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Update old fireplace with a steel sleeve

By Alan J. Heavens
Philadelphia Inquirer
BIZ REAL-SELLERS 3 PH
GERALD S. WILLIAMS - MCT FILE PHOTO
Today’s home buyers want everything in perfect condition, and a nonworking fireplace could kill a deal.

Q. Our house was built in 1898. I am told we cannot use our fireplace unless we install a sleeve that would cost $3,000 to $6,000.

As an alternative, is there such a thing as a gas-fired Franklin stove-type insert that could be put in without venting or, perhaps, with an exhaust pipe up the chimney?

Since the fireplace is smack in the middle of the house, an insert could provide a true heat benefit. But I would prefer not to risk asphyxiation.

A. First of all, who said you could not use the fireplace, and why? Was it the same person who provided the fireplace-sleeve estimate? Did you get a second opinion?

The estimate is about correct. For several years, I’ve been asking real estate agents and remodelers who handle older homes with flues lined with tiles or pargeted with mortar about the cost of installing stainless-steel sleeves, and the answer has always come back “about $4,000.”

Would it be a good idea to spend the money on the sleeve? It depends on how long you are going to live in your house. If you plan to move in a few years, be advised that today’s buyers want everything in perfect condition, and that a nonworking fireplace could kill a deal.

Metal sleeves are the easiest to install, certainly more so than tiles in an existing chimney. Poured-in cement liners – cast in place – are an option, too, and last about 50 years. I’m not sure of the price.

The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association says a fireplace insert needs to be placed in an existing masonry or factory-built fireplace with a working chimney. A fireplace insert is either vented through a working chimney, direct vented or vent-free, depending on fuel choice.

In most cases, a chimney liner is required. The type and size is specific to the fuel.

Ventless gas inserts or logs come with carbon monoxide and oxygen-depletion sensors that automatically shut off the system if there is an operation problem. Some municipalities have rules against ventless fireplaces, though, so check with the building department before you proceed.

Older fireplaces lose a lot of heat. The association rates older fireplaces’ efficiency at 5 percent to 10 percent.

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