Handling Multiple Chimney Service & Repair Estimates
An unfortunately common scenario: You call a chimney professional out and receive an estimate that seems too high. So, you call another company out for a second opinion and they provide you with an entirely different scenario. Frustrated, you call a third company intending to gain some clarity. But, now you have three inspection reports that appear to contradict each other and arrive at different conclusions.
How do you decide the best course of action?
Reputable contractors will be able to provide sufficient documentation to support their estimate. Photographs of the issue in question are one of the best methods of demonstrating the need for repair and the results of their work. It is important to choose a contractor that you feel comfortable hiring to provide the work. Price is not always the most important factor in the decision-making process.
Conflicting inspection reports often occur when a home is being sold. It is typical for the seller to have a chimney inspected with the expectation that everything is fine. The buyer then asks for an inspection which results in a quote for expensive repairs. This is often when it becomes more difficult to define the right and wrong of either inspection. A chimney may be in ordinary condition and be working well and still have many defects. There may be missing mortar or even clearance issues. Occasionally, the homeowner, without knowledge of the industry standards for clearances to combustibles, may have modified the system themselves in a way that violates existing codes. For example, bookshelves on the sides or rear of the fireplace are often added in living rooms.
In other cases, the hearth may not meet the required depth based on the size of the fireplace opening. That fireplace may have been in use for fifty years and was acceptable at the time of construction. Some inspectors will make a note of this deficiency and others may not.
But is it “safe”?
Many homeowners simply want to know if the chimney is safe, even though common sense tells us that lighting things on fire inside one's home will never be perfectly safe. Many things can go wrong. The inspector has no control over the operation of the fire and he cannot observe many parts of the chimney structure without intrusive or destructive methods.
Deciding Not to Use the Appliance
Other homeowners will be risk averse and want every detail repaired to ensure they have done everything in their power to reduce the risk of a chimney fire or carbon monoxide intrusion. Others may adopt a more cavalier attitude and refuse to acknowledge the inherent risk of using a combustion appliance. The most important consideration is to be sure the products of combustion do not escape the system until vented outside the home.
In some instances, a homeowner will elect to stop using the fireplace until the appropriate repairs have been made. Keep in mind that the flue serving the furnace will be used any time the appliance kicks on. It is for this reason you should consider the furnace, boiler and water heater venting systems a priority.
In some cases, it is easy to determine when a fireplace is not operating properly. For example, smoke stains above the fireplace opening are a sign of spillage. The smoke spilling from the fireplace may happen on occasion or it might happen every time the fireplace is lit. It could be the result of a flue that is either too small, a chimney that is too short or has offsets or some other restriction. Many homeowners expect a fireplace to smoke from time to time, which is why you often hear “I love the way it smells when I burn my fireplace”. While the homeowner may think it is normal, this is not a fireplace that is working as intended.
Most homeowners do not understand the details of fireplace construction and the clearance requirements. That is why there is a need for CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps to perform those inspections. The inspection process requires much more skill than simply sweeping the chimney. It is quite possible to receive varying inspection reports on the same chimney, but you can rely on CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps to discuss their findings and present options in a way which will allow you to make an informed decision.