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Can brick be removed from a fireplace wall?

Answered by Jeffrey Anderson ~ January 20, 2013 ~ No Comments » | Respond to this question

The previous owners of my late 90s rancher added a sunroom behind the chimney in the living room. One wall in the sunroom is all brick because it was once the outside of the house. Can I take the brick down and put up sheet rock? What kind of barrier could I use? The fireplace is a gas insert.

E. W. - Huntsville, AL

Jeffrey Anderson

There are actually two issues that need to be considered to answer your question: fire safety and the structural integrity of your home. You mention that the wall used to be on the outside of the house before the sunroom was added. How far does the brick extend up past the ceiling level of the room?

If the brick goes up another level or into a gable, all that material will either need to be supported or removed before the brick below can be taken out. The weight of the material is enough that it might fall and could damage your home and even injure someone if you remove its support.

If you plan on removing all the brick, I don't see a problem as long as you start at the top and work your way down. However, if you plan on leaving some of the material in place above the level of the sunroom, I highly recommend that you consult with an architect or engineer before starting the project. Depending on how high the brick goes, they may have you add a lintel or beam for support. The weight of the material and the span the support covers will determine the size that is needed.

As to whether you are creating a fire hazard by removing the brick and replacing it with sheetrock, I don't think that would be the case. However, you should take a look at the installation instructions that came with the fireplace insert to confirm that is correct. If you don't have the instructions, I suggest having a fireplace contractor come out to take a look at your proposed project. It may seem like a lot of trouble, but it's better than a house fire.

Gas fireplace inserts normally either have a vent through an exterior wall like a clothes dryer or a metal flue that extends up the old chimney. In both cases, as long as you maintain the clearance from combustibles recommended by the fireplace manufacturer, you should be in good shape.

The sheetrock you are installing isn't considered to be a combustible material. However, the framing that will need to be put in to hold the sheetrock will be flammable. If there is a metal flue in the chimney, follow the manufacturer's recommendations as to how close it can be to framing -- even if there is masonry around the metal -- as the mortar could eventually come loose.

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