Building & Replacing Fireplaces

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Published: 23rd December 2010
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How to replace a fireplace
Removing a fireback is a messy job, so empty the room as far as feasible and cover any remaining items with dust sheets. Wear old clothes and a dust mask and lay additional dust sheets over the hearth along with the floor around the fireplace. Take away any separate parts of the fire like the grate and then remove the fireback in pieces, making use of a cold chisel and hammer to break it up.
There may possibly be a fire-resistant rope between the fireback and the back of the surround. It'll probably be asbestos based and really should be left in place if it is in good condition. If the rope is crumbling, however, you'll need to remove it - but extremely carefully.
1 - Wearing a dust mask and gloves, first lay plastic sheets in the opening, then spray the rope with water to dampen it. Place it in a plastic bag for disposal by the local authority. The plastic sheets must also be disposed of in the same way.
2 - Behind the fireback will probably be loose cement and rubble. If this is in sound condition, it may be left. But if the heat has made it crumble badly, you must shovel it up and clear the cavity, which is known as the builder's opening. This is, incidentally, a great stage of the job at which to have the chimney flue swept clean.
3 - The fireback might be supplied in one or two pieces. A one piece fireback might be cast with a central horizontal cutting line. When you tap the back gently along this line with a bolster chisel and hammer, the two halves will separate.
4 - Put the bottom half of the fireback in position so that it lightly compresses the fire resistant rope at the back or the surround. If this has been removed, put a straight piece of wood across the opening to be certain that the front face of the fireback will be just behind the inside edge of the surround when it is fitted.
5 - Mark the outline of the fireback on the hearth, remove the fireback, dampen the hearth and spread a layer of fire cement on it. Lift the fireback into place and tap it down until it's correctly positioned and level.
6 - Now place two layers of corrugated cardboard behind the fireback to create an expansion gap between that and the infilling that has to be put into the builder's opening.
7 - Fill in behind the fireback with vermiculite mortar - made from one part hydrated lime or cement and four parts vermiculite (as used for loft insulation). Alternatively, make up a mix of one part lime, two parts soft sand and four parts broken brick. These soft insulated fillings will enable the fireback to expand under heat with out cracking. They will also absorb heat to protect the builder's opening.
8 - Lay a bed of fire cement on the top edge of the lower section of the fireback, lift the top section into place and tap it down. Again, put two layers of corrugated cardboard behind the fireback and fill in with weak insulating mortar, lamp down the filling with a stick and, at the top, smooth it off at an angle of about 45 degrees to form a smooth 'throat' into the flue. Sloping mortar may also be needed at the sides to stop the formation of any ledges, where soot could otherwise collect.

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