Buying a Home? Three Reasons to Insist on a Fireplace Inspection

When choosing a home to purchase, today’s home buyers have many important decisions to make. When any home being considered has a fireplace, wood stove, or flue, insisting on a thorough inspection of these features is critical, especially when buyers intend to use these features as a supplemental or emergency heat source. If your are considering the purchase of a home with a fireplace, wood stove, or flue, here are three excellent reasons to get them professionally inspected by a certified inspector first.

1. Fire Safety

Because these features deal with heat and open flames, fire safety is the most important reason to insist upon a thorough inspection. Flues for wood stoves and fireplaces often have buildups of a substance called creosote.

Highly flammable, creosote results when there has been an incomplete combustion of the wood used to make a fire, and is a leading cause of chimney and flue fires. This can happen when the firewood has not been correctly seasoned before use, or when the fire has not received the proper amount of oxygen to allow it to burn hot enough to prevent creosote from forming. 

Creosote builds up on surfaces of the flue in layers, where it can catch fire, if these buildups are not discovered and periodically removed.

In addition to creosote, soot is another residual substance from the process of burning wood that is also flammable. A fine, black dust, soot settles on surfaces inside fireplaces, wood stoves, and their flues and should never be allowed to reach more than a one-eighth inch depth, prior to cleaning and removal.

2. Condition

In addition to buildups of creosote and soot, fireplaces, wood stoves, and flues can also be unsafe to use due to condition issues. While general deterioration due to age or misuse are potential causes of cracked mortar or flue tiles capable of causing a house fire, these features can also be damaged by misuse, settlement of the home, wind, and lightning strikes. This is particularly true for masonry flues and chimneys that are held together with mortar.

Signs of possible damage can sometimes be seen through visible inspection, such as missing mortar or bricks on the exposed portion of the fireplace or chimney. However, even hairline cracks in the flue liner or missing mortar deep in the interior of the chimney or flue can allow sparks or heat to ignite nearby building materials. This is why it is so important to have these features evaluated by a certified inspector with the tools and experience necessary to help them inspect even difficult to reach areas.

In addition to helping keep your family safe from the threat of a house fire, a complete inspection of an existing fireplace, wood stove, or flue is often required by home insurers, to make sure they meet the minimum safety standards for the area in which the home is located. Your home insurance issuing agent will be able to give you information on local requirements for coverage.

3. Resale Issues

Home buyers who do not intend to use an existing fireplace, flue or wood stove often consider skipping an inspection of the these features, as a cost-saving strategy. But doing this is risky for their future resale value.

If there are safety or condition issues with the fireplace, flue, or wood stove that are not discovered and corrected as part of the original purchase, these issues will likely be even more expensive to repair when attempting to resell the home in the future.

When inspections of these features reveal that they cannot be safely used to provide heat from a wood burning fire, buyers can ask the sellers to address the issue through the negotiation process.

If the fireplace, chimney, or flue cannot be restored for safe use with wood fires, it may still be possible to have the chimney sealed and install an electric or gas log into the fireplace opening. This would allow the buyers to receive some supplemental heat from the log inserts, as well as continue to enjoy the fireplace as a focal point in their home.

For assistance in locating a properly certified inspector for fireplaces, flues, and wood burning stoves, ask your real estate professional for a referral.