It’s still summer, but autumn is on its way. That means it’s time to think about fireplaces and fireplace safety. Usually, a certified home inspector performs a general fireplace inspection.
If defects exist, many of them are visible at the time of the inspection. But for a deeper, investigative inspection, customers should call in a professional. They’ll assess the level of damage or disrepair and determine the scope of repairs or replacement.
Here’s what Inspectapedia says you should know about fireplaces in 2017.
#1: Fireplaces are Considered Space Heaters
Few things are as cozy as a fireplace, but they aren’t intended for whole home heat. They’re considered space heaters. Most of the heat from a fireplace is radiant, warming the people and objects in the room.
#2: Fireplace Footings Can Degrade Over Time
The base of the fireplace seems solid, but years of intense heat plus the settling of the house can wreak havoc. Fireplace footings can crack, crumble, heave, leak and settle, each of which affects the safety of the appliance.
#3: Damper Defects Affect Performance in Winter and Create Energy Leaks Year Round
A damper is a metal device that opens or closes the fireplace to open access to the chimney or close access when the fireplace is not in use. Dampers fittings may loosen, the metal may rust or parts may break over time. If the damper is poorly made or damaged, it may not open or close properly.
#4: Fireplaces Have a Smoke Shelf
The path from the firebox to the chimney isn’t straight. Inside, there’s a smoke shelf that compresses exhaust to improve fireplace draft. Poor draft either draws heat up the chimney too quickly or impairs it, allowing gases and smoke to enter the home. The smoke shelf may have cracks, creosote buildup, gaps or the design might not be appropriate for the fireplace.
#5: The Firebox Needs a Specific Design and Materials
The fireplace firebox is the wall opening where the homeowner builds a fire. Over time, heat, cleaning, house settling and improper materials can create unsafe conditions. Common firebox defects include cracked masonry, deteriorated masonry or mortar, rust, buckling, undersized or oversized construction, inappropriate materials including failure to use firebrick.
#6: Creosote Buildup is Always a Fire Hazard
When not in use, black creosote is hard and sometimes brittle. But when the homeowner builds a fire, it melts and can drip. Creosote, which is a byproduct of combustion, is extremely flammable. Buildup on the smoke shelf and inside the chimney can catch fire, setting the whole chimney and fireplace ablaze.
There’s something about a fireplace that makes any home seem more comfortable. Wood-burning fireplaces aren’t as common now as they once were. But where they exist, chances are the homeowner wants to use them.
There’s a science to building a proper fireplace that’s both safe and made to last. As a certified home inspector, you can spot many of the defects that interfere with safe operation. For example, if the footing shows signs of heaving, the foundation of the appliance isn’t safe. If the damper or the smoke shelf is defective, a fire could send carbon monoxide into the home or create a backdraft.
Homeowners can often clean creosote residue using a stiff, wire chimney sweeping brush. For almost every other problem, they’ll need a professional.
Home inspectors help protect their customers by providing information. For that, you need an education. Fortunately, ICA School comes through. Enroll now and learn about inspecting fireplaces and every other major home system.