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SavvyCat 03-14-2010 04:22 PM

Appreciate Input on My Fireplace
5 Attachment(s)
Attached are some pictures of my poor fireplace, post foundation repair. I'm anxious to see if it settles into something else over the next couple of months, but broken is broken in most cases. I have been concerned about whether it's just indoor cosmetic damage, so I'll probably have to have it inspected. I have some ideas, some that were already in the back of my mind, and I wonder what you think, assuming it's cosmetic.

1. Caulk and paint. Someone already said that, and I think that's horrible to do to brick :eek: but probably the cheapest and most practical.

2. I saw this on a Home Depot commercial a while back and really liked it--cover with 1-inch glass tile. Very chic, but could end up just as dated.

3. If it's just a facade, demo it! Take all of the dated brick out, replace with wallboard, buy a nice surround and reclaim wall space.

A couple of notes on the pictures, the night light up by the mantel and the dark switch combo on the brick are the results of my first questions to this forum. :D There were no outlets on that wall, but there was a switch where that outlet is that did nothing but control the switch on the fireplace (for the blower). They work beautifully and it's really nice to be able to put plug-in stuff up there.

Wuzzat? 03-14-2010 08:14 PM

A crack is one thing, but in the second photo it looks like the formerly mated surfaces have shifted maybe 1/4" relative to each other. Not good.

Nestor_Kelebay 03-14-2010 11:43 PM

There should be a steel I beam (called a "lintel") over the fireplace supporting the weight of the brickwork above the fireplace. Otherwise, those bricks wouldn't be supported, and their weight would make that whole brick wall above the fireplace susceptible to collapsing.

Typically, a steel lintel will have a cross section that looks like this:


but with steel strapping holding the two sides together (and taller vertical pieces for greater strength).

That lintel has to be supported by something structural inside the wall, like the top of the concrete foundation walls, or concrete blocks that are resting on the top of the concrete foundation walls. They wouldn't have rested the lintel on the brick facade on each side of the fireplace because those bricks in turn, seem to be resting on other bricks that are resting on the floor. A wood floor isn't strong enough to support the weight of a brick fireplace, so I suspect that whole fireplace area is resting on concrete or concrete blocks.

If it wuz me, I think I would just chisel out the mortar in front of the bottom edge of the steel lintel, (which I think you can see in Photo #5), pack a 1/4 inch foam backing rod (which you can get from any caulking contractor or building materials supplier) into the gap under the steel lintel and repack that joint on both sides of the fireplace with new gray brick mortar.

The steel lintel is supporting the weight of the bricks above the fireplace. Something has to be supporting the steel lintel, and it's obviously not the brickwork on either side of the fireplace. There has to be something structural inside the wall that the lintel is resting on. So, the brickwork on either side of the fireplace is just a facade; it doesn't support the lintel.

So, I'd just redo the cracked mortar joints with new mortar. You don't have to remove all of the old mortar. If you can chisel out the outer 3/4 inch of mortar, you can repack that joint with new mortar.

You might want to show those pictures to a masonary contractor just to be sure of what's going on there.

SavvyCat 03-15-2010 05:31 AM

@Wuzzat, that displacement was the first thing I noticed, but reading Nestor's post, that explains why the whole thing didn't come down, so It's not horrible, assuming he's right.

@Nestor, good info! Thanks! I'll have to see if I can see deeper into the crack to make sure that is steel going all the way across. I'm on a slab foundation, so it would be resting on concrete, and they didn't do any piers on that side, so the fireplace area wasn't directly disturbed.

Given what you know about how it's built, if I wanted to take it out can it be removed, or is there a bunch of added labor and structural integrity of the fireplace at stake?

Thanks again.


Nestor_Kelebay 03-15-2010 09:38 AM


Originally Posted by SavvyCat (Post 42255)
but reading Nestor's post, that explains why the whole thing didn't come down, so It's not horrible, assuming he's right.

Kathleen: It's not like there's any question here. It's just common sense. You need something to support the weight of those bricks above the fireplace.

Masonary is heavy and there has to be something strong over a window or doorway in a masonary wall to support the weight of that masonary. Otherwise the masonary would collapse into those open spaces.

For example, how in the world could anyone lay concrete blocks over this doorway without that steel I beam there to support them? They didn't put that I beam there just to take the picture. That I beam is being used as a lintel and will become part of the building.

Also, take a look at the completed wall behind the doorway. If there were no I beam supporting the concrete blocks, they'd come crashing down too. (Or at least there's be a high enough risk of that happening that no architect or engineer would sign those building plans and no insurance company would be foolish enough to insure that building.)


I'll have to see if I can see deeper into the crack to make sure that is steel going all the way across.
If the lintel didn't go all the way across, your fireplace would be crushed under a pile of bricks by now.


Given what you know about how it's built, if I wanted to take it out can it be removed, or is there a bunch of added labor and structural integrity of the fireplace at stake?
If you wanted to remove anything there, you'd start by removing the bricks at the top of that wall and remove them down to the lintel first. Then remove the lintel. And then remove the brickwork on either side of the fireplace. If there is a brick chimney behind the fire place, you'd have to start with removing the chimney first. Basically, you have to remove the weight from the top down and remove the weight from the lintel before removing the lintel.

I don't see any real problem there. The gap in the mortar can be fixed by simply replacing the mortar in those two joints. What I see is entirely a cosmetic problem, not a structural one.

Prove it to yourself:
Open a new window and go to w w
Now, click on "Images" and type in the word "lintel" (without the quotes).
Google will show you example after example after example of structural steel being used over windows or doorways or holes of any kind in masonary walls, and in each case the purpose of that structural steel will be to act as a lintel. That is, to support the weight of the masonary above the opening. Your fireplace would have been built exactly the same way.

SavvyCat 03-15-2010 10:14 AM


I wasn't questioning you, just throwing a hypothetical. I trust that you obviously know what you're talking about. I know the damage is cosmetic, but I started thinking off in another direction of changing the whole look if that's just a brick facade. If it's part of the whole chimney structure, of course I wouldn't touch it. I don't want to remove the fireplace, just the brick.

Seems like more trouble that it's worth, though. I'll just fix it. You never know. Once the house settles into its new position it might close up. I watch got to watch a crack appear in the wall, widen, and close up while they worked. Reminded me of the Northridge earthquake. Sounded like it, too.

Nestor_Kelebay 03-15-2010 12:01 PM



I wasn't questioning you...
Oh, heck no. Newbies SHOULD question the answers they're given. They should question those answers until they're convinced they have to be correct because IT MAKES SENSE to them. How else are they going to understand the problem and the solution? By faith? Faith is no substitute for reason. If someone tries to explain something to you, and he can't do it in a way that makes simple and complete sense to you, then he doesn't understand it himself. God made the universe simple. The only parts of it that seem complicated to us are the parts we don't yet understand. Once we figure them out, then they turn out to be simple too. eg. gravity, the tides, rainbows and DNA.

No one in here can stand on a pedestal and say "Don't question me!" My Gosh, that's what we're here for!

In this case, it just struck me as blindingly obvious that there had to be something over that fireplace to support the bricks, and that no one even could build that fireplace opening without something to support the brickwork. It stuck me that the same thing should also be obvious to you, but now I realize that it wouldn't be to someone new to this sort of thing. After all, the Romans built openings in masonary walls without steel or even stone lintels. They used arches, and those worked too.

Sorry that you may have taken my comments wrong. You question us, girl. You keep questioning until you understand. That's the purpose of this web site.

I'd just take a small masonary chisel and chip out the mortar with the gap. Typically, you need 3/4 inch of depth for the new mortar to lock into the joint well. You can also use a hand grinder to remove the old mortar, but it'll create an awful lot of dust, so don't do that unless you put up plastic sheeting from floor to ceiling all around the fireplace to contain the dust. Dampen the surfaces of the brick and mortar you want the new mortar to stick to, and add some white wood glue to the new mortar to help it stick well. And, if you're fairly new to masonary, use masking tape both above and below the joint to keep the new mortar off the faces of the adjacent bricks. Wait a half hour after placing the new mortar and then pack the joint with a small piece of 1/2 inch copper pipe to "tool" the joint so that it looks like all the others.

Or, just leave it the way it is. It won't do any harm. And, that way if anyone questions you about why those bricks seem to be floating in the air, explain to them that it's not magic and there has to be a lintel under there somewhere to support their weight. Otherwise, gravity would take over. Make it a conversation piece. Dazzle people with your understanding of modern masonary construction techniques.

SavvyCat 03-15-2010 12:45 PM

Okay! Okay! Not to belabor the point, but I wasn't sure if it was part of the whole fireplace/chimney structure, or just fancy brickwork to match the inside with the out. You're right, it's obvious that as a facade it would need something to hold it up.

The larger question isn't why it hasn't dropped down, but why the top part hasn't toppled over. I want to know what's behind it since it has broken the seal from the wall on either side. I want to know if it's open enough that I'll be invaded by baby geckos again. :)

How about if I just tile over it with something like this:

I dunno. I'll probably just do as you suggest (or find someone who will).

oldognewtrick 03-15-2010 01:14 PM

Savy, you have a prefab insert fireplace. The brick on the wall is just a veneer its not a structural chimney. Something has caused the hearth to deflect, I would go to the basement, crawl space and see whats supporting the hearth. If you don't stabilize the hearth it will probably continue to move. Somethings going on under the floor.:2cents:

Nestor_Kelebay 03-15-2010 07:58 PM

She says the house is built on a slab, so there is no basement or crawl space. Everything just sits on that concrete slab.



I wasn't sure if it was part of the whole fireplace/chimney structure, or just fancy brickwork to match the inside with the out.
So, is there a chimney built out of the same kind of bricks on the outside of the house behind that fireplace? It's not just a galvanized steel chimney?

If so, then I expect that the brickwork on the inside of the house is, as Oldog/Newtrick said, just a facade, and completely independant of the brick chimney on the outside of the house, and that you can remove that brick facade inside of the house without affecting the operation of the fireplace or chimney at all.

As for tiling around the fire place, you CAN use mosaic tiles (as is shown in your picture). However, from a practical standpoint, when it comes to ceramic tiling, it's always the grout lines that require all the maintenance, and create all the problems. If it wuz me, I'd minimize the amount of maintenance, cleaning and problems I have with the grout by minimizing the amount of grout. That is, I'd use LARGE (12 inch square) high gloss dark porcelain tiles so that I have very little grout to contend with. Also, I'd use a dark tile and dark grout so that any soot deposited on the tiling won't show as much. Like maybe a dark blue tile and brown or black grout.

More like this:
The bigger the tiles, the less grout, and the less work you'll need to do to keep the grout clean and free of soot. If you opt for a dark grout, then it won't show soot staining from using the fireplace.

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