Most people seem to think their fireplaces are safe, even though they have not had them cleaned or inspected for years, or even decades. This may not be the case. Over 15,000 home fires a year in the U.S. are attributed to fireplaces and chimneys.
I did a random survey of properties where we cleaned or inspected the chimney and fireplace during a 5 day period last October.
- 7 if 23 properties inspected were in good condition and only needed cleaning.
- 7 of the 23 properties had cracks in the flue that were a fire hazard and which required the chimney to be relined.
- 9 of the properties had other issues such as cracks between bricks that needed repair, cracks in the chimney crown, missing caps/spark arrestors, or faulty control modules on a gas fireplace.
Our recommendations are that if you have a masonry fireplace that is over 25 years old, it is probably a good idea to get the chimney inspected with a video inspection as there is about a 25% chance that you have cracks in the flue which are a fire hazard.
Even if you have been getting your chimney swept regularly, if the chimney sweep has not done a video inspection of the flue, you might still have a fire hazard. Last fall, Rachael Ray (TV Host) had her house burn down because of cracks in the flue, even though she was getting the chimneys swept regularly.
Many sweeps only do a visual inspection or at most use a hand held mirror. These techniques are only effective in very short chimneys. We used to charge extra for video inspections but now include those with all inspections or cleanings.
It is also recommended that all fireplaces/chimneys be inspected when a home is being sold. If you are a buyer, you don’t want to find out that the fireplace or chimney needs major repair work after you close escrow.
All properties with Rampart General Precast fireplaces (built from the 1960’s to mid 1990’s need to be inspected as they are prone to cracking in the fireplace and the flue. If you can see long vertical cracking on the outside of these fireplaces, get the cracks repaired immediately before the damage becomes more extensive, as sometimes the only repair is to tear down the chimney.