Chimneys & Fireplaces

Home Inspections 101

Your fireplace is likely either a masonry fireplace or a factory built fireplace. There are a few hybrid types, but they are less commonly found. You should be able to determine which kind you have in your home by looking at it and identifying the following components:

Masonry Fireplace

  • Masonry fireplaces are built entirely of bricks, blocks, or stone and mortar
  • The firebox (the base of the fireplace, where… surprise… the fire is built) is built of individual firebricks
  • A brick chimney above the roof
  • Pyramid-shape above the damper, also made of brick

Factory Built Fireplace

  • Factory built fireplaces are built of metal
  • Come from the factory as complete units with a firebox, a specific chimney system, and all its parts
  • The firebox often has cast refractory panels, so you can usually see some visible metal
  • Round, metal chimney above the damper
  • Metal chimney above the roof, unless it’s a hybrid that attaches to a brick chimney

Here are a few additional things to know about your fireplace, regardless of which type you have. Bill Bitz from Discover It Home Inspections advises the following:

The firebox, damper, and smokeshelf of your fireplace extend into the flue which lines the chimney. At the top of the chimney is a crown which needs to be maintained, otherwise you’re looking at water intrusion and structure deterioration. At the top of the flue there needs to be a flue cap which prevents birds, water and debris from entering the chimney.

Common issues to look out for are deteriorated flue tiles and heavy creosote (the byproduct of burning firewood).  Deteriorated flue tiles lead to smoke and potential carbon monoxide entering the living space, so it’s definitely not something to ignore. It can be repaired by inserting a stainless steel liner into the chimney.

For the exterior components of your chimney, the biggest factor is crown maintenance.  If water enters the structure, freeze and thaw cycles will expand and contract the moisture, causing the cement to crack. If the damage gets down into the brick it can cause the mortar to fail, and then you’re looking at a significant structural issue. The longer that chimney problems are left untreated, the more expensive they become to repair.

For preventive care, Bill recommends having the flue cleaned and the chimney inspected every two cords of firewood.  Get it? Got it? Good. Just remember, those cozy hot cocoa nights make it all worth it.

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