A fireplace inspection is recommended every one to two years. Sometimes it is essential to have it inspected—especially before buying or selling a home.
An inspection is important for a newer fireplace but it is crucial for a unit in an older home. An unsafe fireplace or chimney is a serious cause for concern and, therefore, you should be aware of the condition before it’s too late.
What Could Go Wrong?
Many issues could arise as a result of inadequate fireplace and chimney maintenance. Below is a list of some examples to give you an idea of why it is important to have your chimney regularly inspected and serviced.
Chimney Cap Mishaps
If the chimney cap has even a little tear birds or rodents can get inside and make a nest. Both rain and snow can easily get through if the cap is damaged. Any shifting of the cap can also make an opening for wetness or wild creatures.
Chimney Bird Health Risks
Chimney birds like the “chimney swift” (a real bird species) leave droppings that pose health risks such as a respiratory infection called “histoplasmosis” which can cause flu-like symptoms, chest pain, weight loss, and more.
A failure to have the chimney of a wood fireplace swept regularly can cause a build-up of creosote—fuel that has not fully burned—which is the primary cause of chimney fire.
A build-up of creosote from insufficient sweeping can cause skin and eye irritation, respiratory issues, kidney and liver irritation, confusion, seizures, and even increase the risk of skin cancer.
These are just a few examples of problems that could occur as a result of inadequate maintenance of your wood or gas fueled fireplace.
The Age of Your Fireplace
Many issues that surface because of an inadequately maintained fireplace or chimney are built-up over time. Creosote accumulation which poses serious health risks is a good example of that. However, the concerns are more widespread than just potential health issues.
Another consideration to make is the structural integrity of the chimney and fireplace. This part of your home must be built correctly and positioned right at all times. A little unsettling can lead to extensive damage. Actually, many home sales fall through after a fireplace inspection because the unexpected house repairs carry a $20,000-plus bill.
Some issues to look out for with an aging fireplace/chimney include:
Gaps and cracks
Gaps or cracks to the mortar can cause wetness to enter. Hairline cracks are not a major concern but should still be fixed. Larger cases of cracking or gaps can significantly increase the risk of a chimney fire or collapse.
Firebox settlement cracks
The firebox could pull away from the building because of settlement cracks. This issue most commonly affects the back wall. Unfortunately, this form of structural damage is often seen as benign and goes ignored. Both cracks and damage to the mortar joints can influence the collapsing of the chimney.
Hearth settlement cracks
Structural damage to the hearth could come in the form of the floor sagging away. It is also possible that the fireplace and chimney will lean away. These issues can eventually cause the structure collapse which makes it a serious safety risk.
Settlement issues prevent a fireplace from being usable with appliances. You need an emergency fireplace inspection If anything in your home vents out through the chimney and you notice any structural damage.
Before getting an inspection…
Please keep in mind that the most basic inspection (Level 1) only looks at the components of the fireplace and chimney that are visible. The next option (Level 2) takes a more in-depth approach as the inspector may go through the attic or basement for a more thorough look. Another choice that is costlier but helpful in cases of severe damage (Level 3) involves taking apart and destroying certain parts.
The Level 1, 2, and 3 fireplace inspection classifications are governed by the National Fire Protection Association. Check here for more info on their inspection standards.
Inspecting a Gas Fireplace
Both wood and gas-based fireplaces need to be inspected.
A gas fireplace should be inspected at least once a year. Before using, if it has not been serviced recently—get a pro in to sweep, inspect, and service the unit. Make sure that the vent is always open when using the fireplace to prevent carbon monoxide from leaking into your home. Gas fireplaces are easier to maintain than wood alternatives but you have to be cautious when using them.
A gas fireplace should be inspected regularly to make sure there is no risk of a carbon monoxide leak. Exposure can cause flu-like symptoms, organ troubles, heart problems, brain damage, or even death.
Countless instances of carbon monoxide deaths exist as a result of a gas leak within the home. You should have a detector installed in your home near your fireplace and any gas-based appliances. Be sure to call for firefighters to help if your alarm goes off and stay out of your home until you are cleared to re-enter.
Gas leaks are serious and not something to gamble on.
Avoid them by getting your gas fireplace inspected and serviced before using it.
Fireplace Inspection Before Buying or Selling
Fireplace damage can be a deal-breaker in a real estate transaction. Many sellers list properties without realizing there are unknown repairs that need to be done. A damaged fireplace is the biggest example of such. It could take a Level 2 or Level 3 inspection to find the damage but the cost of a structural repair can easily run $20,000 or more.
As a seller, it makes sense to get a fireplace inspected before listing your property if the unit is dated. Many buyers will be turned off by the idea of having a fireplace or chimney that needs extensive amounts of maintenance. If you put their minds at ease you will avoid scaring away potential buyers.
As a buyer, it makes sense to get a fireplace inspection before you make a qualifying offer on a property. The cost to repair any damage to the fireplace or chimney must be considered before you jump into your investment. Unfortunately, there are many stories from homebuyers that discover the issue after-the-fact and live to regret their decision.
Get Inspection Help Today
Whether you’re a homeowner or a prospective buyer—making sure there are no fireplace safety or health risks is essential. A fireplace inspection is no DIY job and should be done by a specialty home inspector with past experience in the field. NFPA-certified inspectors are the most dependable but this accolade is not essential for a quality service.
A professional evaluation done by a reputable home inspector is in order. Find someone in your area to conduct a fireplace inspection today by reaching out to a WIN Home Inspection expert near you. You can also talk to a professional by calling (800) 309-6753.
Not sure what to expect? Read about “The WIN Way” and see how we ensure that every one of our inspectors is completely reliable. We give you a list of qualified professionals in your area that can offer a thorough fireplace inspection. Let an expert do the hard work and receive your written report at the end.