Home Inspections: Wood Burning Stoves in your Home

By: Eric Badgely

Wood burning devices, such as fireplaces and stoves, are among the most dangerous systems found in the home. Poor installation, or lack of maintenance, can lead to a serious fire hazard.

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are found in many homes, both older and new construction. These systems, because poor maintenance or improper installation is so common, can be the cause of a fire. Due to the vulnerability of these systems, the professional home inspector must carefully evaluate them.

More often than not, unless a chimney sweep or another professional has recently performed professional service, the home inspector finds a multitude of correctable problems that are significant safety issues. These concerns, while the list below is not intended to be inclusive, would typically involve heavy deposits of creosote in the stove, fireplace or flue (the purpose of the chimney is to vent exhaust gases not to collect combustible materials); broken or cracked firebricks; loose, torn or generally bad gaskets at doors; poorly planned and unsafe installations such as insufficient clearances to combustibles; or the very common malady of the short hearth. A hearth protects the floor and should extend out at least 18 inches past the opening of the wood-burning device. That non-combustible hearth on the floor protects carpets and flooring materials from being assaulted by burning embers.

As a result of the safety issues involved with wood burning devices and chimneys, the National Fire Protection Association recommends that a Level 2 chimney inspection should be made part of every sale or transfer of property. A Level 2 inspection is an in-depth inspection by a specially trained and licensed chimney professional. Such an inspection goes beyond the visual inspection provided by a home inspector and can catch subtle, but potentially serious, safety hazards that exist at the fireplace, stove, flue and associated components.

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