Fireplace and Chimney Safety Tips
LESLIE: Now we’re going to take a call from Portland, Oregon where Harriet has a fireplace issue.
Harriet, what are working on?
HARRIET: Well, my husband and I are doing what you never want to do. We bought a house, a 100-year-old house. It’s really beautiful. Barely started the renovations and we’ve learned we won’t be able to live in town in the house for 12 to 24 months.
LESLIE: Because there’s so much work to be done?
HARRIET: There’s a fair amount.
HARRIET: So we need to do what’s necessary for safety.
TOM: Well, that’s a good point. You want to prioritize. Alright, what’s first on the list we can help you with?
HARRIET: It’s this fireplace. It’s got a hearth; it’s at floor level and your toes can actually walk into the fireplace if you don’t play your cards right.
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK. OK. A walk-in fireplace.
HARRIET: A walk-in fireplace.
TOM: (chuckling) OK.
HARRIET: You know, an interesting fashion statement. OK. And incidentally, there’s no damper that prevents losing heat up the flue either, so that’s another issue.
HARRIET: So what we’re trying to figure out is a way that we could prevent a renter from using this fireplace. But I want to be living in that house in maybe two years; maybe less, if I’m lucky.
HARRIET: I don’t want to ruin the fireplace.
TOM: OK. Well, first of all, let’s make sure the fireplace is suitable for use. In an older house, very often the chimneys were not lined. Have you had this chimney inspected to determine if it’s lined or not?
TOM: You need to do that. Now you could probably do this yourself, if you’ve got such a big fireplace. Go in the fireplace and look up and you’re looking for a clay liner, a terracotta clay liner that lines the chimney. If you look up in that fireplace and you see nothing but pure brick, it’s not lined and then it’s really unsafe to use unless you have it lined and that is a fairly expensive procedure but one which you really have to do before you can use it safely.
HARRIET: So if it’s brick it’s a no-go as it is, no matter what.
TOM: It needs to be lined. It has to be lined and old chimneys very often were not. So just take a look at that.
Now, if you’re looking for a way to seal it off, I have seen folks put decorative, painted panels in front of the fireplace, kind of right inset in that hearth – say, set in an inch or two inside that brick edge all the way around – made out of wood or metal where you take the wood or metal and you make it slightly bigger than the opening so it kind of pressure fits in place, if you know what I mean; with stern instructions to the tenants that they are not to remove it and they are not to use the fireplace.
LESLIE: Well, you could even, if you want to go along those lines, take a piece of 1×1 and make sort of like a nailer on either edge and then place your screen flush up against those and then put another nailer in front so you’re securing it in there. And you’re sort of saying, “Hey, stay out.”
TOM: And paint on the outside of the panel, “Do not remove.” (Tom and Leslie laugh)
HARRIET: Now that’s a fashion statement.
TOM: They’ll get the idea. (chuckles)
HARRIET: (chuckles) And does that – so I’m just nailing right into the brick face of the …?
TOM: You need to put a nailer on the brick first and you can do that with screws or with nails. You can use Tapcons and screw the 1-by right into the brick on the edge and it’ll just make a little bit of damage; but just enough to hold the panel in place.
HARRIET: I think you have solved the problem for me.
TOM: Well, that’s what we try to do.
HARRIET: Oh, I’m so glad you’re there. Thank you again for your time and your helpfulness.
TOM: You’re welcome, Harriet. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.