A DIY Goes Awry Story: Opening Up the Sealed Fireplace

A DIY Goes Awry Story: Opening Up the Sealed Fireplace

Sarah Dobbins
May 29, 2012

Sometimes being bold and taking risks in home projects pays off — you improve the look of your home, save some money, and even have some fun! But what's the other side of the coin? Disaster, of course! Sometimes the best laid plans for a seemingly simple project around the house can implode right before your eyes...

One of (yes, I said one of; there have been others!) my worst project failures was the idea to take off the cast iron door that sealed up our fireplace. I knew the chimney was sealed off from the top; when the previous owners installed a new roof, they cut the top off of the chimney and roofed right over it. I knew it wouldn't be a functional fireplace, but I wanted to at least have a decorative fireplace, with the old bricks and stone from the original facade (our house was built in 1910.) That, and the cast iron monstrosity that plugged up the fireplace was pretty ugly!

Here's how the project looked in my head: Crack open the cast iron grate, and pry it off the brick. Use a shop vac to sweep out the fireplace and scrub down the bricks and stone with a brush. Enjoy my new fireplace; maybe stack some birch logs in the opening, or fill it with a cute display with white twinkle lights.

Here's how the project actually happened: Crack open the cast iron grate, and watch as soot and dust pour out of the opening onto my feet. Decide to forge ahead. Pass the point of no return, pull the grate completely off. Find that the fireplace is blocked full of brick and piles of soot and ash.

Cover all the furniture in the room. This is going to be ugly.

Carefully remove all the brick and soot and ash, brick by brick and dustpan-full by dustpan-full. Find that the chimney is also full of bricks, all the way up the chimney, like a giant, dusty game of pick-up-sticks.

Jam a broom up the chimney to try to knock loose the bricks. Dodge out of the way of a brick avalanche. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, until no more bricks are falling on my head. Safety disclaimer: I do not endorse or recommend this method!

Then get to the part about simply vacuuming out the space and scrubbing the bricks, and enjoying my fireplace — about 10 hours, lots of soot, sweat, and bruises later. Here's a picture of the finished fireplace in our dining room — please excuse the pumpkins; it was October!

So that's my story — what's yours? Have you ever had a project not go quite to plan? Did you find a resolution?

The Projectpocalypse: How To Clean Up a DIY Disaster
Does Your Home Have DIYs You Wish Hadn't Been Done?
DIY Dilemma: When Home Projects Fail

(Images: Sarah Dobbins)

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