So, you have a lovely house, but the two alcoves in the living room and bedroom are beginning to drive you mad. You could do so much more with the space if the chimney breast wasn’t there: a nice little free standing stove, or maybe even just use the space for furniture. But could you just remove the chimney breast? Take a sledgehammer to it, slap a bit of plaster on to tidy up the wall and decorate – bish, bash, bosh. Done!
Chimney breasts are part of a building’s structure and taking them out should be approached in the same way as taking out a load bearing wall – the ground floor chimney breast will have the first floor, attic sections of the chimney and the chimney stack itself above it and it will all need properly supporting. For this you may need the advice of a structural engineer – it is nearly always more complicated than you think.
And the chimney breast may also be shared with next door if they are on a party wall.
And this is why you should never consider removing a chimney breast without following party wall procedures – unless of course the chimney breast is not on a wall adjoining a neighbour.
It is English Law that you must notify all adjoining owners if you intend to carry out building work which involves work on an existing party wall or party structure. If work starts without a notice being given and an agreement being reached, an adjoining owner might be able to stop the work through a court injunction or seek other legal redress.
Serving a party wall notice
At least two months before you start work you must serve a written notice to your neighbours telling them what you are going to do. If the building next to you has been converted into flats, your chimney breast still goes through the whole building, so you will need to notify each of the tenant’s flat owners, as well as the freeholder of the whole building – so if there are two flats that will be three notices and three agreements to get. The Party Wall Act states clearly what needs to be included in a notice and it’s essential that you put this in writing to your neighbour.
Once you have ticked these boxes, do not assume your neighbour will simply agree. However, if they do agree, you must get it in writing and it must be signed by them. If they don’t agree, then a party wall dispute has begun and surveyors must be appointed. You will need to appoint a surveyor to assist with any dispute and your neighbours need to appoint one too, but you should try to get your neighbours to use one surveyor, ideally the same as yours. This is known as an Agreed Surveyor.
Call in the surveyor
It’s often a better idea to get a surveyor involved at the start to try prevent any issues. They can properly advise you and serve the correct notices as any mistake can invalidate the whole process. Collier Stevens offers a Low Cost Fixed Fee Party Wall Service. We can do all the leg work for you – issuing party wall notices, confirming agreement and dealing with any issues and concerns. If you are unsure or need help you can call us. We are happy to provide free initial advice and guidance – Contact us.
And finally, once you have got the party wall agreements in place, make sure all your work on the chimney breast removal follows building regs and is done properly, by a professional. It’s structural work so there is a whole host of health and safety and building regulations to ensure you follow. If you don’t you could become a cropper when it comes to selling your house and a surveyor finds any unwanted issues.
(Originally published by Steven Way, 18 April 2017)