Even though we might not use our fireplaces here in South Carolina too often, once the weather gets a little chilly, it is nice to have that option. A cold evening in front of the fire is a nice touch in a Columbia, SC home for sure!
Since fireplaces are not used that often in most homes, though some do utilize them as an excellent source of alternative home heating, it is still important for homeowners to be aware of fireplace safety usage. For starters, it is important to periodically have ones chimneys swept. How often will definitely depend on the amount of use it gets. As a Columbia SC home inspector, we come across plenty of neglected fireplaces, as well as chimneys that are not in good condition. Over time, the debris that deposits in the chimney from a fire contains oils that can catch on fire causing a lot of potential property damage.
There are four types of fireplaces we will describe below and the basics of how each functions.
Older masonry fireplaces from before the 1950’s were made of brick and unlined. Therefore, the interior and exterior of the chimney are made of the same bricks, and both are exposed directly to the smoke of the fire. These types of chimneys are really unsafe for burning fires. The rough interior bricks can hold a lot of creosote and cracks in the mortar can let Carbon Monoxide get into the home. If ones home has this type of fireplace chimney, it is not a total loss, for they can be lined, making it much safer to use.
After the 1940’s fireplace construction used oval, rectangular or round clay tiles. The chimney interior is a much smoother surface because of this. This will cut down on the amount of the creosote build up and number of gaps that gases can get through. Lined chimneys will require a professional cleaning still, but are safer than unlined masonry.
Like the name suggests, these chimneys are made, or cast, offsite and transported to the home site. For larger subdivisions and housing communities, this can save a builder time in the construction process. They are also called Rampart fireplaces.
A crane is used to lift them into place. Typically the casting is designed to still look like a brick chimney. Though they will speed of the construction time of a house build, if they crack they will need to be replaced. It is very difficult to repair a crack.
Since the 1970’s, today’s building standards are that fireplaces need to be factory built of metal, with a metal flue surrounded by a wood frame chimney. This is also more cost effective than an all brick fireplace and are much easier to clean.
Even with South Carolinian’s only using a fireplace a few times a year, they still need to be cleaned. It is wise to give it a visual inspection in the fall, before the cold season gets here. Look up through the flue or chimney using a flashlight. If it seems like there is more than 1/8″ thick or more of creosote, get in touch with a chimney sweep before using it in the winter. Also check for any rust, for it can let Carbon Monoxide get into the living area too.
Do not hesitate to contact GPS Home Inspections for any type of safety concern you may have for your home or a home you are considering purchasing.
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