Welcome Back Again! I’m glad you’re here for the last in our Chimney and Fireplace series from Matt Steger with WIN Home Inspection! Before we begin, let me wish you a Happy New Year!
Don’t worry, just like last week I am not actually writing your latest tips from Matt on the holiday, the miracles of technology allow me to keep you informed and still enjoy the New Year Celebrations here in Lancaster County PA! Read on after the jump for the final tips on fireplace and chimney inspections/maintenance!
This week, let’s finish our discussion about fireplaces and how these are inspected during a home inspection.
When burning wood, it is wise to burn only seasoned dry wood. Trying to burn ‘green’ or damp wood will lead to a smoky fire (assuming you can get it lit) and also presents a better chance of creosote accumulation. Creosote is the black tar-like substance from condensed flue gases and un-burnt carbon that exists in the wood. When a hot fire is burnt, this helps keep the flue gases and particles hot as they exit the chimney. A lower temperature fire allows this material to condense as it rises up the chimney and get stuck along the inside of the chimney.
Home inspectors do not light fireplaces or pilot lights. When the home has a gas fireplace, the system should be ready to go for the inspection. This means the seller should have the pilot lit. The inspector will use the normal operating control (normally, either a wall or unit mounted switch or a remote control) to start up the unit. The inspector will run the gas fireplace for a short period of time and also open the access panel under the unit. Within this location, the inspector can verify that a gas supply valve is present and also inspect the condition of the fuel line.
One has to be careful when running corrugated stainless steel tubing (often called CSST and normally yellow in color) into a gas fireplace with a metal chassis. Often, these units have round or square openings in the chassis which tend to be sharp. Since the CSST material has relatively thin walls (about 0.010” thick), it doesn’t take very much mechanical movement or bending to damage or puncture this type of gas piping. Most plumbing and natural gas requirements call for protection from mechanical damage to be installed a flexible gas piping. Therefore, running CSST into the fireplace with a short PVC sleeve, a rubber grommet, or simply not using CSST at this location are all options to protect the gas pipe. Using black steel or rigid copper tubing is an alternative.
Installing a carbon monoxide detector near the fireplace is very wise. Also, if a gas log has been installed into a fireplace with a damper (such as into a previous wood burning fireplace), a special clamp should be installed on the damper to make sure it can’t be fully closed. Even an active continuously running pilot light may allow for carbon monoxide accumulation; the slightly open damper will allow this exhaust to vent outside.
If the chimney only vents a fossil fuel heating system or water heater, special attention needs to be given to the location and pitch of the connector exhaust pipe(s) and how they are sealed into the chimney. If there is a large metal connector pipe for an oil fired furnace and a small metal connector vent pipe for a gas fired water heater, the smaller pipe should enter the chimney above the location where the larger furnace vent pipe enters the chimney to help encourage proper drafting up the flue.
Chimneys used for any purpose (unless officially sealed and out of service) should be inspected regularly. If the chimney is only venting the fossil fuel HVAC system or water heater, having the chimney inspected when the HVAC system is cleaned annually is a good choice for safe operation.
Most certified chimney sweeps will charge somewhere in the neighborhood of $150~$200 for a basic level 2 clean and service, although a chimney with multiple flues or one that is very tall may cost more. Keep in mind that a level 2 clean and service does not necessarily cover repairs that may need to be done.
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Don’t forget to call Matt at 717-361-9467 for all of your LAncaster County PA home inspection needs!
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Weichert, Realtors – Engle & Hambright
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