Fireplace Repair & Renovation

Parent Q&A

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  • Carpenter for Fireplace Surround

    (1 reply)

    I am looking for a carpenter who can help me design and build a fireplace surround and adjoining built in bookshelves for our 1914 craftsman fixer upper. The fireplace is currently stripped down to the brick bones and is a very sorry sight. I’m hoping to find someone creative and cost effective. Appreciate any referrals! 

    First, let me apologize up-front if you've already dealt with these issues....

    Many homes in Berkeley built in the late teens and early 20s have crumbling foundations due to problems in the concrete formulation. On my block, most of houses have new foundations, capped foundations (not great), or big gaps and cracks. Unfortunately, there are contractors who claim to earthquake-proof by bolting into these foundations -- as the guy who fixed a neighbor's foundation said, it's like bolting into butter.

    In addition, many fireplaces were built without much foundation. In our case, the bricks of one edge of the fireplace sat on the foundation, the rest on the ground, so the chimney twisted and leaned away from the house. Same with our neighbors' chimneys. The movement cracked the chimney tiles, so that using the fireplace was a fire hazard. We ended up demolishing ours and replacing it with a wood-burning insert that functions as a furnace while still looking like a fireplace. Some of our neighbors rebuilt with inserts while others removed the fireplace entirely and rebuilt that part of the wall and roof. Few of the old masonry fireplaces remain. Even solid masonry is risky in earthquake country without adding serious support.

    So if you haven't yet done so, please find out if your brick fireplace is salvageable, before you make it pretty!

  • Fireplace Removal recs?

    (1 reply)

    Hi BPN community!

    We are looking for services to remove our unusable fireplace in our 100-year old Craftsman home. Not only was the chimney closed off by the previous owners, the weight of the fireplace is causing the house to slowly slope. We’re also looking forward to gaining a bit more space in our small home with this removal!

    Any recs or shared experiences greatly welcome and appreciated! Many thanks!

    We used Mister Chimney in the South Bay to rebuild our chimney, but they also gave us a quote for full removal. They were great to work with, and I had a tough time finding many local places that did this type of work.

  • Gas fireplace repair

    (5 replies)


    Our gas fireplace insert pilot light will light, but that’s it. The blowers won’t work, or something else isn’t functioning correctly. Does anyone have any suggestions for gas fireplace repair/maintenance? All the posts on this topic are years old. 


    We recently bought a gas insert from Summit Fireplace and Grill. They're pretty much the only decent place in the Bay Area that deals with all things fireplace-related. It's a good company, but please be patient with them now; we experienced delays due to supply chain issues. Here's Yelp:

    We got our gas fireplace insert installed with Top Notch Energy. They also do repairs and maintenance. Good luck!

    We’ve had fantastic experiences with Mr. Chimney. They’re professional, polite, responsive, and their prices seem very fair. 

    We've found Alex Killborn of AK Gas Fireplace Repair and they completely replaced the guts of ours as it stopped lighting entirely. Other folks came out and didn't know what to do, was very confident that Alex understood the issue. [at]

    I'm not sure if this is exactly what you are dealing with, but we have a gas fireplace stove, and few people know how to work on them-- we used Eco-Tech and he was great. 

  • Hi, We have a very old house, and a fireplace that we haven’t used in decades.  It’s very likely we won’t be selling the house, so the question / potential solution are only for us, and we don’t need to think about potential future buyers. That being said, I’m not 100% clear on what needs to be or could be done, and what kind of person could do the work. We’ve seen photos of nice looking unused fireplaces that have shelves in them, for decorative items, etc.  To permanently close off the fireplace, are we looking for a chimney repair person?  Handyman?  General contractor?  Ideally we’d like one person to both close off the fireplace, and “make it nice” by removing unsightly bricks and installing some nice shelves. Has anyone had this kind of work done?  Who did you use?  Approximate cost!  Other things to think about?  Thanks for any recommendations / advice. 

    In houses of a certain era, rooms are designed with the fireplace as the literal focal point (focus, Latin for hearth or fireplace).

    Unless you are literally immortal and expect to outlive the house, please don't remove or permanently disable the fireplace -- that work cannot be reversed. Some day, after you are gone, someone with period architectural sensitivity is likely to want that fireplace, "unsightly" bricks notwithstanding. There are several reversible options outlined here:

    We got a gas fireplace insert, if you like the idea of creating cozy, warm winter nights without the pollution and clean up. It was some years ago and I can't remember the company that we hired (found on a quick Yelp search), but I wanted to offer an alternate suggestion, as we love having our fireplace usable with the push of a button. (The cat's pretty excited about it, too.)

    We recently had our chimney and fireplace removed from the section above the roof down to below the floor level (we left the foundation). It wasn’t cheap, but for us it was definitely worth it. The thing sucked the heat out of our house and the masonry (especially the chimney above the roof) is just a collapse risk in an earthquake. It opened up space in our living room and makes it much more usable.

    For us, the chimney demo and removal was around $5k including disposal of all of the brick and concrete. We had to patch our roof, do sheetrock (and paint), and patch the floor as well. We were doing other work at the time, so we already had a general contractor and the incremental additional cost of these items was negligible. If this is a one off project and not lumped into something else, you might budget another $3-5k for those repairs?  

    A general contractor is the easiest but most expensive option. Alternatively you can sub it out yourself. For the demo, I would not use a handyman but would go with a demolition company (I’ve had good experiences with Impact Demolition, but they didn’t do this job for us). The patching could maybe be done by a good handy person. It depends on what’s impacted - interior, exterior, floor, roof, etc.

    We had our earthquake damaged fireplace completely removed a few years ago. I can’t give you an exact price because it was combined with installing a new gas fireplace in another room that made much more sense for a fireplace. It wasn’t cheap though. The house was built in ‘61 and the fireplace was a brick behemoth. We had it removed by a contractor. It was a huge, messy, time consuming job to remove it and install framing, drywall, flooring, paint, roof, etc. 

    I don’t know what you mean by “very old” but if your house is older than mine, you might keep the fireplace for aesthetic and architectural reasons another poster suggested. I grew up in a beautiful house built in the early 1900s and love the old fireplace which my dad retrofitted by installing a small wood stove. You might look into that or a gas insert. We love our gas fireplace which we use more than our heater.
    Good luck with the project! 

    We put our dog's bed in ours.  Seems as good a use as any!  

    I don't understand why you want to seal the fireplace. You can store books in there without sealing it. If you want to keep the heat in the house from escaping up the chimney, you can just put a piece of cardboard up the chimney. The main problem with putting books in there is the soot. I'm not sure how you could get rid of that. Maybe with a steam cleaner. Seems easier just to put a pretty screen in front of the fireplace and call it a day. 

  • Fireplace Gas Insert Recommendation Wanted

    (7 replies)

    Even though our home heating system works fine, we're thinking about adding a fireplace gas insert for extra warmth in the living room.

    I'd be interested in recommendations for inserts, and for people who can install them.

    We put one in about 3 years ago and love it.  So do our cats! We used Summit Grill & Fireplace, (510) 397-6506, in Castro Valley, based on their yelp reviews.  Bring photos of your fireplace on your phone, and take measurements of the opening and interior space, and they will tell you what to get.  They handle the installation, too, and did great work. 

    We installed one this spring using Steve at American chimney. He was great and we are thrilled with the result and our new fireplace. Also be sure to check if you qualify for a rebate through the air quality management district. 

    I recommend Bob Hoffman Construction. He put in our fireplace insert years ago. Nice folks, lovely insert. And they come every year and do maintenance as well. (925) 937-5381

    I absolutely loved Warm Solutions in South San Francisco. They are fantastic. Ask for Barbara Palmer. They also recommended me a gas plumber because I had to create a gas line into a 100-year old fireplace. A few years later, I had to order a new fireplace control (tenant left it burnt on fireplace). Barbara was amazing and actually mailed it to me. 

    Hi there,

    We replaced ours this year with a Valor radiant gas fireplace. It fit the space and with our decor and generates a lot of heat. It does not have an internal fan, but the room is small enough that it doesn't matter too much. We have central heat, but no vents in our living room, which also has a lot of single pane windows. We are very please with it. It was purchased through and installed by John at Top Notch Energy in San Leandro.

    I would definitely avoid Berkeley Heat on Ashby. We had a horrible experience with them where the wrong unit was ordered and then they didn't want to refund us the money. I can give you more details if you send me a direct message. I would also recommend having someone come look at your fireplace and venting before you purchase anything -- don't rely on just photos and your measurements.

    Good luck and enjoy!


    We went with Kidd and were very happy.  

    We worked with Buck Stove, Spa and Fan Center in Walnut Creek, even though we live in Oakland. We were very satisfied. We love our insert and use it for much of the year! As another person noted, our cat loves it, too.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Repairing a Fireplace Building a New Fireplace Fireplace Exterior

Repairing a Fireplace

Gas fireplace needs repair

Dec 2012

We have a gas fireplace. We turned it off for a while because we weren't using it and the remote was acting funny. Now, a few months later, we can't get it to start. Do you have experience and can help us? Or can recommend someone who can? I don't even know where to start looking for help.

Kidd Fireplace and Spa in Oakland---(510) 532-7409---installed our gas fireplace and services it. We are happy with the fireplace and the service. Don T.

Can you find a sticker on the unit with manufactur and model? If so you can call manufacturer or find a manual online. Often you have to reset the remote and you definitely have to know how to relite the pilot lite. Usually if you open the cover the wiring and pilot lite igniter is at the bottom. Otherwise take a photo and see if you can email it for ID at a showroom such as Bucks Stove in Walnut Creek or such place. Good luck

You might want to check the batteries in both your gas fireplace's remote (if it came with one) and its control box/remote sensor. The remote will take AA or AAA size batteries and the control box/remote sensor will take C size. I was told by my gas fireplace installer that the biggest problem with fireplaces not starting up after a year of disuse is dead batteries. Who knew?

You can find the control box/remote sensor on the bottom of your unit, just take off the bottom grate and look in the area where you light the pilot. You should see a black plastic box, about 5' x 5'. See if you can slide it out enough (careful, there are wires) to open it and check or replace the batteries. Once you're sure you have good batteries in there, replace the box, turn your fireplaceo to the pilot setting, push in your pilot dial and wait 15- 25 seconds for the gas to start flowing. Then pump your ignitor a few times fast. It should start right up (if not, you may have to click the ignitor more, about 15 times).

Once the flame catches, keep holding in the pilot dial for another 15-25 seconds to let the sensors heat up inside the fireplace (this keeps your gas on). Once you let go of the pilot dial, turn it to the ON position. Your pilot should stay lit (if not, try again). Then set your thermostat on your unit and you should be good to go. Good luck! D. Archer

Repairing loose bricks in fireplace

Dec 2011

Our home was built in the late 1920s (like most in the area). The fireplace looks perfect from the outside, but inside several bricks have come loose & fallen to the area where one would put a fire. Have quit using for fear of proper function & don't want to damage more. Has anyone had this type of repair done? How is the work completed? Would you reccomend the company that repaired your's? Thanks.

Without hesitation, I recommend Jason Wady of International Masonry Specialists, (510) 632-4541. His website is He and his brother are just finishing a MAJOR repair of our circa 1926 chimney that was damaged in an earthquake a few years ago. Jason trained for his profession in the UK and is very well-versed in all aspects of chimney repair and design.

Our brick chimney is a prominent architectural feature of our home. He took it down to the roof line (damage was above that area), rebuilt the chase, replaced the flues, repaired the interior chimney and 2 fireboxes, sliced the original bricks to a thinner size, then reapplied the brick as a veneer on stucco. It matches the original chimney structure very well.

Jason is very professional. He explains everything clearly and thoroughly and returns call and emails promptly. His prices are competitive. I highly recommend him! --Ann S.

Large cracks around our fireplace

Nov 2007

After the last earthquake, we noticed large interior (plaster) and exterior (stucco) cracks around our fireplace. I'd like to have it inspected. Who does this work? Any recommendations? Thanks!

Hi, I had a fireplace I knew to have problems, similar to yours. I used the services of David Montgomery with Montgomery Masonry 510-733-5127. He ended up rebuilding the fireplace, hearth and installing a metal chimney. It looks GREAT and he had a reasonable price. For chimney sweeping (and most probably for an upcoming project installing a gas fireplace in a different house), I've used the services of the Irish Sweep. I think they are very professional, take the time to help educate me and of course, very knowledgable. Indigo

Need contractor to strap chimney, repair fireplace

August 2004

We are looking for a contractor experienced in strapping chimneys. We called a couple people and no one seems to want to do it or aren't experienced in strapping a chimney. Additionally, we need some repair work done on our fireplace. Anyone have a similar experience or a good, responsive, knowledgeable contractor they can recommend? Lori

I recently had a very good experience with the Fireplace Restoration company (it's really one man named Tony). He took down about 10 feet of 100 year old brick chimney and custom made me a damper. He was fast and professional and I think did a great job. Unfortunately, I cannot locate his number. He is probably listed in Berkeley. Lisa

For chimney strapping and cleaning, try the Chelsea Company in Emeryville, (510) 597-0333 -- very courteous fellow who did a nice job on our chimney. Morris

Someone to fix exterior cracks in chimney

May 2004

Our Chimney has exterior cracks above the roofline (we have been told it is safe to use the fireplace). We would like to have someone fix the Chimney cracks. We received a bid from a contractor who recommended taking down the brick to where the cracks start, and then re-building the brick. However, we have heard that some Chimney contractors will do a stucco facade over a stovepipe -- the advantage being that it would be less likely to come down during an earthquake. Does anyone know of a contractor who specializes in this? We asked first contractor but he does not do any other type of chimney building -- he will just re-build the brick. Murphy

A friend of mine just finished the chimney of my neighbor and it looks really great! In fact he's putting in bids for a couple of other folks on our block because they were so impressed with his work. His name Jason Wady and the company is International Masonry Specialists, Inc. and he can be reached at 510 632 4541. I believe he does other kind of contracting work as well. He's hard working, dependable, honest and he does a good job- what more can you ask for! Juliette

Fireplace Exterior

Want to update look of brick fireplace

March 2013

We have an old red brick fireplace that we'd like to make look contemporary by covering it with some other type of material (not paint). We're thinking about concrete or tile but not sure who to talk to or where to go. Please let me know if you've done this, how it turned out, and if you have any recommendations. Thanks!

Rehab Right, available from the Berkeley Public Library, and Amazon persuades old house owners to become old house aficionados while preserving the value of their old homes. Please take a look at it, and also Old HOuse Journal (on-line) for the beauty and value of retaining the original features of your old home. Years ago I ran across this book, which saved me from regretful 'remuddling' errors. BAHA Member and Old House Enthusiast Lynn

Need a custom glass door for fireplace

Dec 2011

Hi We need a custom fit glass door for our fireplace. I'm having trouble finding a company that does this. Do you know of a company or person who can do this? Have you ever ordered custom fireplace doors online? Thanks

You might try putting an ad up on the bulletin board at The Crucible in Oakland, that you're looking for someone to fabricate a fireplace door. I did that when I needed a custom security screen door, and a metal artist answered my ad and fabricated a beautiful door at a very reasonable price. The Crucible teaches industrial art classes, including metal and glass. Jane

Refinishing a red brick fireplace

Feb 2010

I'm looking for someone who can create an antique brick faux finish for a big red brick fireplace I have. It's one of those large hearth fireplaces that people used to cook on (complete with an iron pot hanger) but I need to lighten up the dark red brick with a faux antique finish. Thanks for your suggestions.

I'd call Joey Brite if I were you. Take a look at her beautiful website: Especially her portfolio. Her email address is somebriteideas [at] I've seen her work at a friend's house, and I doubt there's anything she can't do. Laura

I have a huge old fireplace too. When I was researching ways to preserve the crumbling mortar, I discovered something that might be of help to you.

All the DIY websites said that you must thoroughly clean the brickwork using a rather strong solution of TSP before applying sealant to both the bricks and mortar joints. (Strong means eight parts water to one part TSP.) I did this - using appropriate caution with the stuff - and WOW, what a difference it made in the color of the bricks! Most of the dark color was ancient soot and grime.

So I suggest you try this first to see if you still want to apply a faux finish. If you still do - here's another tip. I wanted to darken parts of my fireplace to create contrast. The experts I consulted said that only way to do this is with paint - you can't really stain brick. Get some masonry paint in the color you want, then thin it with solvent to a 1/4 concentration (or less). I applied it with a combination of sponges and brushes, and dabbed with rags to get the effect I wanted.

If you have sealed your bricks first, it's easy to wipe the paint off (while it's still wet) if you don't like the effect. So experiment! Good luck, Becky

How to put in a new fireplace mantle?

Oct 2009

Help! We recently had to demolish our stone fireplace mantel because it was unsafe. Now we are starting from scratch. We have a 1911 Berkeley bungalow with a lot of painted white wood trim in the living room. We are trying to figure out if we should just buy a simple white wood mantel from a dealer or if we should have one built for us? Does anyone have any recommendations on style, places to buy or carpenters to hire? Rattled about a new mantel

Whether you decide to go with a prefabricated mantle or have one custom built, your best bet is to have a licensed, insured finish carpenter install it.

Fireplace tiler needed

June 2008

We have two fireplaces in our 1908 craftsman home that have been sadly mistreated. We have some DIY amateur masonry repairs and horrible paint jobs. We'd like to cover the brick with tile and are looking for a recommendation of a ''tiler'' to do the work. Can you recommend a contractor to do this work? I'm not actually sure what the trade I looking for a tile guy or gal or something else? Thanks!

Try Pacific Tile & Marble ( I used them recently for my newly remodeled bathroom and kitchens. They were the most reasonable bid and they did a very professional job. Lots of tilework

Custom fireplace surround

March 2008

I'm looking for someone that help me design and build a wood fireplace surround for my existing fireplace. The existing surround is the original from 1940 but is very plain and simple. I have an idea of the style that I would like but need someone that's good at design and can build the surround and mantle. I wasn't able to find any recent postings. Has anyway done this? Thanks for your help. Karen

Call Tri-Point, 925-427-1459. I am an architect and had designed a new fireplace surround for a client last year. The project was nearly finished and the contractor did not want to take on one more thing - somehow I got Tri-point's name. They can make your design or have many of their own. They do fireplace surrounds all the time and their price was great. Arch

Call Carl Gaard. His cell phone is (510) 410-0489, email is Bugsy7gaard [at] Ask to see his house if you want to see his work. (He gutted and renovated a beautiful old victorian in Oakland, and it's just beautiful) He can do anything with wood, charges very reasonable rates, and has a great eye for design. Kate

Carpenter to Design/Build Fireplace Mantel

November 2006

We need fireplace mantels/surrounds on two new fireplaces. We are looking for a carpenter who is not only a fine craftsman but who is good at design as well. There have not been any posts for carpenters in the past 2 years. Any current recommendations?

Hi- I have two great recommendations for you. First, Kevin Riley at Goddard and Riley is fabulous. He's smart designer and a wonderful carpenter, and he works within your budget. He also knows his design history so that whatever he makes- it will fit with the rest of your home. He and his business partner Gary created and installed our kitchen and a new front door for us, and we look forward to working with them again on a new project. You can visit his website at: or call him at 465.4626. Second, Rich Sorenkson is a real craftsman who loves designing and creating cabinetry. He created the most wonderful fence for us, along with a pretty amazing remodel on our garage. Currently he drew the plans for the same project that we are working on with Goddard and Riley, and his phone number is: 415.828.0570. Either one would do an amazing job. Kevin is on vacation at the moment, (until the end of October '06,) although Gary may be available. Your welcome to e-mail me with any more questions that you may have. Best, Michelle

I highly recommend Tri-Point Industries in Pittsburg, who built us a new mantel and installed it. Our general contractor suggested they would do a better job at a cheaper price than having one of their carpenters build it on site. Our architect actually designed it, but I believe they do design work as well. (And you can get lots of ideas for different designs by looking on line at the various on-line mantel companies). We were very pleased with the quality, price and the speed of their work. Phone number is (925) 427-1459, and they're located at 548 Bliss Ave. in Pittsburg happy customer

Someone to repair cracked mantle

October 2005

So I've checked the archives, but can't seem to find quite what I'm looking for. The interior of our fireplace needs work ... basically the marble that runs between the fireplace opening and the mantle is cracked and needs to be replaced, and the bricks that are inside the actual fireplace need repainting and cleaning. Can anyone recommend someone who specializes in this? Standard chimmey cleaners/repair people don't seem to quite fit the bill. Thank you!

For the person who needed repair to the exterior of the fireplace and the firebox, I'd recommend Pendergrast Masonry. We used them about 3 years ago to completely rebuild the outside of our fireplace and repair the firebox. They were reasonable, very professional, and it looks beautiful. We get compliments on it all the time. We did the design (in tile) ourselves, and they installed it. They can be reached at 510-562-6400. Mimi

Someone to inspect fireplace & chimney, replace mantle

July 2004

We just bought a very old house that has fireplace but we have no idea what the condition is and unfortunately, the previous owners did an ''upgrade'' back in the 70s and put this really ugly fake brick facade around the mantle. We need someone to come in and inspect the fireplace, the chimney, etc. to see if it's in operable condition, remove the insert, repair and clean the stack, and also replace the mantle with a more decorative wood one. The responses in the archives are dated. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks so much! Smokin' in Albany

I have to respond because Nick of Berkeley Chimneys is the nicest contractor person I've ever worked with. (And his bid also came in as the lowest.) He's so helpful, friendly, and just plain nice! When we bought our house last year he came out and looked at our fireplace and told us what we needed to do to make it safe (for free). We hired him to do the work, and have had him come back annually to clean the fireplace and check for cracks, etc. I highly recommend him! His number is 528-1002 candace

Building a New Fireplace

Thinking about building an outdoor fireplace

April 2004

Does anyone have any experience with building or erecting an outdoor fireplace, either wood-burning or gas? We live in Oakland (flatlands, not in the hills) and are currently redoing our backyard and would love to have an outdoor fireplace, but don't even know if that's allowable. Any advice, recommendations, etc. would be appreciated. Js

I would recommend against it, (unless it is propane) because of the air pollution. It would extremely annoying to your neighbors, especially in the summer, when people tend to open their windows. If you decide to go ahead with your outdoor fireplace, please warn all your downwind neighbors in advance, so they can shut their windows and seal them with duct tape if necessary. If the weather is hot, they would also need air conditioners to offset the loss of the windows' breeze. Or invite them over each time you use the fireplace, so they can at least partake in the fun of the fire instead of just being victims of the smoke. Sorry for being pessimistic, but perhaps you can tell this is an issue in our neighborhood. HTH!

Installing a new fireplace

I can't recommend a contractor (ours moved far away). I can recommend a type of fireplace. We got an EPA Phase II woodburning device (Fireplace Xtraordinaire is the brand) that looks pretty much like a fireplace (nice view of the flames) and is about 75% efficient (lots of heat). There are other types of high-efficiency fireplaces out there, They all have some form of pollution control, also. Tubmakers on Ashby sells what we got and some other brands; other places have other brands.

Construction costs and air-pollution regs make rebuilding a brick fireplace quite impractical.

Two considerations:

- You'll be doing a retrofit and manufactured fireplaces are largely designed for new construction. You can get around the problems this causes if you're flexible, imaginitive, etc. It's critical to get the installation instructions in order to design the installation. The directions come with the fireplace. What we had trouble communicating was that we couldn't decide whether to buy the unit without getting the instructions first.

- The pictures that came with the brochures, and at least one installation we saw in a Bay Area store, included installations that are potentially unsafe and illegal. We found this out when we were halfway into the intallation and after the City of Berkeley had approved our plans. The only hint of a potential problem was one line in the 30+ pages of installation information. In the end, based on advice from a contracting engineer (my dad), we rebuilt part of the wall with metal studs and fireproof sheetrock, This was a total pain; nevertheless, we love the fireplace!