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Fireplace Maintenance Tips for Old Houses

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Theresa in Florida, welcome to The Money Pit. What’s on your mind?

    THERESA: Hi. I wanted to ask a question about maintaining fireplaces. We’re purchasing a 102-year-old house and it has all the original fireplaces and mantles. And it hasn’t been lived in in quite some time and in Florida there are not many chimney sweeps in the phone book.

    LESLIE: I can imagine.

    TOM: (chuckling) OK. I imagine.

    THERESA: So, I was wondering if that was something we could do ourselves or if that’s definitely something we’d have to hire out.

    TOM: Well, you definitely cannot do chimney sweep work yourself. You want to use a chimney sweep that’s certified by the (baby crying) Chimney Safety Institute of America; especially if you need to keep that baby safe that I hear in the background, Theresa.

    LESLIE: (overlapping voices) (chuckling) Yeah.

    THERESA: (chuckling) Right, right. She waited until the call to start crying.

    LESLIE: Of course.

    TOM: That’s OK. That’s OK.

    Now listen, a couple of other things. With a 102-year-old house, it’s possible that the chimneys are not lined. So you want to make sure that when you have the chimneys inspected – and a home inspector could do this for you as well – determine whether or not they’re lined or unlined. If it’s an unlined chimney, it may be unsafe to use. Many old houses had unlined chimneys. Now, it may be possible to line them after the fact but it’s definitely something that you have to look into.

    LESLIE: Now, are you talking about a full – like a metal lining that would be done, say, if you update your furnace? Because I know we have an unlined chimney, or perhaps it just doesn’t have a visible lining. Because I know we’re thinking about updating our furnace which, if we do, we would need to line the chimney. Is that what you’re talking about?

    TOM: Well, a liner is usually a – terracotta clay is the material that most wood burning chimneys have as liners; especially in older houses. But it is possible to install a liner. Now, that might be expensive. A less expensive alternative could be, for example, a stainless steel liner that’s dropped in from the top; kind of looks like a flex duct. And that would be hooked up to a vented fireplace. So, there may be some options but that would be something to check.

    THERESA: OK, that helps.

    LESLIE: Enjoy that nice, old house.

    THERESA: Thank you.

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