Monday, March 2, 2015

The Curious Case of the Fake Chimney: Reno Diary

No one knows the history of the ranchburger's faux chimney. Has it always been fake? Or, once upon a time, was it a working chimney, hooked up to wood burning fireplaces? If so, what in the world happened? A fire? Water damage? A remodeling decision? 

The chimney is two stories high, an intricate jigsaw of Tennessee limestone. Since it isn't functional, do I need it? What are the options? And, most importantly, how much will the changes affect my budget?

While Medana tabulates the cost, we'll investigate the curious case of the missing fireplace.

Let's pretend we're in a home remodeling version of C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Come on, let's walk through that chimney. We'll enter through the guest bedroom (ground floor). Instead of stepping through a fireplace, we'll move into a closet. After I open the doors, you'll find yourself in a green guest room. The closet wall is the focal point of the room, the first thing you see when you walk in from the hallway (a non C. S. Lewis entrance).

Storage is a Good Thing, as Martha Stewart would say, but not in this case.

Upstairs,  in Bandwidth's room-to-be, you'll find the same configuration.
A closet flanked by two windows.



I investigated several possibilities:

1. Demo the fake chimney and add a window.
2. Dry-wall over the closet.
3. Add a ventless gas fireplace (insert) and mantel
4. Cut a window into the stone and create a window seat or alcove.
5. Leave the closets  (least favorite option).

The first option, removing the chimney, was, to my surprise, the most expensive. Salvaging the stones would be iffy. We could end up with reusable rocks or a pile of rubble. And the cost of hauling away rubble always must be considered in a reno project. 

The second option is to dry wall over the closet. The cost would be hauling away the old doors to Habitat for Humanity and paint for the drywall. This is the cheapest option and will allow furniture or a bed to be placed on the focal wall. However, the curious case of the fake fireplace will remain open and unsolved, but that's not really a downside--it's a story.



Option 3 is to add a ventless gas fireplace insert between the two windows. A bedroom fireplace creates a beautiful focal point. On the practical side, it would be a heat source during the cold Tennessee winters. The addition of fireplace units shouldn't be as costly as a full bore demo, but it will take a bite out of my budget. In addition to buying two mantels, other, hidden costs could pop up--we could find a problem with the chimney; support beams could possibly be required, and so on. When you dig around in an older home, it's always wise to expect the unexpected.
Traditional Bedroom by Silver Spring Kitchen & Bath Designers Designing Solutions



The 4th option, cutting through the stone and adding a window, would be costly--the top of the chimney would need to be demo'd. And, punching through the stone to frame a window could have unpredictable results. Also, the window could potentially leak.

The 5th option is to remodel the closets. Since this is a tiny storage space, I would probably remove the closet doors (donate to charity) and use the alcove to place furniture (if it will fit) or to add bookcases. The costs: minor demo, dry wall repair, paint, labor, and bookshelves. 

A recap of the options:
1. Demo the fake chimney and add a window. (most costly due to demo and rebuilding the area, framing for a window, cost of the window,  interior trim work, etc.).
2. Dry-wall over the closet. (cheapest)
3. Add a ventless gas fireplace (insert) and mantel (2nd most expensive but charming)
4. Cut a window into the stone and create a window seat or alcove. (Mission impossible.)
5. Leave the closets. (Least favorite because the closets aren't spacious and claim valuable wall real estate. Also, I would remove the doors or add bookcases--so this option would be the third most expensive.

UPDATE -- 3/4/15
My GC is going to inspect the faux chimney. If the structure is safe, we're going to add a vented gas fireplace in the downstairs guest room. Bandy doesn't want a fp (or shelves, etc), so his closet will be covered with drywall.

Thank you for visiting today. Have a great week.

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35 comments:

  1. I would hate to see the chimney go if it were mine. I'd probably add the second mantle and gas logs if my budget allowed. After all, it does get rather cold in Tennessee. Decisions, decisions! I'll look forward to your choice. Whatever you do, I have great confidence that it will turn out great.
    Sam

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    1. It's a tough decision (aren't they all?). I've considered adding a fp to the guest room (Bandwidth doesn't want one). However, I need all the wall space I can get. But it's sort of weird to have a massive stone chimney on the front elevation, and then *nothing* inside. Yeah...tough call. Thanks for your input! I chose paint colors from my remote location today, lol.

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  2. Oh wow, this is a toughy, but I am a sucker for a fireplace in the bedroom so that would be my first option if it didn't require selling my first born.

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    1. I know; they're so romantic--and functional. The cost for a ventless unit is approximately 1 - 1500K, plus the cost of running a gas line, labor, materials, and a mantel. All told, I'm looking at a cost of $3K to $5 per fireplace (you never know what problem is uncovered during the process).

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  3. I would go for the gas logs, have the chimney cleaned and keep it. A fireplace is so nice on dreary, dark days and the mantle would be fun to decorate, especially around the holidays.

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    1. Mary, you've got a point, a good one. Tennessee has many dreary days--from November until late March.This will be my mother's room, and I know she'd enjoy year-round decorations on the mantle. (Bandy, not so much, lol. Maybe his room can get the Sheetrock.)

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  4. Oh my word. This is a toughie.

    I'd opt for having two bedroom fireplaces if possible. Is it possible to have VENTED gas logs? That's what we have.

    As for BandW - he'd maybe like the modern sleek design with the flat screen above it? : - )

    If you can't manage the fireplaces, I'd wall it up. Those closets - if you don't need them - well, shouldn't be the focal points. The beds in middle of the two windows would be oh-so-much better.

    So recap my votes: #1 having two bedroom fireplaces would be awesome. #2 closing off closets and having beds in middle of the two windows. Hey, could you keep a portion of the closet and have nifty built-in wall bookcases with scones inside? Be nice instead of traditional night stand end tables on either side of bed. (Since you'd have the room?)

    GL, Michael Lee - you have so much going on, makes my head spin. Try to stay as sane as you can during all of these decision making times! Hugs! ♥

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    1. Hi, Michele. Thanks! I will ask about vented units.

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  5. Boy, I don't know. A range of ideas and possibilities here. Love your big rooms!
    Brenda

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  6. Hope you're feeling better each day! Hmm, my first thoughts— drywall. Easy, economical and, as you state, the wall is a focal point. Fireplaces are beautiful, but I'm personally leary of ventless gas just because of safety issues. When you mention utilizing the space as alcove/shelving, would there be enough depth to make it useable? Sorry, sometimes you get more questions than answers when you ask and I hope it's not making your head spin. You've had enough of that!

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    1. I love it when you all make me think and raise questions. I sure don't want any safety issues, as my dear ones will be sleeping in those rooms.

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    2. You might want to check out this article: http://www.energyvanguard.com/blog-building-science-HERS-BPI/bid/57208/A-Ventless-Gas-Fireplace-Is-a-Liability

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    3. I'm going over there to read the article. Thanks!

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  7. Do you think they added closets on an outside wall and needed a way to disguise where the wall bumped out? That would be such an odd scenario! Anyway, my vote would be for the gas logs. At least that visually connects the dots between the outside and inside, even if they don't literally depend on each other. Thanks for taking us on this fun adventure!

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    1. So true about connecting the dots. It's weird to have something expensive but non functional. Still, saving $ is a priority. It boggles the mind how everything costs. I opted for drywall repair (rather than replacing it) in the kitchen, and the bill gave me the vapors. I'd love to know the building/remodeling history of the ranch/split level. I'm guessing that the faux fireplace was built to mimic the one that's in the other "wing."

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  8. Oh dear me, I'd go with the gas fireplaces, if the budget allowed. Who wouldn't love a cozy fire going in their bedroom? I'd certainly love it!

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  10. I would definitely opt for the two fireplaces. Of course, you are going to incur costs such as running the gas line, the inserts themselves, and mantels; but, I always prefer authenticity in design if at all possible. [Seemingly] use the chimney for its intended purpose--to heat the home. I would also consider placing a gas insert on the outside under the future porch. Will create a nice outdoor retreat for your guests and serve the section with a purpose. As a fellow Tennessean, I can certainly attest to the convenience of having a secondary source of heat in the bedrooms. It may also help offset your electric bill during the winter. Cheers!

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    1. Now I'm swinging back to double fireplaces. :-) Our winters seem to be getting colder--the ice, in particular, was brutal. Your term is brilliant:"authenticity in design." The fake fireplace (and fake innards) bothered me, and I could not articulate why.Thanks for explaining it. I've emailed my GC to ask about the price of vented vs ventless. Thank you for visiting!

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  11. WOW, so many choices. I love fireplaces and to have them in the bedroom would be terrific. To sit by the fireplace and read a good book, have cup of tea or a nice glass of wine. How great is that.
    I am sure you will make the right choice = good luck.
    Mary

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    1. Mary, your description reminds me of a Jane Austen novel. I love the idea of a soft chair, firelight, wine/tea and a good book.

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  12. We have two ventless gas fireplaces...after a few years (not knowing much about fireplaces when we built) we added a heat deflector to prevent so much heat building up under the mantel and also a blower...to blow the heat out into the room....fireplaces add such ambience...Love the gas, but miss the actual wood log fireplace....I have friends that have a wonderful fireplace that you can use regular logs for a true fire and also the option of gas....hard decisions...

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    1. It's so helpful to hear your experience with the ventless, Shirley. I'm filing away your notes about heat build-up and the blower. Your friends' dual fp is the best of both worlds.

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  13. Late weighing in on this, but my vote is for the gas fireplace. We use our gas log fireplace daily in the winter. Love the warmth and the ambiance that sitting by a fire provides. One in a bedroom would be cozy and romantic.

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  14. Hi Michael Lee! Oh, my! If walls or chimneys could talk! I think the outside chimney looks nice. Maybe I'd just pressure wash and clean it then have a fireplace in your bedroom. That would be so cozy. I hope you're feeling better from your fall!
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

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    1. Pressure washing is a good idea. The chimney really began to darken at the top after the snow and ice. I haven't been able to check the house personally since that silly fall, but I will ask Bandy to stop by and look inside those closets for leaks.

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  15. love a fireplace but they are very expensive, gas lines can be difficult too. . Does everything need to be done at once? For a temporary solution, I would add drapes over the closet making it look like a third window. Then you could still put a bed in front ... an idea.

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    1. Kathy, thanks for your ideas. My GC (and the flooring company) says the fp should be installed before the old carpet is removed and wood floors are installed, so the wood isn't accidentally damaged. Ditto for Sheetrock (if I don't add fp)..

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  16. Michael Lee, Judging from the soot at the top of the chimney it is definitely being used for something--maybe the chimney for your heating system runs there? It also looks like there is a chimney cap at the top. Get someone up on the roof and see if there are three openings--then you will know there were once other fireplaces opening into that chimney. If you demolish the exterior you will have to deal with that one remaining exhaust system in some way. Also, before you decide about vented or ventless gas fireplaces check your local ordinances. Ours requires gas fireplaces with certain pilot lights to have the flue open at all times which causes lots of cold to come in, sometimes with smoke from the furnace exhaust due to the downdraft. Putting a gas fireplace into an existing setting is not as foolproof as the manufacturers would lead you to believe. It varies with the type of pilot light, your chimney draft, the size of the existing opening...and even the propane (or whatever gas source you use) can leave an odor after burning. On the other hand, when they operate properly they can add lots of warmth and atmosphere but be sure to add CO detectors, hard wired to your alarm company if possible. Just find out what else is going on inside that chimney before you get your heart set on something. Linda

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    1. Hi, LInda. You've brought up some excellent points! Yep, I am very concerned about that old chimney. It could be a straightforward project or straight out of a "Love or or List It" episode (you know, where dangerous things are uncovered, requiring $$$$). With the exception of the Georgian, previous reno projects have had unwelcome surprises. I believe the ranch's bedroom closets were added for a reason. While it feels odd to have a fake chimney, I bought the house despite this quirk, lol. I'd planned to demolish the chimney and add a window, until I tabulated the cost. Demo can really add up if you aren't doing it yourself (and I can't do that). The other wing, the man cave wing, has a wood burning fp--and it's in good shape. However, it--and the fake chimney--will be checked out. The house has smoke and CO2 detectors, thankfully.

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  17. A friend of mine built a home but couldn't afford the fireplace they wanted. The builder suggested putting up the chimney so that in the future they could add the fireplace and that step would already have be taken care of. Eventually they did add the fireplace so it worked out well. Perhaps there were plans like that in place but it never happened? We were contacted by the (3rd) new owner of a home we had built in the late 70's to ask a question about the home. Somehow they dug up our name from the public record. I guess that's always an option and perhaps they could enlighten you. I'd consider a fireplace if it was affordable but I do see the value in walling off the closet area and gaining the wall space. We have a gas fireplace and it warms up the room so nicely. They are energy efficient too and offer some nice ambiance! Is that chimney made of real stone or faux stone? I know real stone requires deep footings to support it as it's very heavy. It would be a shame to tear it apart if it's real stone. Decisions, decisions!

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    1. Good morning, Liz. Thanks for telling me this helpful story. It made me remember that I saw a list of previous owners when we closed. The original builder passed away, but surely someone will know about that chimney. Yes--the chimney is Tennessee limestone, and it was put together in a pattern that was popular in the 60s and early 70s. The stone masons were artists. That's the main reason I was so reluctant to demo the chimney. My GC said there was no way to know if we could re-use any stones, and he predicted a lot of rubble. (I have seen that before in renos.) As for the fp, I didn't want to sway anyone's answers, but I have vented and ventless at Purgatory Hill. We have propane, and I've been told that it's just plain dirty and clogs every appliance. (The propane company is a bear to deal with, too. The ranch has natural gas, thank heavens.) With the ventless, the odor was potent, and I always cracked a window. Birds swooped down the chimney of the vented, but that was a simple repair. I bought Peterson logs, and they looked quite real. All in all, I've been happier with the vented. Today,it's rainy in TN, and a fp would go a long way to remove the sting of winter. Bandwidth has decreed that he will not have a fp in his room, so maybe one (vented) in the guest room and Bandy can have Sheetrock/wall space. I'll find out more today--or, at least, this week--as I'm having a phone conference with my GC. I'll be sure to update. Thanks again for your great comment.

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  18. Dreamy looking bedrooms~ sounds like you made a smart decision to just leave it and love it! More money to spend on dreamy bedrooms!
    Jenna

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