Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

November 20, 2010

Lesson Learned: Buying a House with a Fireplace

We didn't go from this eyesore of a fireplace insert (complete with dated brass details and wonky installation) . . .


. . . . to this masonry fireplace with elegant matte black doors voluntarily.


Our townhouse came with a wood burning fireplace (yay!).  But it wasn’t without complications.  If you are looking at a house with a wood burning fireplace, hire a home inspector certified to inspect fireplaces and verify that they do indeed have said certification. 
We hired someone who claimed to have such certification but when the home inspection was in progress, he informed us someone else would need to look at the fireplace and it would cost extra money.  He said it looked fine, though, and advised we simply proceed with the inspection and then hire a professional chimney cleaner once the home was ours.  We should have been suspicious when the fireplace was not listed on the final report, but we were so anxious to purchase our home we didn’t pay enough attention.  We were also relocating and on a tight schedule, so returning for another inspection was inconvenient.  We heard what we wanted to hear: everything was fine.
Months later, we hired professional chimney cleaners/inspectors who informed us that the fireplace insert was illegal and they couldn’t do anything until it was removed.  Installing a new insert would be thousands!  Or, we could remove the insert and use the fireplace like a masonry fireplace.  We opted for the latter option as well as a lock top damper that offered a tight seal to keep animals/rain out and more heat in.  Although a masonry fireplace is less efficient than an insert, this option was affordable and still provides heat as well as ambiance--even more so now, with our understated and modern doors. 
Is this DIY?  We definitely weren't going to tackle the removal of the insert ourselves (although, if I'm honest, I pondered it) but we did install the doors ourselves, which was very easy.  We found them at Canadian Tire on an errand for something else, which made the task even easier.
Our advice: don’t skimp during the inspection, especially if you have a wood burning fireplace (or any unusual features a regular inspection won’t cover).  We could have saved hundreds by asking the sellers to pay for the work.  Lesson learned.  Alright, now its s'more time!
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