Any time there is a sale or transfer of a property, your home inspection should include a thorough examination of your masonry chimney.
Depending on which area of Southern California you live in (Laurel Canyon vs. La Verne, for example), a separate chimney inspection should run in the $250 to $300 range.
Typically, the inspector will run a camera down the chimney top, through the flue and into the firebox looking for not only obstructions, like creosote, a hard, dark and often crusty substance that can build up and ignite over time, but also structural cracks and loose mortar, due to a combination of factors, including use, aging, weather and Southern California’s constant seismic activity.
The reason an inspection is so important is that a poorly constructed or malfunctioning chimney has the potential to kill via smoke, carbon monoxide leaks or fire.
That alone, whether you’re a buyer or seller, should be enough to catch your attention and move you to err on the side of caution should repairs be recommended. Living with a leaky roof is a pain, but it likely won’t kill you.
That said, fireplace repairs can be an area ripe with fraud, because not only are many of the cited repairs not easily visible, but there is often broad interpretation as to the extent of the repairs needed. For example, will a hairline crack in the chimney’s interior wall require an entire new liner at the cost of thousands of dollars or is there a simpler and equally safe solution available?
To protect yourself from unscrupulous operators, especially during a real estate transaction, you need to take a few common-sense precautions.
· Use your own eyes. If you’ve noticed moisture or loose mortar in the firebox, you likely have a compromised fireplace. If you’re able, climb the ladder and try to gauge, without actually getting on the roof, what condition the chimney top and crown are in. If you see loose bricks or mortar, your chimney requires immediate attention.
· Select one company to do the inspection and another to do the repairs, lessening the potential conflict of an interest that occurs when the inspection company stands to benefit greatly from also performing the repairs.
· Get two or three repair estimates because recommended repairs can include a variety of solutions and approaches.
· Have the recommended repairs, such as repairs to the chimney cap, crown, flashing, masonry, detailed and explained to your satisfaction. Ask for photos of the areas that need repair.
· Hire a chimney professional who has been certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
Most fireplace problems could be easily detected and corrected of course, if homeowners had their fireplaces inspected annually, but that’s usually not the case, so the chimney inspection can literally be a lifesaver.
Every time you gather around the hearth of your home, you want it to be a warming place, not a warning place, so regularly inspect it and maintain it.