The onset of fall and winter and colder weather means that home buyers may be on the lookout for listings with chimneys and fireplaces. Not only do those features add unique charm to a home, those that are functioning provide an extra safety net if the power goes out during a winter storm and you have no other heating source to rely on to keep your family warm. But these features often show up on home inspection reports, flagged by an inspector doing a general inspection before a homeowner lists a property or on behalf of a buyer who wants to have the home checked-out prior to closing.
What it Probably Means
Because general inspections don’t typically include chimneys and fireplaces, the inspector will likely recommend that you have those evaluated by a trained and experienced chimney and fireplace specialist. If you see that kind of comment in your report, don’t be alarmed. Your inspector is simply advising you to have a professional chimney expert take a closer look, since that is beyond the scope of a general home inspection.
In rare cases, if something is blatantly obvious to the naked eye, the inspector may, of course, flag a chimney or fireplace due to other more visible concerns. Say, for instance, that bricks are visible on the roof that have been dislodged from the chimney and have fallen. In that case consult with the inspector if you have any questions.
But normally a recommendation to have an expert take a look just means that you should have someone with the right tools and training study the chimney and fireplace to ensure that everything is in good, safe working condition.
What to Do Next
Usually this kind of evaluation can be done by a chimney sweep or brick mason who specializes in chimney and fireplaces. You’ll want to hire someone who has tool such as small video equipment that can travel all the way up the chimney column to detect any cracks, voids, or other problems inside the chimney itself. They should also check the outside of the chimney, including the flashing around it where it protrudes through the roof or is attached to the side of the house and the protective chimney cap.
The fireplace box also needs to be checked. The professional should ensure that the flue and other components are working properly, that the hearth protects the adjacent floor from heat or potential fire, and that any combustible building materials are a safe distance from any heat source along the way. Oftentimes the chimney also needs to be swept or cleaned so that there is no blockage and that any accumulated creosote or other flammable material is removed from the interior, to help avoid potential chimney fires.
If repairs or maintenance are needed, have those taken care of and then the buyer and seller will want to negotiate the cost. The seller will usually do the repair prior to closing. In some circumstances they may also pay cash at closing or reduce the sales price to help accommodate the expense of the buyer doing the repair at a later date. At any rate, solicit 2-4 competing bids to figure out your actual costs. After repairs or upgrades it is always a good idea to have your inspector and the chimney specialist return for a follow-up visit to look over the work and give it a clean bill of health or make further recommendations as needed.