Lancaster Inspector’s Corner – What Happens During a Chimney and Fireplace Inspection by a Home Inspector?

Happy Friday Readers!   Welcome back to our Friday Inspector’s Corner, where we are continuing Matt Steger’s discussion on Chimney and Fireplace inspections.  Matt is a Home Inspector with WIN Home Inspection and he is the one I call for all of my Lancaster County Pa Home Inspection needs, you should call him too!  Check out his info after the jump!

Matt Steger is available for Home Inspections in and around Lancaster County PA almost any dya of the week, give him a call at 717-361-9467!

What is done as part of a home inspection?

 Last time, we discussed the basics of a level 2 clean and service for a chimney and fireplace.  This week we’ll discuss what a home inspector does during their inspection when it comes to a fireplace and chimney.

 In the course of a home inspection, the inspector will view the chimney and fireplace from the exterior and within the firebox (if accessible).  If a wood burning insert is installed, the home inspector is limited to the chimney.  Removing a wood burning insert or pellet stove is well outside the scope of a home inspection, yet many of these older systems are not properly installed.  The inspector is not performing a code compliance inspection, nor verifying that the unit was installed per manufacturer’s instructions.  When an insert exists, the best bet is to consult a certified chimney/fireplace professional.  The chimney or fireplace professional can remove the insert and ensure the flue is properly attached.  Home inspectors are generally not trained or certified to perform level 2 or other invasive chimney inspections, so only relying only on the home inspector’s non-invasive home inspection doesn’t tell you the whole story.  Remember that home inspectors are generalists, not specialists, and that the home inspection is a non-invasive visual inspection.  A certified chimney professional is the specialist and can do a more invasive analysis and repair.

 On the chimney’s exterior, the home inspector will look for visual damage to the chimney (such as cracks in the brick/stone, flue, or mortar cap [aka, a chimney crown]), indications that a flue liner is present (terra cotta or metal), and even look at the chimney’s height.  There is a 10-3-2 rule for chimneys.  This rule says that chimneys must penetrate the roof by at least 3 feet and must also be 2 feet taller than anything within 10 feet of the chimney.  I often run across chimneys that appear to be too short and the adjacent roof peak is at nearly the same height or sometimes higher than the chimney just a few feet away.  On occasion, I’ve also seen other roof vents immediately adjacent to the chimney that are simply too close.  Chimneys must be the proper height and distance away from other objects so that the chimney can vent properly.

 When damaged masonry or a cracked mortar cap is found, repair is recommended.  Cracks in brick and mortar or the mortar cap can allow for water infiltration and further damage from freeze/thaw cycles.  Loose bricks can also fall and damage the roof below or injure someone on the ground.

 While inspecting the chimney’s exterior, the flashing is also checked to help prevent roof leaks.  Often a roof leak will occur where there is a penetration through the roof, such as at chimneys, vent stacks, or skylights.  Preventive maintenance is key to ensuring a dry home.  Chimney and other roof flashings should be regularly checked and resealed as needed.  Tree branches should be trimmed at least 10 feet away from the chimney to help prevent them from affecting proper drafting.

 The inspector will also look for leaning of the chimney.  When found, of course, if this is allowed to continue, the chimney may collapse at some point.  Bracing or other repair may help prevent a collapse.  Attaching overhead utility lines and TV antennas to a chimney is not a good idea since these can put extra stress on the chimney and may lead to future problems.

 As mentioned above, since the home inspector can most often not see the entire length of the chimney’s interior, he can not determine the interior condition of the flue.  Terra cotta may be cracked or misaligned due to settlement and age or it may be altogether missing (this is common with homes prior to the 1940s).  Damaged or missing liners can allow interior deterioration due to rain and exhaust gases reacting with each other.  Also, unlined chimneys allow heat to pass through chimney walls very quickly which can lead to a house fire.  Animals such as birds, raccoons, or squirrels like to nest in chimneys for protection and warmth, so nests can also block the flue and prevent proper venting.  All of the above can spell problems.  Improper venting may also allow dangerous exhaust gases, such as carbon monoxide, into the living space.

 Next week, we’ll continue discussing what a home inspector should do when it comes to inspecting fireplace and chimneys.

Tune in next friday for the next part in the series!

I’d like you to be part of the conversation, so if you like what you read here please comment, forward The Lancaster Connection.com to your friends, subscribe and as always, if you have questions, need real estate advice or want to buy or sell a home, you can call or text me at 717-371-0557, email me at Jason@JasonsHomes.com or contact me at the office at 717-490-8999!

Your Friend in Real Estate,

Jason BurkholderWeichert, Realtors – Engle & Hambright

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