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Kaplan ITA's Monthly Inspection Tips - Free Electronic Newsletter

June, 2005
Fireplace Inspections
Issue #38

This month I would like to discuss fireplace inspections. I know it is summer, but we all inspect both masonry and factory-built fireplaces year round. Additionally, the fireplace system controls a fire in someone's house; it is critical that it be fully inspected to the best of our ability.

Masonry fireplaces should be visually inspected both interior and exterior for unusual cracks or other defects. Whenever possible I prefer to get on the roof and closely inspect the chimney and flue. If I am able to reach the top of the chimney I like to look down the flue. A powerful flashlight will illuminate quite a bit of the flue interior. On a sunny day I use my mirror to reflect light down the flue and inspect what I can see. Any solid fuel chimney should extend at least three feet above the surface of the roof and be at least two feet above anything within 10-feet.

Once inside I check for proper size of hearth; 16in. deep and 8in. to each side if the opening is six sq.ft. or less, 20in. and 12in. if larger. I inspect the firebox and hearth for deteriorated masonry and/or mortar. If the fireplace is full of debris or in use I note in my report the condition and the firebox was not fully visible for inspection. Once I have inspected the firebox and clearance of combustibles (minimum 6in. with additional limitations depending upon projection of the combustible) around the fireplace opening I like to stick my head in the firebox and look up the flue. Of course open the damper before you stick your head in the fireplace. I once found a roll of type 30 felt paper in the flue of a factory-built fireplace.

In the attic check the chimney structure for proper clearance to combustibles (two inches) and look for deterioration of the roof sheathing around the chimney, this is a popular location for damaged wood from flashing leaks. I always try to get in the attic first before walking the roof to check for any damage where I might stick my foot through the roof (not that I ever did that). I have found several factory built chimneys that had separated and some of the products of combustion were escaping into the attic.

Factory built fireplaces are required to be installed per their listing. There are many types; I try to annually review the specifications for the most popular ones. Another good resource is pages 25 and 26 in our book Code Check Building.

We'll talk next month,

Mike Casey
Kaplan Professional Schools
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