Showing posts with label fireplace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fireplace. Show all posts

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Back in 2010 I had the fireplaces professionally cleaned specifically so I could light a fire for Thanksgiving. We have two fireplaces: one upstairs in the living room and one in the finished portion of the basement. They have separate smoke chambers that run side by side in the same chimney.

Our basement room started filling with smoke shortly after I lit a fire in the living room fireplace. Either the deformed damper that was permanently stuck in the open position downstairs was sucking in smoke from the upstairs chimney OR we had a crack or break in the brick/mortar between the two smoke chambers. Regardless, we never used our fireplaces again because I couldn't afford that kind of work at the time.

We decided to splurge and have gas inserts installed in the fireplaces, which would bypass the need to replace the dampers or deal with cracks between the two smoke chambers. I got three bids and ultimately decided to go with All Fuel. I felt like they really took everything into consideration, including how to deal with the curved front of the fireplace downstairs.

In order to comply with code, we had to install a hearth in the basement. We used Neilson Construction and I couldn't be more pleased with the job they did.

Just for fun, let's look again at what the fireplace looked like when I moved in.

The previous owner had installed a hearth, poorly and incorrectly, and it broke up when I accidentally hit it with a floor scraper. Hall and Oates were sort of blocking the cold air that came in because the damper was deformed and stuck in the open position.

I don't even know, guys.

The flooring was cut away to accommodate the new tile. You might be asking why we went with a hearth that's wider than the fireplace. When we installed the laminate flooring we couldn't get the flooring flush with the curved, irregular bricks of the fireplace, which left a 3/4" gap on the sides. It was too irregular to use something like quarter round (and that would've looked dumb, anyway), so I decided to have the guy tile around it. I wish I had a picture of the gap but I somehow missed that spot in the 1.4 billion photos I've taken of this house.

I also went looking on Houzz and it turns out an extra-large hearth isn't all that abnormal. Yay! This would've been a fun time to install some funky tile but I really just wanted this hearth to look like it had always been there. We found tile that exactly matched the 6" x 6" tile upstairs and went with that.

Original upstairs fireplace tile
New downstairs fireplace tile! It's just missing the transition strip.

Tom, the tile installer, hand cut all the tiles to fit around the clinker bricks. I swear I almost wept when I saw what a meticulous job he did. I want to retile our bathroom NOW before he retires. He seriously rocked this job.

All Fuel took the wood piece we had covering the firebox and had a metal fabricator create a perfect match. They had to grind away some of the brick edges to get everything to sit flush. They told me that this was one of the most challenging installs they'd ever completed.

And here we are now.


And after:

Next project: get a mantel built

Now, to the living room! Upstairs we were missing a tile.

The tile is all original to the house and it's unlikely we'd be able to find a match. We opted to pick out new tile that looked almost identical, then had them chip out the old. They left the granite corner pieces, which are still in fine condition.

Like it was always there

Now I just need to stain the hearth grout (they informed me that it was originally charcoal colored and has bleached out over the years) and we should be good to go.

I want to reiterate how great All Fuel was to work with. We had to wait about three weeks to get a bid from them and wait a little longer for install, because they are in such high demand. Their bid was $2000 less than Jacobs and they covered all the little things that make these projects better. They wear booties in your house so they don't gunk up your floors. They put down drop cloths. They are very communicative about what they're doing, when. They are unfailingly nice and very clean. Someone picks up the phone right away when you call. The install takes three days total and this was probably the least stressful project I've ever endured (for the record, insulation was the most stressful).

Likewise, Tom at Neilson Construction was fantastic. There were several times when I asked for things (extra cuts! more tile!) that created more work for him and he cheerfully gave me exactly what I wanted. He was so easy to work with.

If you need me, I plan to be camped out right here for the next few months.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Help me pick a paint color.

I like to paint a large area when I'm waffling over color choices but I think the color swatches, combined with the 6 existing paint colors, skidded right past "helpful" and right into "confusing." The walls will be the olive green you see on the lower half of the wall.

It looks sort of awesome the way it is, no?  *Sigh.*

But seriously, which looks better? Dark gray or white? Or something completely different?


Rachel makes me realize that I haven't specified what the color scheme will be in this room.  This is the inspiration photo for the room:

The rug will get swapped out for a light blue one and there will be pops of red.  So I'd like the fireplace to have some drama  . . . but more of the black-white spectrum kind. And of course I'll put a bird on it. :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Things are happening!

One of the things on my wishlist for my reveal was for the living room to be painted and the mirror above the fireplace be removed. When the house stager informed me that she'd have to hire painters and a contractor to remove the mirror, I told her to forget it and just focus on getting me furniture. 'Cause I paint and labor for free.

I had no idea what was behind the mirror--it could be water damage, an exposed fireplace, an envelope of money . . . who knows. I conned the boy into helping me remove the mirror this weekend.

The mirror was really heavy but it came down pretty easily.

Then we just had to remove the wood structure behind the mirror.

Next I just have to clean, patch, sand, and prime that area, and then I can get started on painting the living room.  New year's house resolutions, I WILL OWN YOU.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Painting the fireplace, for reals this time

I scraped up all the vinyl tiles from the basement floor and it looked like there was nothing else left for me to remove from the space, so I could finally paint the fireplace.

There's no unpainting a fireplace, so you have to be really really sure you want to do it.  I was sure.  But first I had to remove Hall and Oates. I was terrified there would be dead animals or something sinister (like SPIDERS!) in the grate.  I removed the screws and got my prybar and popped Hall off.  Then I scurried back super fast.

There wasn't anything terrible in there.  There was something pretty good, actually: one of the missing bricks from the right side of the fireplace!  Sweet.


I vacuumed the bricks really thoroughly to get any loose grit or mortar out.  I used a little TSP to clean the front bricks that were looking charred, though it didn't seem to do much.  Then I just grabbed plain old white latex paint and started painting from the top down.

I used a regular brush instead of a roller because the fireplace is made of clinker bricks and what looks like pumice stone.  The surface is very porous and uneven.  According to, "Clinker bricks were the result of wet bricks being placed to close to the fire in the kiln, resulting in bricks that were darker-coloured and in either ‘melted’ or ‘exploded’ shapes. The surface texture of the bricks could range from glassy to pock-marked from the uneven heat. Richer, darker colours of the ‘clinker’ bricks were another welcome result from the extra heat."

The funny thing is that I was absolutely sure I wanted to paint the fireplace.  When I posted the pictures on Facebook a friend told me they were clinker bricks, something I didn't know previously.  All of the sudden I felt despair over what I had done.  They were historical! Used in the Arts and Crafts movement! Now the only thing that could restore them was a sandblaster.


But I think it's going to be okay.  Next weekend we are installing the laminate and hopefully it will start to feel less like a basement and more like another room in the house.  I want to do something like this over the fireplace to warm up the space.  


And of course I'll hang Hall and Oates.  And the disco ball.  Too much?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to paint your fireplace

Do you want to update your grimy old fireplace?  A coat of paint is a good option, particularly if you're never going to use the fireplace for fire.  These bricks would look lovely with a coat of white paint.

Before you start you'll want to make sure that you put all the paint cans you've ever used (empty or full) in the basement, regardless of whether you'll need them. You'll want to trip over these later, especially since you'll be wearing contacts that are the wrong prescription, making walking a little tricky.  That's just the price you pay so your glasses aren't fogging up constantly with a ventilator mask on your face.

You'll also want to plan a dinner party for the evening.  Decide that morning to make homemade bread, despite the fact that you've *never* made an edible loaf of yeasted bread before.  Tonight will be different.

You'll want to remove the tack strips that surround the fireplace hearth, lest you accidentally kneel on one of those upward facing nails.  They were left from when you removed the carpeting.  Grab your handy floor scraper and start to loosen the rotting wood.

Accidentally take out half of a hearth stone with the floor scraper.  Whoops. 

You know what?  You never liked those that much and they aren't original to the house, so let's just get rid of all of them.

Some of the vinyl glue-down tiles popped off when you were scraping, so just scrape a few off around the fireplace.  You'll want to leave the rest alone because scraping up all the tile in the basement would be crazy.  

Shhhh . . . did you hear that? That was your friend Carrie, screaming "ASBESTOS IN THE VINYL TILE!" from a mile down the road.  But it's okay; you're wearing a mask and you're only removing a couple of tiles.


Crap.  That looks like water. Just a little bit, but water nonetheless.  Decide to switch to pulling up the tack strips that run along every wall.  

But first, run upstairs to do the first kneading of the bread. Finally read the recipe in full and realize that it requires FOUR rises and the bread won't be ready to go into the oven until 8 pm, never mind that you need to cook the chicken and the veggies too, all at different tempuratures.

Add "baguette" to your shopping list and return to the basement.

VERY IMPORTANT: put on the grimiest pair of work gloves you own so that you're sure to leave the highest number of smudges and smears on your freshly painted walls.  If something is worth doing, it's worth doing three times because you couldn't be bothered to be careful.


Wedge your prybar under the rotting wood and try to wrench it free from the basement floor.  Ding the drywall you so painstakingly mudded and sanded and primed and sanded and painted as many times as possible.  Once you finally have all the tack strips up, scrape some more tile from the SW corner of the basement, realizing that there's water in other areas, too.  

Realize that you really should scrape up all the vinyl tiles and put down some sort of sealant before you install the laminate flooring.  Sweep up as much of the vinyl tiles as you can and get them outside because they probably contain ASBESTOS, OH MY GOD, ASBESTOS and then use your shop vac to clean up all the debris you left.  Try to clog the shop vac as many times as possible.  

Hint: it's more times than you'd ever think possible.

Spray a bleach solution on the exposed concrete in the worthless hope that this might take care of any mold issues in the basement.  The hallmark of good home improvement is a smelly house, especially if you have guests coming over that night.  

Marvel at your updated fireplace.  Isn't it lovely?

The baguette?  It was delicious.