Fireplaces and chimneys

Bungalows typically had one or more fireplaces. Chimneys should be checked for structural and fire safety.

Chimneys should be checked by a chartered professional engineer to ensure that they are structurally sound. Common problems associated with chimneys include cracking, weak mortar, rising damp, rot in nearby timber, and slumping or unevenness in the floor.


Open fireplaces and coal ranges were the only means of heating in the bungalow. The living room always had a fireplace, and a second back-to-back fireplace was often installed in the dining room. Bedrooms seldom had a fireplace. 

As may be expected, South Island bungalows commonly have more fireplaces and chimneys than North Island bungalows.

Open fires generally consisted of a cast iron grate built into a brick fireplace/hearth, and could be designed for coal or coke.


Fireplaces were generally located on an external wall, often projecting beyond the exterior face of the wall. Some were located in the corner of a room, adjacent to the external wall, and in some cases back-to-back fireplaces were built inside the wall framing. For example, fireplaces in the living room and dining room could be located and angled in a corner of each room between the external and the common wall. Corner fireplaces were also common.

In some cases, there was an inglenook or recessed seating area beside the fire.


The fireplace itself often still had a cast-iron register typical of the villa fireplace.

Fireplace design varied, but a typical fireplace consisted of a simple tiled fire surround and hood framed by a rimu mantel piece. Shelves were sometimes arranged at different heights, typically between 4’0” and 5’0” (1200 and 1500 mm). Although fireplace surrounds were generally plain, mirrors or small cabinets were sometimes incorporated in the taller overmantel.

A different style of open fireplace that was sometimes seen in the bungalow was a brick surround with tuck-pointed plasterwork over bricks – this technique involves recreating the brick effect in plaster applied over the brickwork. These fireplaces were often fully brick without the cast-iron register and grate (Figures 1 and 2).

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As well as fireplace chimneys, bungalows may have a chimney for the kitchen coal range, and possibly for the laundry copper.

Chimneys were constructed from brick and lime mortar, and generally had a stucco exterior finish.

Bricks were often laid directly on the ground with no separate foundation and there was no damp-proof membrane installed.

A lime mortar was used to bond the bricks together. Unless cured slowly over a period of time, the result was a poor quality, low-strength mortar. Lime mortars lost strength as they dried but regained it when wetted. There were no standards for producing or mixing mortars, so lime mortars were not always satisfactory and the lime mortar was the weakest component of the construction.

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Common problems and remedies

Common problems with chimneys and brickwork include cracked walls, rising damp, and failing mortar making chimneys or other structures unstable. 

As part of the renovation project, the condition of any chimney and other brickwork should be assessed by an engineer to ensure that it is structurally sound. Read more

Other common problems include:

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Related Links

Earthquake strengthen your house (PDF)