Removing a chimney breast and why you need a party wall agreement
Taking out a chimney breast. It can look like an easy way to make a room bigger in an older house. At first glance it seems easy, knock it out with a sledgehammer, bag up the rubble, plaster the wall, decorate and hey presto a few extra square metres of living space.
But… it isn’t that easy. And you also need to do a fair bit of paperwork. Read on to find out more.
How easy is it to remove a chimney breast?
Chimney breasts are part of the 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 section and chimney stack itself above it. There is probably the best part of a tonne of masonry. This will all need properly supporting. It may also be shared with next door.
You could of course ignore it, make sure nobody sits under it, cross your fingers and hope for the best, but when you come to sell, a surveyor will spot this. You will then need to do this work which will be far more expensive, or you will not be able to sell the house.
How do I remove the chimney breast properly?
This is not usually a DIY project. We would strongly advise you call in the professionals. Usually, the chimney breast will need to be removed using hand tools. It’s messy and any vibration can dislodge bricks and soot. Worst of all, on a shared wall, it may dislodge bricks that divide your house from your neighbour and there’s no guarantee they will fall down on your side.
Once you have removed the breast, the remaining sections of chimney and the stack will need to be supported. Usually this will need a steel beam. In some circumstances a system of gallows brackets may be agreeable to the building inspector, but you must check with your local building control office first.
What will NOT work is supporting the chimney breast on bits of timber nailed to the joists or a scaffold pole slung between two joists, or a metal plate resting on the joists or brick corbelling (yes, we’ve seen all these when doing a building survey!). You will need the help of a structural engineer to prepare some calculations for you to ensure the support is properly designed.
Do I need Building Control approval to remove my chimney breast?
Because this work is structural you will need building regulation approval, and proof of it too. When we carry out a building survey or Homebuyer report for a purchaser, we always recommend the buyer’s solicitor checks the approval and gets a copy of the completion certificate. You can usually use the building notice procedure to apply and get your consent. There is some useful guidance on the Local Authority Building Control website.
If you are selling and haven’t got building regulation approval you can apply for retrospective consent, but this will take time, and may require the ceiling to be opened up to demonstrate what’s there. And if it does not comply with the building regs, you will have to put it right.
So now you’ve got the structural design, the building regulation approval, the sledgehammer and the rubble sacks, you can crack on…. Or can you?
Do I need my neighbour’s agreement before removing my chimney breast?
If the chimney stack is on a shared or party wall you will need a party wall agreement.
If you are doing any work on a party wall (and removing a chimney breast from a party wall is quite major structural work) you must follow the procedures laid out in the Party Wall etc Act. This means, that before you even think about wielding the sledgehammer, and 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.
What if I live in a flat?
The chimney runs all the way down from the top of the building to the bottom so don’t forget, if there are flats above and below you, you will need to serve them a notice.
As this work that can affect the whole building, the freeholder will also need notifying, and you will usually need their consent. This may not be forthcoming and your upper or lower neighbours may not agree to your plans either. That is because removing the chimney breast in your flat may make it impossible for the other flats to use their chimney breasts if they wanted to, perhaps with a gas fire or wood burning stove for instance.
You might also need to do structural work in areas outside your domain which is unlikely to be acceptable. If the other flat owners or freeholder refuse permission for you to do the work, then there is very little recourse.
What should I put in my party wall notice?
The Party Wall Act states clearly what needs to be included in a notice. You could put the same information in a letter. It is essential that you write to your neighbour. A quick conflab over the garden fence, or in the shared stairwell will not do! We’ve put some free party wall notice templates on our site too. You’ll need to use a section 3 party structure notice
What if one or all of my neighbours don’t give party wall agreement?
Do not assume your neighbour will agree. If they do, you must get this in writing and it must be signed by them. If they don’t agree you will need to appoint a surveyor and our Fixed Fee Party Wall Service may be a good way of dealing with this. Unlike flats, your sideways neighbour cannot stop you doing your work, but can ensure it is done so that it does not compromise their chimney.
Can I take down the whole chimney if my neighbour doesn’t use it?
Only with their written agreement. They do not have to agree to this. You will probably be responsible for all of the work including making good their roof.
Steven Way, Practice Principal, Collier Stevens, comments: “I cannot overstate the importance of doing this work properly. Apart from the party wall implications, surveyors will always check chimney breasts and their support when they survey a house for a purchaser. If it is not done properly sales fall apart and the value of the house can be impacted. Don’t imagine that surveyors won’t spot this. They will. Cutting corners is cheap in the short term and can be very expensive in the longer term.”
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