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House Post: Fireboard

A few weeks ago, I called a chimney specialist to see if we could get the fireplace in our living room operational again.

The previous owners had done…something…to it. It’s still a little opaque to me. At some point, they had a wood stove there, for sure. At some point, there was a chimney fire and they had to put in a new liner. I have absolutely no idea of the chronology of these things. Was the liner there a new one, currently intact? Would we need a new liner? Had they put in the wood stove as a reaction to the chimney fire, or was it the wood stove that caused the fire and nothing had been touched since? Was there anything else we needed to do?

Chimney guy was…extremely less than helpful, quoted $5k just to start investigating, and probably more like $10k when we were done, and strongly suggested we get an insert. Which – when I told him I didn’t like the look of inserts, he said I was the first person who had ever said that. I DON’T THINK SO, DUDE. Fireplace inserts are a very distinct look and one that is very different from actual fireplace.

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There’s nothing wrong with them if that’s the way you want to go. But let’s be very clear about them looking very different, right? And I get it – they’re more efficient, easier to clean, probably safer, all sorts of things. But we wanted the fireplace as an occasional cozy winter thing, not as an actual heat source for the house.

After giving me a scare lecture about another chimney entirely in a different part of the house, about which more another day, he also pointed out one last thing: we were losing a LOT of heat out of the fireplace.

It sounds obvious, right? But after five years in the house I’m still learning a lot of “obvious” things and kicking myself for not dealing with them sooner. Oh well.

I pondered for a bit and decided to make a fireplace board to air-seal the fireplace and provide a bit of decoration to the room. Fireplace boards are a very old solution to that same problem.

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You could spend all day getting sucked into some gorgeous antique ones, and they’re very collectible. You can also get modern ones in old styles.

The concept is really basic, though: it goes in the fireplace hole and it blocks heat. I figured that was a project I could handle.

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Step 1 was to frame out a board that would fit the space, using scrap plywood and 2x4s.

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Step 2 was to fill it with a can of foam insulation that I had laying around.

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Step 3 was to fill in the nail holes and the crack with wood filler, which I will never use again, amen. I called my brother halfway through and ranted about how much it sucked and what was I doing wrong and got the news that wood filler just sucks and he always mixes wood glue and sawdust for a custom fill. Sigh. Next time.

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Step 4 was to prime the board, which I forgot to take a picture of.

Step 5 was to actually insert it, and use a combination of things to airseal it: garage door rubber on the sides, and mortite and felt stripping in other spots. It actually looks better than it sounds.

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Step 6, put everything back and marvel at my more comfortable living room!

Step 7, at some undetermined point in the future, will be to add decorative paint, but my priority was getting it in place for now and stopping the heat loss, especially since last month we got $600 in heating bills, ugh.

In the meantime, it looks neater, does its job, and was a nice project that used up entirely material I had around the house. Overall investment, maybe 3 hours, but most of that was running up and down the cellar stairs because I kept effing up the sizing.

One thought on “House Post: Fireboard

  1. It never ends with old houses. Never. I will confess that I do like the look of inserts. 🙂 They also have the advantage on sealing the fireplace to prevent heat loss when not in use and to keep smoke from coming in the living room. But also, here something like that would get a lot of use.

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