client if additional repair aspects are necessary. We will also be able to take measurements and determine framing modifications that may be necessary.
If we don't offer sheetrock drywall repair, spackling, or painting services, we should indicate this to the client ahead of time too. That there may be a need for these services once the replacement is completed. It's better that they know ahead of time that this could be a possibility.
Chimney pipe system. One of the aspects that can determine the difficulty level of a factory built fireplace replacement, is the chimney pipe system. If the existing pipe system is straight, this can make for an easy replacement. When offsets are present, often without the proper support, installing a replacement chimney pipe system with offsets may be complicated. Especially on taller systems. In some cases, it may be necessary to remove the existing system before we can confirm the pipe length and offset configurations we will need.
Top terminations and chase covers. If the existing case cover is the original, the opening may be too large for a modern chimney pipe system. We may need to replace it, even if it’s in suitable condition, to accommodate the new chimney pipe size. If it is not in good condition, regardless of size requirements, we should replace it.
If we are doing this replacement in a condo or townhome development, there may be chimney cap requirements. If all of the existing caps are square, we may be required to install a square termination on our new chimney system. If there are no requirements, we should still check with the client to determine if they would like to see a square or round termination at the top.
This has in a brief look at some of the basic things that we need to consider when doing factory built fireplace replacement. If we have never performed the service before, there are training opportunities available to us. At conventions, guild meanings, and even offered by manufacturers. But one of the best ways to learn is to work with a fellow sweep in our area. Ask if we can tag along and help out on their next replacement. Working with each other helps strengthen our community, but can also get us the hands on know-how that we need.