Fireplace On Fire!- Oceanside Home Inspection
Up to this point, it had been a normal Oceanside home inspection. I was in the master bedroom evaluating the fireplace, a factory-built unit (also known as a "zero-clearance" fireplace) with a gas log set and electronic ignition. Blackened areas were visible at the bottom of the fireplace doors and the paint was blistered on the face panel below the doors. That little warning alarm in my head immediately started going off.
I opened the doors and removed the panel in the bottom of the firebox to evaluate the gas valve and ignition controls. The control components were completely melted, the results of an obvious fire in the compartment below the firebox! Although I never did hear of the details concerning this fire, the owners are very fortunate their house did not burn down! Just one reason why you should never leave an operating fireplace unattended for any length of time. This unit will have to be evaluated by a factory-built fireplace technician to see if the steel cabinet around the firebox has been damaged by this fire.
Let's talk about a few fire/safety hazards I typically see when inspecting these units. If a fireplace has a gas fixture installed, the damper should be permanently blocked open. This is commonly done with the use of a damper clamp, a small C-clamp with a long bolt on it. It gets mounted on the fireplace damper or it's arm assembly preventing closure of the damper. If there is a gas leak and the damper clamp is installed, the gas will not be so likely to enter the living space and create a hazard.
Another defect I commonly see during a home inspection is the lack of an approved sealant where the gas line penetrates the refractory panel (insulating panel) in the firebox. This opening must be sealed to prevent hot gases from entering the area behind the panel. There are several approved materials that are easy to install and will effectively seal this opening. If a refractory panel is cracked wide enough for a nickel to be inserted, it is a fire hazard and should be replaced.
Prices for factory-built fireplaces start at $1000 and go up to $5000 or more depending on the size, efficiency, and features of the model. Newer, energy-efficient models have surprisingly high efficiencies (up to 70+ percent) and often provide more heat than their traditional masonry counterparts.
Steve Stenros- First Choice Inspections is an Oceanside home inspector. He is a CREIA-certified inspector with the MCI designation (Master CREIA Inspector) and can be reached for appointment by calling 888-335-3040. A FREE lifetime appliance RecallChek is provided with every standard home inspection.
Steve Stenros, MCI
Master CREIA Inspector #0115
ICC Residential Combination Inspector #5251439
Certified Infrared Thermographer #7791
FHA/HUD Inspector- #V975
203k Consultant #S0611
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