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chimney breast removal / party wall agreement question

(29 Posts)
stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 08:48:28

We have recently bought a mid-terrace house & are planning some building work--it's actually already started (the preliminaries) yesterday. The most substantial thing we're wanting to do is removing 2 chimney breasts from both living room & 2 rooms upstairs to open up space and because they look quite ugly. Our contractor, who we otherwise trust a lot, reassured us that this wouldn't affect the house next door & explained why. As it's our first house and we're doing building work for the first time, we weren't aware of the actual implications/ details.

So, once we started the work--literally yesterday--I have realised that we need a party wall agreement with said neighbour. He already gave happy verbal agreement but it was quite general. I have talked to surveyor who will send the letter needed & hopefully we'll move on soon as if chimney breasts don't go down nothing else can proceed.

However, surveyor & now contractor too are saying that to cover our backs its best to get the surveyor in anyway, because if problems arise that will be helpful, not least in having good neighbourly relations.

We also have only now been told that we need to get a structural engineer in asap to confirm the plan & sign it off with correct paperwork & to get the permission for this. So I spent yesterday sending endless emails to local engineers confused as this also has to be done asap.

What if any advice do you have? Am I slightly over the top wanting to do everything in what I think is the correct way? If neighbour says 'yes go ahead' should we not get surveyor in & take the risk? I'm inclined to feel we should get surveyor in despite the cost as well as engineer.

Grrrrr, costs are already spiralling and we're only one day in (see my other thread too with other additional complication).

As I said, any advice more than welcome from experienced musmnetters.

McBaby Fri 30-Oct-15 09:07:34

You can print off the party wall notice to give to your neighbour to get his consent from the gov website If you both agree to no surveyor then you can both take lots of photos before and afterwards in his house so any damage etc you can remedy afterwards which is what the surveyor will effectively do.

You are supposed to issue the notice 8 weeks before works starts but they can start sooner if the neighbour is in agreement.

If you are removing the chimney breasts from the ground and first floors the chimney stack in the loft will need supporting which is why you need a structural engineer to calculate the support needed etc.

We have just had to take our chimmney stack down as next door removed their breasts and stack a number of year ago badly and our stack has started to fall over as it was left unsupported!! So there can be problems if the remaining brick work is not supported properly.

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 09:29:54

Thanks McBaby, really very helpful advice.
Yes we've already planned for supporting in the loft, I'm so sorry to hear your neighbours left theirs unsupported! shock

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 09:36:47

McBaby, following on what you have said though: I agree that it would certainly save us a huge amount of money not getting the surveyor in & taking loads of photos ourselves. However, if problems do arise--either on our side of the wall or theirs--the problem with this scenario is that it's then all on trust. For example, their wall may be damaged already (which may not be visible) and thus more fragile already, meaning that if damage occurs after chimney breast removal, we may end up paying for something that we didn't incur. Etc.

What would others do? If most people do follow this route, i.e. agreeing & taking photos & going on trust, then I'll take a deep breath & do that too, but I wonder what most people think.

Agrestic Fri 30-Oct-15 10:13:04

I'd get the party wall agreement signed (printed off the Internet), get the structural engineer in and crack on.

Marmitelover55 Fri 30-Oct-15 10:16:28

If damage occurs to their side, you will be liable anyway, even if their side is already weakened.

I too would just print off the party wall agreement and get them to sign it if they are happy to do this.

SmellTheGlove Fri 30-Oct-15 10:17:06

We took our rear chimney out top to bottom a few months ago - I put in the application to building control and paid the fee, they requested a structural engineers plans. Structural engineer did plans, I gave copy of party wall agreement along with copy of plans to the neighbour and he signed it no problem. We didn't visit his property or take photos because he felt reassured by the fact that we had structural engineer involved and building control were involved. Building control visited once before work started and then wanted to see photos of the beam in place before it was covered up with stud work ( we had to put it below ceiling level). I was glad we had the engineers plans because he also specified that we needed a larger lintel in an existing doorway because of the additional load on that wall. Building control signed it off fine. So we didn't take photos or use a surveyor but we did have a very thorough set of drawings and building control. In our previous house though when the neighbour did their loft we also signed a party wall agreement without asking for a surveyor, and their builder took lots of photos of our side. As far as costs this time, we paid £240 to building control I think and the structural engineer charged £180. I think! I've signed so many cheques during this renovation it's all a bit of a blur....

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 10:27:08

I would suggest leaving the chimney breasts in place. Have you seen the thread about the woman whose neighbour decided to do this and it caused a massive hole and cracks extending through three floors? All of which they have had to pay for including her costs and alternative accom. until it is sorted out.

Seriously you are gaining about 10 square feet probably and for what?
It's insane. Leave structural things where they are unless you want a huge headache and have money to burn.

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 10:30:33

Sorry if I sound harsh btw. I don't mean to. I just don't understand when people do these things - it's so pointless, gains so little and causes huge problems down the line when structures begin to fail, as they are so weakened.

Also if you didn't like them - I do wonder why you bought it! smile

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 11:01:05

yes of course you sound harsh Anastasie as you don't know our space at all. I don't think someone would reject a house that is affordable and good otherwise because they don't like the looks of the chimney breasts. It is not insane, it would add loads of space both in living room (2 large chimney breasts where bookshelves can go) & upstairs in both rooms. It is a small house which is what we could afford & it needs all the space we can get.

Floggingmolly Fri 30-Oct-15 11:05:05

Space for bookshelves is really not "loads of space". Agree with Anastasie, it's an expensive, dirty job with very little return.

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 11:08:35

Well we agree to disagree. We have many many books and want to have built in shelves floor to ceiling all across living room wall. If you add living room (=2 bookcases extra) plus DS's room (=1 bookcase extra) plus our room (=space for wardrobe) that's quite a lot of space in an otherwise small house. But as I said I can't convince you nor do I want to.

I do want to do the job properly of course.

Floggingmolly Fri 30-Oct-15 11:19:37

Sorry, of course it's your decision grin Good luck.

JassyRadlett Fri 30-Oct-15 11:47:46

Getting rid of chimney breasts can make a huge difference to the liveable space in a room and the way it can be configured. We've kept ours for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the rooms they're in are already a decent size and we can configure the furniture in the rooms in a way that works. If the rooms were smaller, we may well have decided to do it differently. The OP's books have to go somewhere, and if not where the chimney breasts are they'll be taking up space and displacing other furniture elsewhere in the house. Similarly, I've seen it done where it can make a big difference to where and whether a bed can fit comfortably, or a wardrobe as well as a bed, or similar.

I do always enjoy the 'why didn't you just choose a different house' posts. A nice reminder that some people at least must live in housing markets that aren't completely mental.

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 12:05:35

Exactly Jassy. We live in London which says it all really.

I am now waiting to hear from someone saying 'why don't you just move out of London' etc

Housing market more than mad around here. And we are at the very edge of London. We are lucky to have got what we got

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 14:10:38

Ok, look, I don't like in London. I don't have your lifestyle, your choices, etc. I have no idea how hard it might be to find a house you like there.

I hate the idea of messing with a pefectly good house, that's all. And it will weaken the structure however you dress it up. That's just logic I'm afraid.

I don't suppose getting rid of some of your books would be an option? I have loads of books, many of which I inherited but I realise I don't have enough space for all of them so some have gone to the charity shop.

Maybe you need to have all of them; I dont know. It would be sure as hell cheaper to get rid of a few than to restructure your whole house.

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 14:12:11

Also - no offence - you don't appear to have much of a clue what you're doing and neither does the contractor.

It doesn't bode well.

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 14:12:23


SmellTheGlove Fri 30-Oct-15 14:37:03

Taking out the chimney made a huge difference to us - allowing us to create a corridor along that wall and get access to the bathroom without going through a bed room. Also allowed us to put a dining table in downstairs. As property around here works out about £1000/Sq ft, the additional space was worth about 6k, and cost about 2.5k. But more significantly, a property in the next size bracket ie a 3 bed semi vs 2 bed terrace is about 200k. So yes, for a lot of people it's worth squeezing as much in as you can.

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 14:42:18

I'm sorry Anastasie but I really don't get why you're s aggressive.

As to 'having no clue what we are doing': we are getting a surveyor and a structural engineer in to do this properly. What would 'having a clue' mean in your book? I'm not an architect no if that's what you mean by 'having a clue' and no I haven't done building work before. Is that allowed?

Our contractor is perfectly good too.

Your comment 'no offence' is much like people saying 'I'm not a racist but...' offence taken thank you very much. I asked for advice and ideas not a telling off.

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 15:16:12

I am sorry if I came across as aggressive. That was certainly not my intention which was to be direct with you and possibly save you some hassle.

It is a fact that you don't have prior experience or knowledge about what you are doing - that isn't a criticism at all. We have all been there. But you're asking on a parenting forum about some really heavy duty building work. Your contractor assured you it would be fine when it patently would not without a survey and a party wall agreement.

Costs are spiralling as you have said.

I am seeking to explain that your easiest option is to stop now and find other ways round it.

That is my advice and I'm sure you won't take it but I wanted to put it out there.

I am sorry you are having some hassles and I wish you all the best with the work, and hope it does work out really well for you.

I will leave you to it and best of luck.

stilllovingmysleep Fri 30-Oct-15 15:20:43

Thanks Anastasie.

We are not sure, in fact, whether we'll be able to take out the chimney breasts. It would be highly desirable for us to do so, as it would add lots of space (believe me, the house is small) and it would also in my view look better. However, if there is really expensive supporting work required--e.g. if neighbours have also taken out their chimney breasts--and / or if there's asbestos in ceiling (being checked as we're speaking) which might require all of that taken out beforehand, we will with a heavy heart back off.

But it's not always on the other hand the best option to back off just because 'one doesn't have a clue'. One 'starts having a clue' by asking and learning (which I'm doing very quickly these days).

Anastasie Fri 30-Oct-15 15:35:22

I'm really sorry if it doesn't work out for you but it sounds like you are a sensible person and a fast learner and have, in fact, thought this through. Possibly my initial response was overkill.

I am sure whatever you decide to do, it will be fine. brew

stilllovingmysleep Sat 31-Oct-15 10:21:19

Thanks Anastasie. I hope it works out. Thankfully the neighbours seem really nice & cooperative & they have agreed to a joint surveyor. I sorted this out this morning.

For future reference of any MNetters who are planning to do chimney breast removal, the correct steps are the following as I understand them. And don't don't don't leave it to the last minute as we did as it will cause you a major headache! Our contractor should have told us that, but neglected to do so. So steps are:

-talk to neighbours and agree ideally to joint surveyor. In my view it's best to avoid the simplified procedure i.e. taking photos etc which can lead to trouble
-check with neighbours whether they've also taken out their own chimney breasts. If they have (ours haven't thank goodness) that changes the work involved, making it more expensive. So all this ideally needs to be known in advance when you do your budgeting.
-if the 2 above steps are done, get quote from surveyor & get them to send the initial letter for party wall agreement.
-get engineer in to apply for permission (as this is a structural change in the building & needs council's approval).
-also get engineer to check that what contractor is proposing is OK and that the way that the removed chimney breasts will be supported in the loft is structurally sound.
-get all this in writing so that you have correct paperwork in terms of structural engineer's report.
-if there's any question, check for asbestos in ceiling as if there is asbestos basically you need to remove all that from ceiling before any structural work is done there.
-after all the above steps are completed, the contractor can begin the work of removing the chimney breasts.

I've discovered all the above within a couple of days! shock. So yes it's been a very very steep learning curve for me as Anastasie indicated. Hopefully writing all this down with save furture MNetters some trouble. smile

stilllovingmysleep Wed 04-Nov-15 07:23:27

coming back to this thread after (ironically!) having written down all the correct steps that should be done in terms of chimney breast removal. Here's what has actually happened so far (it's turning quickly into a nightmare!) Please help with ideas if anyone is still following this thread (this may be long):

(Bear in mind, this is the first time we have embarked on building work so we are learning our lesson very very fast indeed)!

So, as I wrote before our contractor reassured us a week ago that chimney breast removal is relatively straightforward & didn't give many details--said it doesn't affect neighbours' wall & explained why. Stupidly we didn't research further at this stage (a week before work began).

Work began on Thursday last week. By the beginning of last week I started realising that chimney breast removal is structural and requires: 1) party wall agreement way in advance 2) structural engineer visit & approval 3) council permission (pretty straightforward). (I now know I should have researched all this earlier, obviously, but trusted the contractor). There is also a question flagged up in the survey about possible asbestos in ceiling. I remembered that & told my contractor who said it needs checking. So I went into a panic & started trying to sort all this out by thursday / friday last week. Bear in mind last thursday I was having a (minor) operation so was in hospital, but still frantically emailing engineers, asbestos specialists, surveyors, and trying to find neighbour.

Anyway. To cut a long story short, I told builder to basically stop anything to do with ceilings / chimneys, until asbestos thing is sorted and until we (at very least) talk to neighbours & get process going, and also talk to engineer.

I visited the house saturday morning, found neighbour, talked to her about party wall agreement, she was very very happy to go ahead & agreed with my suggestion of a joint surveyor. I went to our house & to my surprise saw half of chimneys are already down! Talked to builder who said it's only very external / minor what they did. I reiterated I don't want him proceeding before at least engineer has visited. He agreed (all this is in writing too).

Yesterday morning builder called me and said they are now stopping after engineer visit as they need to wait to sort out paperwork. He said they would start again next week and asked me if I agreed. I wasn't sure what exactly I was agreeing to but it sounded reasonable. Then I received email from engineer (and then talked to him on phone) who basically had visited the property yesterday morning & realised that all the structural chimney work (i.e. supporting chimney breasts in loft) has already been done!! shock So he said you can't serve party wall agreement now, it's too late. He said building work was done very well, it's safe & follows all engineer specifications. But obviously didn't follow the correct procedures nor my own directions. They will do the paperwork, but they asked me to talk to neighbour and say to them that our engineer is happy with the work, to offer for them to talk to engineer etc. I texted neighbour yesterday & said that. She hasn't replied (I imagine she might either just be very busy or--rightfully--pissed off!)

I feel awful all this happened in this chaotic way & in a sense I've lost trust in the builder. Engineer will help as much as he can by also talking to neighbour. But chimney breast removal hasn't been concluded--they still need taking out from living room--and I worry that we will be liable for any damage on neighbours' side. We also want to have good neighbourly relations and this has potentially compromised that!

What would you do now?

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