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Guide to Buying a Home with a Chimney

[in 2020]

Introduction

Buying a home is exciting! Stressful? Of course, but definitely exciting. 

The stress may come from the fact that there are a lot of things that can go right over your head if you’re not careful. It certainly doesn’t help that most of the real estate rules and information are written in legalese. 

I can’t speak intelligently on things like ad valorem or caveat emptor or anything about your mortgage. But I can help you understand what you should expect when you’re buying a house with a chimney in it.

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Home inspectors are not chimney inspectors

A home inspection by a certified home inspector is absolutely necessary when buying a house. And while most home inspectors know a lot about chimneys, that doesn’t mean that they know enough

Let me help explain this with a little story. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I tore my meniscus playing football. I went to my family doctor first because my knee was swollen. That’s all that was wrong. After looking at my knee the doctor told me that I needed to go to a specialist. 

This is the same thing with chimneys.

Chimney Inspection

You Need a Thorough Check

My family doctor back in the day knew about knees since he studied them when he was in medical school. But he didn’t specialize in orthopedic medicine. He told me that in order to get a better checkup and a better gauge into what’s causing my knee to swell, I needed to be checked on by a specialist. 

Home inspectors are like family doctors. They do a general inspection. But if you have need inspections for your chimney, roof, pests, radon, electrical, or anything specific, you should be sure to hire a specialist to inspect. 

There’s a lot that goes into a chimney. It’s a very complex system. And it takes a lot of learning and reading and maybe even classroom time to be sure you don’t miss things that could be potentially hazardous. 

You should look for companies that are members of the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) and those companies that will send certified members of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). 

The CSIA allows each certified chimney sweep to further his or her education with added designations, like chimney physics, inspection & report writing, or even installing & troubleshooting gas hearth appliances. 

You can use the CSIA’s search tool to find members of the CSIA and even select which designation you’d want them to have.

For example, if you are in Roanoke and the house you are wanting to buy has a gas fireplace, then you can check the box to see that Patriot Chimney has the only two technicians that are certified with the gas hearth designation within 50 miles! 
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What’s Involved with a Chimney Inspection?

A chimney inspection is a “value-added” inspection. It gives you valuable insights into a part of your home and tells you if the chimney is going to work efficiently and, more importantly, safely. 

Chimneys are getting safer but are still very dangerous to have in your home, especially when they’re not kept up with and maintained as they should be. 

Chimneys are actually still one of the most common causes of house fires. It causes 22,300 house fires, 20 deaths, and $125 million in property damage every single year in the United States alone. 

You want to be sure that the chimney in the house you are buying has been maintained and is safe to use.

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Not Just Any Chimney Inspection will Do

While you need a chimney inspection, it’s important to understand that not just any chimney inspection will do. 

There are three levels of chimney inspections. Level 1 is the most basic and is required with each chimney swept. You should have a level 1 inspection at the very least each year. A level 1 inspection is typically limited to only readily accessible areas of the chimney, structure, and flue. 

A level 2 chimney inspection is much more detailed and thorough than a level 1 inspection and includes inspection inside your attic, crawl space, and basement, so long as they are accessible. At Patriot Chimney, we include a visual camera inspection with all three levels, but all level 2 inspections should include a camera inspection. 

A level 3 chimney inspection is the big boy. It’s the most comprehensive and is actually pretty rare. The only time that you would need a level 3 inspection is if we need to remove a part of your wall to make sure that your chimney is safe.

3 Levels
If you are buying a home, you need to make sure that you get a level 2 inspection. This way you can get a very thorough check on your chimney. At Patriot Chimney, level 1 inspections come with an extensive 50 point inspection. Level 2 inspections include everything in Level 1, plus we add an additional 40 point inspection. 

If the seller said that they’ve had an inspection recently, ask for the condition report. Here are a few things to look for: 

  • Make sure that it was a level 2 inspection
  • Look at the date. Make sure that it was within the year. Make sure that it was after the burn season (October to about April)
  • Make sure the company is a reputable company – remember the CSIA and NCSG
  • Read the condition of the chimney and what the technician wrote about the condition. 

If any of those things are missing or off, then get a new inspection. If you need help reading a seller’s condition report, feel free to scan the document and email it over to me at mitchell@patriotchimney.net. I’ll be happy to help out. 

Here’s our condition report for reference.

NFPA Requires It

Not only is it a good idea to get a level 2 inspection when you buy a house, but it’s also required by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). The NFPA set the standard for chimney inspections in 2000 by providing guidelines, procedures, and those three levels of chimney inspections in their code 211.

Pricing

Just like with most things, pricing will vary depending on who you ask and where you are. At Patriot Chimney, we charge $190 for Level 2 inspections. However, if we discover anything that requires repair, and you accept the proposal, then we refund the full price of the inspections.

What Happens if the Chimney is Damaged?

It’s likely that your chimney company will find something wrong with your chimney. Maybe a leak. Maybe some cracks on the crown. Or maybe something off with your gas fireplace or gas logs

It happens and with older fireplaces, it’s inevitable. 

But you need to know what to do when it happens. When it happens, there are four things that you can do:

  1. Walk away
  2. Negotiate with the seller. 
  3. Eat the Cost
  4. Leave it be.
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Walk Away

The easiest thing you could do is just walk away. But where’s the fun in that? If a working fireplace is important to you and you don’t want to worry about awkward negotiations with a chimney contractor or the seller, then you can just back out. 

Of course, there could be lost due diligence fees and it may not be a good idea to just avoid right upfront. 

If you don’t have the money to repair upfront, then you could see what you can do to negotiate with the seller. 

Negotiate with the Seller

If you need repairs done, you can see if the sellers can fix it, or maybe even knock the price of the chimney repair off the price of the home. We’ve seen both options happen a lot of times. Especially with a motivated seller.

Eat the Cost

Sometimes the seller is a little stubborn and just wants to sell the price as-is and isn’t willing to budge. If you have the budget, and you love the house, then it may be worth just eating the cost and paying for the repairs yourself. 

Look into the chimney company’s websites. At Patriot Chimney, we offer discounts for teachers, veterans, and first responders. We also offer financing and I know we’re not the only ones that do.

Leave it Be

The last option would be to simply leave it be. If the fireplace doesn’t seem to have any structural damage and the chimney inspector says it’s safe to do so, then you can just leave it be. Seal the chimney, insert a chimney balloon, close the damper, and call it a day. 

Your mantel can still be a great centerpiece and you can still hang your TV. Even without a working fireplace.

Hiring a Chimney Company

When buying a house, it’s important that you make sure the chimney is inspected (level 2, remember?) by a reputable company. This way you know that your chimney, wood stove, or fireplace, is safe from unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide.
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How to Hire, What to Look For

When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:

  1. Can the company provide references? 
  2. Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy? 
  3. Does the company ensure that a certified chimney technician will be on the job? 

If they guarantee all three of those, then you are in a good spot. The technicians don’t necessarily need to be certified by the CSIA, but I do recommend putting in a bit more due diligence before accepting a certification that’s not by the CSIA. 

This is because certifications are a tricky thing, especially in an unlicensed industry like ours. Any company can craft a list of job-related questions and sell them as an exam and certify those who pass. 

I recommend you take a few extra minutes in your research before making your hiring decision to learn more about the certification the company has. Here are a few tips to make sure the certification is reputable: 

  • Is the word “certified” just part of the business name or is it an earned designation? 
  • Is the certifying body a for-profit business or non-profit? 
  • Does the certification need to be maintained and renewed through continuing education as the industry evolves, or is it well enough to be certified through a one-time exam? 
  • Is the certifying body well-established or are they relatively new to the scene? New doesn’t mean “bad” but you should make sure the requirements for certification are more or at least equally stringent as those of more established certifications
  • Is the mission statement of the certifying body focused on educating and protecting homeowners or is it more focused on making it easier to earn a certification? 
  • Does holding the certification require following a code of ethics? 

If you can answer all of these questions, then I think it will be safe to allow the company in your home to work on your chimney. It doesn’t matter if you are in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, or some other city anywhere in the USA — if you have any questions about the safety of hiring a chimney company, please don’t hesitate to email me at mitchell@patriotchimney.net or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!

Final Thoughts

Patriot Chimney has a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps that you can trust with your home and family. During your service, you can expect your technician to inspect your chimney with a video camera so we can give a full top-to-bottom, inside out inspection. 

We’re licensed, insured, certified, and guarantee you’ll be happy with your service.

 

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