When the crisp and cool weather makes an entrance, snuggling up in front of a fireplace can often be the first thing we think about. But when was the last time you had a fireplace inspection to ensure that your fireplace is up to standard and is safe? If you recently purchased your house, do you know when the previous owner had the fireplace inspected? If you’re unsure, it’s worth having a fireplace inspection.
Why are fireplace inspections essential?
The thing with fireplaces is that any hazards presents are most often completely out of sight. There could be defects that you don’t see, defects that pose a potential risk and which are dangerous. No one ever wants to experience smoke that doesn’t exit the chimney flue or at worst, a catastrophic chimney fire. Avoid any risk involved with your fireplace by having a licensed building inspector check a few significant areas of a fireplace.
Over time creosote can build up in a chimney. When wood is burned with other fossil fuels, inadequate airflow in the fireplace means that the oils in the wood do not combust properly. As the smoke travels up the chimney it cools and leaves the black oily residue called creosote. As the fireplace is used each season, this layer of creosote builds up and reduces the airflow that a fire needs for proper combustion. Creosote is highly combustible and so the build-up of a hot is the perfect trigger for a chimney fire.
Have a reputable building inspector check the state of your fireplace and chimney to ensure none of these hazards are present. If there is a creosote build-up, a good chimney sweep will be able to clean out the flue and let you know how much build-up there was. If you have been the sole owner of your property you will have a good idea of how long it’s been since your last chimney inspection but if there have been other previous owners, you may never know when or if there was an inspection and it’s best to take precaution.
Fireplace installation is a particularly important area for attention if you have recently purchased a property because you may not know the history of the fireplace. It could have been a DIY install and may not pass regulations. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry and get a building inspector experienced in fireplaces to check for you.
Fireplaces should have insulation in the chimney, walls and roof but knowing their condition is difficult because you can’t see them. Flue liners and insulation are extremely important because they help exit the smoke created by your fireplace and act as a heat protector. A licensed building inspector will be able to check the current state of the flue and insulation for you.
Everyone wants to be able to enjoy their fireplace from a safe distance, the last thing anyone wants is a fire jumping out at them! This is why it’s essential to have an inspector check that there is adequate heat shielding. Fireplaces and chimneys need heat barriers that surround the combustible framing.
Do you know if the hearth underneath your fireplace is in good condition or if it even exists? The hearth is non-combustible material such as brick, tile, slate or stone that sits under your fireplace to protect the floor and areas around the fireplace. The hearth can be damaged with house movement and general wear and tear and can present as cracks. If you’re unsure what to look for it’s always best to hire a qualified inspector before you use your fireplace.
Because bricks are porous, water can easily get into a chimney. The problem is, if there are no weep holes, water cannot drain out. Weep holes also act as air vents to help dry out a chimney. A building inspector can help tell you if there are weep holes in your chimney and if there is a sufficient number of them for the size of your chimney.
What you can check yourself
In addition to having a professional fireplace inspection, there are some easily identifiable things you can check yourself.
Grates are put in place to contain things like burning wood. Without a grate, it is difficult for air to flow under logs on an open fire and without proper airflow, you’ll be hard pressed to maintain a decent fire. You can purchase grates at your local home improvement store.
You may think of your mantel as a decorative feature, but it also protects against any combustible material which surrounds your fireplace. Ensure you check for cracks in your mantel and if you’re unsure or would like a closer inspection, have a licensed building inspector check it for you.
If you don’t have a chimney tray, it’s possible that your chimney walls could be exposed to the vapour and liquid phase of heat passing through the chimney tray. This means that damp can build in your chimney.
Small animals often like to venture down holes. If you don’t have a chimney cap, it’s highly likely that a small animal may take an adventure into your chimney and find itself trapped in your house. If you live in an area with severe weather like snow or storms, a missing chimney cap could mean a chance of weather coming into your house via the chimney.
Even if you don’t use your fireplace regularly or if you haven’t been the sole owner of your property, it’s best to avoid taking risks and assuming a property is safe. Have peace of mind and have a qualified building inspector check the interior and exterior of your chimney and fireplace to ensure everything is safe and in working order before you light your next fire.
Andrew Mackintosh is the owner and inspector at Action Property Inspections . Andrew carried out over 20,000 building inspections, is a licensed builder, a licensed building inspector and a Member of Queensland Master Builders Association & Institute of Building Consultants.