Many of the kiva fireplaces in Stam houses, though built to the standards of the 1950’s, have fallen into disrepair. The masonry work, including fireplace thickness, hearth thickness, and hearth extension measure, is not up to current codes. The rears of the fireplaces are only two inches from the combustible walls. Oftentimes, when we clean and inspect them we can pull firebricks out of the fireplaces with our bare hands, because the fireplaces are falling apart. When we put our inspection cameras inside these chimneys we see there are gaps between the terra cotta clay chimney liners, and usually we find that the clay liners are cracked.
We recently had the opportunity to remove a kiva fireplace from a Stam house and rebuild it to current standards. The masonry construction project was informative and satisfying. Demolition provided useful information on how dangerous these fireplaces really are. Once we removed the fireplace, we saw the paper on the original fiberglass insulation in the wall behind the fireplace had already been on fire, and in a couple spots had turned to ash. We don’t know why the house did not burn down. We also found two char marks on the 2×4 studs behind the fireplace. We show photos of the bricks, after demolition, that were behind the fire chamber and around the flue liner that are coated in creosote deposits. These highly combustible deposits are left over from the smoke that was escaping the flue passageway for all those years. Also we show creosote deposits on the outside of the flue liner, showing the consequences of breached chimney liners. The creosote in the masonry is extraordinarily dangerous because if it were to catch fire, the only way for the fire department to put out the fire is to demolish the entire chimney. Using a jackhammer-like demo hammer, it took three of our men an entire day to demo this chimney and fireplace.
If you own a Stam house with a kiva fireplace in Santa Fe, this post is important for you to look at. If you want to have a safe, working, site-built kiva fireplace in your Stam house, this photo essay will show you how its done. If you are wondering on how to build a kiva fireplace from scratch, this will be useful information for you. One of the challenges we encountered here was the limited space in the corner due to the doorway from the living room into the foyer. That’s why we kept the fireplace narrow and used extra ceramic insulation between the fire chamber and the rear wall of the fireplace so we could tuck the fireplace as far back into the corner as possible. We also installed a noncombustible heat shield, with air space on both sides, between the rear of the fireplace and the combustible walls.
Following is a slide show that shows the process we undertook, using photos we took during the project. The photos are captioned to explain the steps of the project. To demo and rebuild the kiva fireplace took 9 work days, not including the final coat of plaster and the flagstone hearthstone the client will have another contractor install. The price for this project after the flagstone and final plaster is installed, including tax, is less than $15,000.
We believe that’s well worth it, for a several reasons:
Performance: though not designed to be a primary source of heat for the house, the craftsmanship, knowledge and superior materials that went into the construction of the fireplace guarantees optimal performance of the fireplace. The fireplace will warm up the room without any smoke spillage.Value: In a house with a real estate value of $400,000, the new fireplace cost around 3 percent of the home’s worth. That’s only about half the real estate broker’s commission if the owner ever decides to sell the house. Having a safe, working fireplace, according to some studies, can add approximately twelve percent to the value of a home. Twelve percent of $400,000 is $48,000. Spending $15,000 to get $48,000 of real estate value is a return on investment that’s hard to beat. Focal point: The fireplace is the focal point of the home. The hearth is the “heart” of the home. Building a fire in the fireplace warms up the room. It also warms one’s body, spirit and soul. It will be featured prominently in any and all marketing materials if the home is listed for sale. Chimney Warranty: The new chimney has a “Forever Warranty,” meaning the warranty lasts forever as long as the owner has the chimney serviced annually and keeps records of the service. There is no way the new chimney liner can crack or come separated. Durability: The fireplace will provide a lifetime of enjoyment if it is maintained with annual cleanings and inspections by a CSIA certified chimney sweep. Craftsmanship: The masonry work is meticulous, with all joints between the fire chamber and smoke chamber firebricks tight and completely sealed with the highest quality fireplace mortar. Custom: during masonry construction the homeowner was able to decide for herself on the shape of the fireplace and mantle. Safety: Safety, safety, safety!