Chimneys: Take it or leave it?

So you’ve bought the property and are having a walk around with your builder. You’ve decided it’s a 5 bed, all en-suite HMO for professionals and want to make it the most attractive HMO in the area. You know that room size makes a big difference to the price we can charge per room, and that having an en-suite bumps the rent up, or at least reduces the void period after a tenant moves out.

You take a look at the chimney. You know it…he knows it…his days are numbered. The average chimney breast takes up more than half a meter of prime useable space per room. With 4 breasts in the ground and first floor alone, we are looking at more than 2meters (or 1 en-suite equivalent) in saving already. Coupled with the fact that their protrusion into the room effects furniture placement by making the rooms ‘not square’, it’s no wonder we are seeing more and more chimneys coming out in the 5 and 6 bed refurbishments.

But surely there’s more to just chopping out a chimney and calling it good. Well… depending on where it is in the house, you might be lucky…or you might not…


Let’s assume that our chimney sits on the party wall between two properties and have a look at how the process might pan out.

Party wall
So the first thing is to serve a party wall notice. This is a document gives your neighbour 14 days to refuse permission to do work that affects the party wall between the two properties. Now if you’ve been nice and been round with a bottle of wine and made friends, you may be lucky at this stage…but even If you are, there’s still some more costs to consider…

The schedule of conditions is something that most neighbours will want to have carried out as part of any agreement. Your party wall surveyor will attend and carry out an inspection of the neighbour’s property. Let’s hope they don’t have their kitchen or bathroom tiles on that wall…The report will essentially document the condition of the neighbouring party wall, and this will act as a baseline for assessing any damage later on. But let’s say the neighbour is less than happy about the work to be carried out. You can still remove the chimney on you side, but there are more considerations.

Your surveyor will most likely be able to act on both of your behalf’s as a joint surveyor. They will essentially be drawing up the agreement, monitoring and documenting the process, checking for damage, and making sure there is no damage to the adjoining property. Subsequent to the party wall notice and the schedule of conditions, in this service they will attend the property multiple times and draw up the agreement.

In order to get up to the stack to remove it, and make sure the roofers can work safely when patching it, you will need a scaffold. You may be able to get away with one, but should your chimney be particularly wide, you may need a more substantial one. In order to patch in the roof, the roofers may in the case of a large/wide chimney, need to access an area quite low on the roofline. This may need a scaffold front and back of the property…which increases the cost.

And then the noise starts. Actually removing the chimney only takes a few days, but is incredibly noisy and dusty. A few guys using power tools to knock out the brickwork is more than enough to shatter tiles on the other side of the wall as well. The floor and ceiling need to be boarded up and the party wall that remains will need to be sealed to stop the soot bleeding through your lovely new paint job and giving it an oily patchy look.

Again, overlooked and highlights even more the need for scaffolding. The hole where the chimney was needs to have roof tiles installed and to make sure it is weather tight. Use matching tiles, and extra points for using old tiles that match the age of your existing roof.


The Extra costs
So now we know the process…where are the traps. We’ve outlined a few extra costs that are essential to be aware of, and yet are overlooked.

Difficulty attaining agreement for the
Party Wall works
An easy ride would be £125. But if the neighbour objects, you could be looking at more like to appoint joint surveyors, draw up agreements, document the condition of their side of the party wall, and that’s without repairing any damage to their property that may arise from the works. This process could take weeks so it isn’t as simple as just serving a notice and starting. In short…

1. Party Wall notice £125

2. Agreeing and issuing a schedule of conditions £450

3. Drawing up the Party wall agreement.

Also called the ‘Party wall award’. This is a document that needs to be in place when consent through the issuing of the party wall notice is not achieved. This is a pretty in depth set of documentation and costs around £750 and involves site visits.

4. Appointing joint surveyors

This is when one surveyor represents both sides and costs around £850

Total Potential cost £2175+VAT

Depending on the level of scaffolding needed, this will cost between £500-£1000. In order to remove the stack from the top, you will need a scaffold. Most likely only for a day, but still, an essential and somewhat overlooked cost when thinking about chimney removal

Structural drawings and calculations
If you are removing the chimney breasts but keeping the stack, or removing any part of the chimney for that matter, you will need structural drawings. In this, an engineer will attend the property, recommend a steel beam or beams to support the remainder of the chimney, and provide you with an assessment of the structure. This costs around £400 and the steel its self will be sized in the document. This needs to be installed by a builder and signed off by building control.

Building Control
Building control are responsible for maintaining standards in construction and checking that works are carried out to the relevant standards. Not to be confused with Planning. Although you don’t need planning permission for a given task, you may need building control signoff. This means a building control officer will need to assess the drawings and beam sizing from the structural engineer, and inspect the works to make sure they are up to standard and compliant with building regs.

To assist structural engineer and submit with the building regs, you will need drawings. An architect may charge you in the thousands, but with our Pre-Refurbishment service, we can help you cut these costs massively. Get in touch to find out more.

Price of associated costs
Assuming everything goes wrong, and you need a party wall surveyor, as well as steel supports…

Serving the party wall notice £125.00 per notice.

Agreeing and issuing a schedule of conditions £450.00.

Agreeing an award £750.00 per property.

Appointing one joint surveyor £850.00.

Scaffold – £500

Technical drawings by an engineer £400

Building Control involvement and site inspections – £400

Total approximately £3500+VAT in associated costs.

The main benefits are in additional floor space, as well as a better shape of room. There is also one last benefit that I think is overlooked and is potentially the most important factor. If you give yourself nice square rooms to work with, knitting together back to back en suites becomes simpler, and prevents you from having too many odd little walls in your bedrooms. When designing where your en-suites are going, you aren’t hamstrung into putting showers or toilets in odd positions due to the chimneys blocking convenient placement of sanitary ware or pipework. When space is a premium, and the position of a door relative to a bed or wardrobe makes a big difference, the more flexibility you give yourself the better.

The final benefit is in the life cycle of your property. At Three Oak Property we don’t just buy for single let or HMO, we look for property that has the innate ability to flex and adapt as the local market changes into the future as prices increase. We believe your property has 4 life stages. Single let – HMO – Large HMO – Flats/Apartments, and that each stage has its own minimum set of criteria required for proving a success. Removal of the chimney should occur at stage 2 to reap the full benefit of increased floor area and flexibility over the life cycle of your property.

In that way, the HMO you are designing, will one day most likely become flats/apartments. By removing the chimney, you can keep a lot of your property in tact during a conversion to flats when the time comes and save a bundle. Instead of having to rip out and relocate services at the 3rd or 4th stage, we can feel the benefits of this inevitable stage now while converting to HMO. Tenants pay more for bigger rooms, and when your property is later converted into apartments, you’ll have bigger, better sized apartments to eventually sell on.

So you see, serving a party wall notice and hacking out the chimney might seem simple, and on the most part it is. But there is a broad range of considerations that come with this. Delays on the party wall agreement can cost you weeks, and given that this is part and parcel of the rip out stage of you HMO, and therefore needs to be completed before pretty much any of the other works can be done, it’s important to have a full understanding of the process before you start, and ideally, before you buy the property.

Our advice, as touched upon in our article ‘5 tips for house viewings for a structural engineer’ would always be to seek an end of terrace property if you plan on touching the chimney. This way you can bypass a lot of the party wall issues, cutting costs and speeding up the process of your works and get your HMO up and running quicker.

But If you are planning on removing a chimney, or if you want to get in touch regarding a refurbishment you need help redesigning or managing or need a second set of eyes at a property viewing in SE London or Kent, feel free to contact us.

We have a bespoke range of services that help investors cut their costs, and make full and proper use of their investment pot. Get in touch to find out how we can help you get a better return on your investment.

Share this post