Buyer beware: always have chimneys inspected by a professional chimney sweep
The Midwest Chimney Safety Council recommends an inspection of all chimneys and flues at the time of purchase of a home by a professional chimney sweep. Home buyers may be in for a big surprise and major expense if they don’t have an inspection completed prior to closing of the sale.
Home inspectors do not inspect the interior or exterior chimney as a normal part of a home inspection. Most home inspectors do not have the necessary equipment or training to do chimney inspections, therefore, it is wise to have a professional do the job.
Unfortunately, many home buyers have found out after the sale that their chimney or fireplace is unusable. A typical inspection of a masonry chimney will reveal that the interior flue has missing mortar joints due to exposure to rain, moisture and acidic flue gasses. The older the home, the more likely there are problems.
In many cases, the seller has had a chimney fire without knowing it, and the interior clay tile flue liner is cracked and broken. Other typical findings are damaged smoke chambers, rusted dampers, missing chimney covers, poor flashing, and damaged cement crowns. Issues at the top of the chimney can’t be viewed without using a ladder, or in some cases, scaffold. Home inspectors don’t normally climb ladders or own scaffold.
The average chimney repair job runs into thousands of dollars. In the greater Kansas City area, the average relining job which involves removal of the damaged liner, scaffolding, and installation of a new flue liner costs between $8,000 to $18,000. In a recent case, an inspection of five chimneys and eight fireplaces in one home revealed $50,000 in damages.
In a 2012 transaction in Kansas City Missouri, the seller had a chimney flue relined with a new flue liner but the installer put a liner in that was too small. Months later, when the new owner started a fire in the fireplace it smoked badly and caused smoke damage to the entire home. An inspection by a professional chimney sweep revealed that the liner installed was too small for the chimney to draft properly. Because the contract was with the previous owner, the new owner had no recourse and had to pay $14,000 to have the steel liner extracted, then the old tile liner extracted, and a new properly sized flue liner installed. Flue sizing is extremely important to the operation of the appliance and if not done correctly can cause major problems such as smoking, odors, and Carbon Monoxide back up.
If damages are found prior to closing the buyer will know exactly what condition the chimney and fireplaces are in and how to proceed with the negotiation. If damages are due to a chimney fire the seller’s insurance will cover the damages, however, it is wise for the buyer to choose the company who will do the work because sellers usually want to go the least expensive route and often hire unqualified chimney companies to do the work.
A typical Level II inspection with an internal chimney camera involves running the camera through the damper and into the smoke chamber, then the flue. This type of inspection can reveal damages to masonry, mortar joints and flue tiles that can’t be seen using the naked eye and a mirror. A professional chimney sweep who has been trained in this type of inspection will be able to identify potential hazards, fire risks, and Carbon Monoxide risks.
The MCSC recommends that all flues be inspected including fireplace flues, furnace and boiler flues, and chimneys serving wood and gas stoves and inserts. If a chimney flue has an accumulation of creosote, the creosote must be removed so that the inspector can see the flue liner. Creosote is very flammable and should be removed by a qualified chimney sweep.
Visit www.mcsc-net.org or www.csia.org for more information or to find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.
Marge Padgitt is the editor of Wood-Fired Magazine, and CEO of a chimney contracting company in Kansas City, MO. Visit www.chimkc.com for more information.