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Homewerx Home Inspection

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Fireplace Safety         

 

When the weather begins to turn cooler, people start to crank up their fireplaces.  It is very relaxing to cozy up with a good book on a cold winter's night and watch the fire.  However, before lighting your fireplace, you should check a few things to ensure the safety of your home and family.  It is important to know what type of fireplace you have and how to operate it properly.
If you have recently purchased a home, it is important to have your fireplace and chimney inspected.  A defective or deteriorating firebox and chimney can be hazardous to the structure of your home, as well as to your family.  It is also wise to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.  A fireplace that is not operating correctly can produce this toxic gas.  Be aware that the suggestions below are not intended to replace an inspection by a qualified inspector.
There are two main types of built in-fireplaces:  masonry and metal insert.  Masonry fireplaces are built with bricks and mortar and have a metal or clay flue liner.  They are designed to burn anything from cordwood to gas logs.  Metal insert fireplaces, on the other hand, are just that.  A metal firebox is inserted into the framing of the house and a single or double-walled flue is extended through the siding or roof of the house.  They are primarily designed to burn gas logs only.   It should be noted that fireplaces are very inefficient for heating and are primarily for entertainment.  Even with the best fireplaces, less than 17% of the heat is radiated into the house; the rest is lost up the chimney.
Things to look for in a masonry fireplace
First, look at the fireplace as a whole.  If there is not a spark screen or glass door, do not use the fireplace.  Check to see if there are any damaged or cracked bricks in the firebox or hearth.  Look at the mortar joints.  Are they in good condition or are they deteriorating?  Operate the damper and make sure it is open before lighting a fire.   And finally, look at the top of the chimney for a spark screen and make sure the opening at the top is clear.
Note: If the primary fuel burned in the fireplace is cordwood, have the chimney cleaned after every one and a half cords.  This will prevent a fire in the chimney from creosote build up.
Safety Note: Never burn 2 x 4’s or other engineered wood products in your fireplace.  These products are chemically treated and may give off toxic fumes.
Things to look for in a metal insert fireplace.
Metal fireplace inserts are very common in many new homes.  They are generally safe appliances to operate, however, like masonry fireplaces are for entertainment rather than home heating. Note: Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for your particular unit when lighting.  First, look at the fireplace as a whole.  If there is not a spark screen or glass door or if you see any physical damage, do not use the fireplace.  Look at the top of the chimney for a spark screen and make sure that trees or bushes are clear of the opening.  If an electric igniter is installed, check that it is operational before turning on the gas.  Look at the gas burner for rust, physical damage or soot build up.  If while lighting the burner, an ignition whomp occurs (a slow ignition of the gas that makes a whomp sound) a problem may exist with the air gap setting in the burner assembly.  In some sealed units, after the burner is lit, the glass may fog up, however, the fogging should clear up in a few minutes.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact a professional...and ALWAYS watch children around fire!

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