Are Fireplaces Load Bearing? -A Complete Guide

If you are considering a home renovation project that includes removing a fireplace and chimney, then you may be wondering if that fireplace is load-bearing. A load-bearing wall is important for the structural support of a home, so before you take a sledgehammer to the fireplace brick, pause to read this article first.

A fireplace is generally load-bearing when it’s positioned against or inside the exterior walls. They function as structural support here. Fireplaces located or positioned against interior walls are generally not load-bearing. In any case, it’s always best to consult a professional when it comes to altering your home’s structural support.

While it is, of course, advisable to seek a professional’s opinion first, there are some tips that can help you determine whether or not your fireplace is load-bearing or clear for a simple DIY removal. Read on to learn about how to tell if a fireplace is load-bearing and if chimneys can be used as structural support.

How To Tell If A Fireplace Is Load-Bearing

A general rule of thumb to see if a wall – or fireplace – is load-bearing is to check how it aligns with floor joists. If the wall runs parallel to the joists, it is less likely to be load-bearing. Fireplaces located near or against exterior walls also tend to be load-bearing, whereas fireplaces located against interior walls usually aren’t.

Some indicators to look for on load-bearing fireplaces are: 1) is it located on an exterior wall? 2) is the home old or historic? and 3) what type of building material is the chimney breast made of? 

1. Exterior Walls

Exterior walls are typically load-bearing walls that support the roof and sit into the foundation of a home. Therefore, if you find your fireplace and chimney on an exterior wall, it is very likely that it too is load-bearing.

In these scenarios, removing a fireplace and chimney is possible with the guidance of a structural engineer that can reinforce the lost support of a missing chimney.

2. Old Homes

Old homes are another situation in which you may find the chimney and fireplace to be load-bearing. Wood burning fireplaces and stoves were a common method of heating homes before the age of furnaces and central heat. Sometimes the chimney even runs straight through the middle of the home.

A chimney through the middle of a home does not always indicate load-bearing; however, the chimney’s masonry may be used to anchor beams and joists. Before removing a central chimney, check if there is structural support attached to the masonry.

3. Check The Building Material

Check the building material on the fireplace surround. If the building material on the surround is a veneer or a wooden surround, then it is possible the fireplace is not load-bearing. A veneer is a lightweight decorative material and is not capable of holding structural weight.

It is important to note that although the surround may not be load-bearing, the chimney breast behind the wall might be.

When Is A Fireplace Not Load-Bearing?

A fireplace is generally not load-bearing if it’s located against the interior walls. Furthermore, gas and electric fireplaces are generally not load-bearing, as they don’t require a chimney. Fireplaces with small chimneys also tend not to be load-bearing.

Fireplaces are usually load-bearing because of the chimney. The chimney breast can be a rather large structure that’s used as part of the structural support. However, electric and gas fireplaces typically don’t have a chimney. In that case, there’s a good chance your fireplace is not load-bearing.

The same goes for fireplaces with relatively small chimneys. If the chimney is only a small one, it can’t hold that much weight, in which case, it might not be load-bearing.

Can Chimneys Be Structural Support?

A chimney can function as structural support to a home, especially if it’s located on the exterior wall. Other times, beams, roofing, and floor joists may be anchored into the chimney breast, meaning that the chimney is a part of the structural support.

Removing the chimney stack or chimney breast would mean that any structural support it is providing would need to be replaced with new structural support.

For example, if a chimney breast on the main floor is used as structural support for a second floor, then by removing it, a beam or column would need to be added as a substitute to the chimney breast.

To understand how different portions of a fireplace and chimney can offer support, let’s go into a little more detail on each.

The Chimney Stack

The chimney stack is the portion that runs above a roofline. This portion of a fireplace is not load-bearing since it sits above the structure. It is, however, heavy.

This means that if a portion of the chimney or fireplace is removed below the chimney stack, it needs to be supported. Otherwise, you might need to entirely remove the chimney stack as well, which could influence the home’s value.

Typically, in total chimney removal projects, the work is done from the top down, and the chimney stack is first to go.

The Chimney Breast

A chimney breast is the portion of the fireplace that encases the flue and the fireplace box. It typically juts out from the wall into the room and is made of masonry. This portion is usually the part that is likely to be load-bearing.

The masonry, which encases the flue, may provide structural support to the walls and roof. If a portion of the chimney breast is removed to buy back precious floor space in a room, then support needs to be added to hold up the rest of the chimney.

A removal of a portion of the chimney breast – especially if it takes up a large amount of space in your home –is possible to do without compromising structural soundness. Therefore, unless support for the chimney above has been removed, part of the chimney breast could be removed without requiring additional support.

Should You Remove A Chimney Breast?

Due to the fact that a chimney breast is frequently load bearing, it can be costly to replace the support. However, to increase the amount of living space in a room or to take down a wall for an open concept feel, this renovation can certainly be done with a professional’s help.

Removing chimneys can be quite the costly project. However, winning back some precious floor space could be well worth the wait.

One important thing to consider is the impact of removing a fireplace/chimney. Fireplaces are becoming more and more popular and studies have shown that the inclusion of a fireplace can dramatically increase a home’s value.

Dan Westfield

Hi everyone! My name is Dan and I currently have two fireplaces, a wood-burning and a gas one. I cannot live without them and love to share my passion with you all!

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