Did You Know Your House Could Catch Fire If You Don’t Clean Your Chimney?

by jolyn on December 17, 2009

in Home Improvement

We love having a fireplace and made it a point to have this one inspected and serviced when we moved into this house two years ago. (To the tune of $1000+) (Ooch)

A lot of homes for sale will say, “Fireplace not warranted,” and this house was no exception. We made a point to have a chimney inspection done along with all the other usual recommended inspections you do before going and putting money down on a home.

Any problems found during these inspections not only help to foresee any potential repair the home may need; they also can help to leverage an offer during the negotiation process.

(As an aside, I highly recommend walking alongside the inspectors as they do their job. You will gain the most unbiased information on the practicalities of what to look for in a home than anywhere else. A good inspector will also be a good teacher and will love to share his knowledge with you.)(Not that I ever did this myself, mind you. That was The Hubs job.) (I stayed back in the hotel with the kids.)

We bought this house in 2007 and asked for cash at closing to cover the cost of the problems uncovered during the inspections, including the cost of servicing the chimney. At the end of the day, we only got $2000… Since the house also needed new windows, this was just a drop in the bucket. But hey, it was better than no drop at all.

Fast forward a few months and we’re finally clearing boxes out of the garage and, “Hey, what’s this big black fireplace insert thingy doing just sitting over here in the corner?”

We decided to go ahead and use the insert and started to look into getting it installed. It’s supposed to save on your heating bill, after all, right? We loved having fires anyway — no sense letting those dollars sit around in the garage.

So we hired Joe-Bob to come and help set it up (that thing is heavy) and we plugged it in and shut the doors and turned on the house fan and let the electric blower blow and felt smug in our little world of energy efficiency.

Last Spring we thought it’d be a good idea to get our chimney cleaned again. Uh-oh.

Don’t you know that inserts require a special kind of liner? Do you realize that the creosote (hardened soot) is so built up you were at risk of a chimney fire? We’re not even sure a power cleaning will get enough off to make it safe to burn a regular fire, never mind using your insert.

Uh, no and no and wha…?

After hearing the cost of installing the special liner ($1665), we decided it made no sense to keep using the insert: we would not recoup the cost in the remaining two winters we expect to be living in this house.

Fast forward to this week and the guys come out to power clean the chimney. They were skeptical at first about clearing out enough creosote to make it safe to burn a regular fire — especially after they started removing the insert and found creosote on the screws.

Finally Some Good News – Turns out the $1000+ liner we had installed back when we moved in (see paragraph one) saved us in more ways than one: not only were they able to remove some 97% of the creosote; turns out that we did actually have a chimney fire at some point, above the liner by the chimney cap where the smoke comes out. You can tell because when creosote burns it puffs up like a bunch of burnt marshmallows and hardens that way.

Uh, wouldn’t we have noticed if our chimney caught fire?

No, not necessarily. Unless you happened to be outside and look up at your chimney and notice the flames shooting out the top.

Nice.

The (blurry) shiny black stuff is creosote.

A mere $284 later, we now have a safe, working fireplace. And an insert we can’t use.

Anyone in the market? They even cleaned it!

We’ll cut you a great deal;)

I hope we can sell it on Craigslist… Either that, or we’ll just beg some strong friends to come and help us move it out to the garage.

Last case scenario, we’ll call the chimney guys back and ask them to cart it away. They said they’d do it for $100. I’d rather avoid that — this insert has cost us enough already.

We will be calling the chimney sweepers back next Spring, however, for a routine cleaning. Return customers pay $99, a $15 discount. Finally, we’ll be saving some money.

This has been one expensive month.

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Anne December 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Yes, the $5k covered it. The electrician gave us a quote before we put in the request, and then he honored the amount. We also received a large amount of money to clean out and encapsulate our crawl space, which is also a safety issue. The sellers couldn’t back out because they couldn’t re-list the house without disclosing the wiring problem. They were stuck. That could have been us! It’s awesome knowing that our wiring is up to the same code as a new house, and that we should be able to sell without inspection problems.

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jolyn December 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Anne, WOW. Did $5000 cover it? Could you imagine not finding that out until you moved in? (If you ever did?) (Without the house catching fire?)

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Anne December 18, 2009 at 3:15 pm

THANK YOU for mentioning that people should always walk through with the inspector. Joel was with our inspector when he mentioned that our electrical wiring needed to be checked out, and gave us the name of a reputable electrician. Who in turn pretty much freaked out and told us that our whole house needed to be rewired or else it would probably catch fire (we live in an older home.) Which then led to the sellers giving us $5K. This is only our 2nd home, but we’ve already learned a very important lesson!

[Reply]

Lori December 18, 2009 at 12:35 am

We don’t have a fireplace but I just recently learned about this exact subject because a very close friend of mine works in the office of a chimney sweeping company. She was amazed to learn a lot of what you posted. Who knew there was so much to learn about having a fireplace!

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