Monday, November 20, 2006

When life gives you lemons... well, you've got lemons.

It all started innocently enough. You see - it always does.

We just wanted to have our fireplace cleaned. For years we had been aching to have a fireplace. Our last house was probably the only house on the block that didn't have one. Truthfully, we couldn't afford any of the houses that had them. We just felt lucky the previous owners had let the house fall into such disrepair that we could afford it at all. Every year - winter would roll around ( eventually - this is California after all) and the wonderful winter-ey smell of fireplaces would fill the air. We would always say "next house has to have a fireplace".

And so this is where we find ourselves today. With a fireplace. We were so happy.

With the impending holidays I booked someone to come out and clean the fireplace build-up that was listed on the housing inspection. And really to put my mind at ease about any back-draft problems. Since the bunnies live indoors I wanted to make sure smoke would not build up in the room and harm them.

The fireplace had also been outfitted with gas. I wanted to make sure we could have a rip-roaring wood fire and it not be a problem because we hadn't actually planned to use the gas. So you see... it was suppose to be really routine. I mean... how bad could it be? We paid for 9 million inspections on this place.

Apparently really bad.

Click to enlarge.

Look at Item B.

Oh yeah... I'm pretty sure I am going to freak out.


  1. As a builder, I'd be real concerned about an inspector that had a checklist like that. It sure looks to me like the company is fishing for "repair" work. All the items are pejorative. I'd get a second opinion.

    Regarding item B, it was kinda hard to read, but from what I could tell, the gas pipe is probably missing a 29 cent strap. Yes, in the event of an earthquake, the gas line could break, but it is still built from 3/4" steel pipe and iks pretty darn strong without the strap. It's usually pretty near impossible to break.

    Regrding the minor cracks noted in the masonry, well, that's what masonry does. As long as they don't pass air, they're fine. If they do pass air it would have been noted by a competent inspector.

    Regarding the "inadequate clearance" noted in the inspection, bushwa. Building inspectors are VERY aware of this and the house would not have passed if there was an issue. I'm assuming that the fireplace is not in an addition that was done without a permit...but thw title company should have caught that.

    Bottom line, what I can read is a snap to fix.....

  2. Thank you so much for your input Shodan. My real-estate agent and I have been on the phone with each other since I got the report, and she was able to get someone to come in on Tuesday.

    We are both pretty ill about the whole thing because it was recommended that the fireplace not be used at all due to hazard.

    Re: the report - the issues in item B are structural, and not gas related. It is alleged that the clay flue liner is cracked and can not be bored out due to mortar cracks. Which is completely contrary to what the inspection done at the time of escrow says.

    Allegedly the fireplace is not brick but cinder block.

    I always assume contractors are going to pad the bill... but this guy said that a stove insert would be need or the fireplace torn down.

    While I admit it could be the case I am having a hard time accepting they would pad the bill in such the extreme. I know it happens.. But woudn't the guy think that for that kind of money people wouldn't look into it further?

    I have to admit I'm a little out of my element here with this problem, and this isn't my first ride on the horse. We completely renovated our old house.

    Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

  3. Ok, the strap for the gas IS structural, but a cracked clay liner is definitely a safety hazard, if the cracks go all the way through. However, a competent mason CAN patch it with a material called fireclay. Again, a second opinion is warranted.

    And, while SOME contractors may pad the bill, most are honest, IMO. It's simply the fact that skilled labor costs a lot, and all the things tht go along with that (trucks, tools) also cost a lot.
    The contractor has to pay his overhead and office staff as a percentage of the labor. By the time you get all done, a worker that gets $30/hour ihis check costs closer to $75/hour before the contractor makes any money....

    With that rant over, there are lots of home-type contractors out there that prey on folks who know NOTHING - and the way this report is worded, I'm led to believe that your fireplace guy is one. The rhetoric is set up to generate maximum fear of fiery you'll pay big bucks to get it fixed NOW.

    I am NOT a fireplace guy, but I've been in the construction biz more than 30 years, and I've built everything from apartments to zoos (honest, we just finished a new tiger exhibit at the Folsom Zoo and have just started the wolf exhibit). Feel free to e-mail me directly, particularly if you have a more visible copy of the report, and I'll try to clue you to what's real and what's input would be a start on paying you back for the enjoyment I get out of your blog.

    shodan_rock25 AT

    All the best,

  4. That is incredibly kind of you to say. I am super touched anyone would want to spend their valuable time reading the stupid things I say, much less offering to help. I really cant thank you enough. Here should be a higher res version of the report. Again.. thank you. It was hugely helpful to even know to ask the new inspector about patching if the problem does exist.

    FYI- I don't have a problem paying for good work. I respect hard working contractors immensely. The problem is that our city has a supply and demand problem.

    Since moving to the new house I have noticed a huge difference in the top end of what contractors are trying to charge. If you can even get a contractor to show up. For instance when I had the old house painted I called out 9 painters. 2 showed.

  5. Ok, let me see.

    B - this really does likely mean that the gas line is not properly strapped, and it's probably not an issue without an earthquake. Tug a little on the gas line where it comes out into the fireplace. If it moves, I'll bet a bag of bunny chow that I'm right. i don't know where you are, but PG&E will come out and inspect for free and tell you how to fix things, although they won't do the repairs. I've never had aother gas company so I don't know if say SDG&E does this. A phone call is cheap.

    G - Bushwa. Firebirck ablates to a certain extent and they're just trying to sell you a fireback for acouple hundred bucks. if it's unsightly, buy one at home Depot for $50. They just set in place.

    J - Most fireplaces do have this problem, but often you can alleviate it by moving the fire towards the back or front. My guess would be that you'd need to move it back, as that's what the previous owner did which caused the deterioration in G. I leave some ashes in the corners when I clean my fireplace and it solves the minor smoking problem my fireplace has.

    L2 - another real common problem. Dampers stick. put on some eye protection and old clothes and look up there and see if you can push the damper all the way open. A couple of good whacks out to do it. Work it open and clsed a few times and it should be fine. It will be easily obvious when it's full open. Warning - you'll be filthy when you're done.

    N - light cracking? ALL cementitious materials crack - including masonry and mortar. No biggie unless you can see daylight, IMHO. Spray a hose HARD on teh outside of the chimney for 10 minutes or so, since they note that the larger cracks are above the roof. Then look inside the fireplace. If it's dry in there, probable no problem.

    O - it met code at the time the house was built, or the hous would never have gotten a final inspection. It's probably not an issue. build a big, roaring fire and then get on a ladder and feel the outside of the chimney right at the roof line or the ceiling. If it is not too hot to touch, it can't ignite the wood in the roof.

    The note about the too-large doors is baloney, but a good set of doors that are well sealed will save you money in teh long run, as your heat (when the fireplace is not lit) won't be going up the chimney. Good doors are $200-$500, though.

    Firebox excessively low? What? This means nothing if the fire draws and you can see the fire. It's an OPINION about the design of the fireplace. Usually, the firebox floor is about 1-2" down to prevent ashes from escaping...but there's no reason I can think of that it would hurt to be lower.

    From what I see, this report is an excuse to sell you a new damper, new doors,a new gas valve and new fireback, all at probably highly inflated prices. However, I agree that a fireback is a good idea - they serve to help direct the heat into the room rather than up the chimney. I've gotta get one, too...

    So yeah, I think this is baloney, but I'm not looking at the fireplace. for your re-inspection, find somebody that does NOT sell fireplace services, like a registered home inspector.

    Remember that my advice is worth what you paid for it and get a real second opinion before you spend any dough. But I don't think you need to get too excited.

    Regarding other workers, ask your new neighbors. Often, a GOOD painter or roofer or whatever will do most of a neighborhood. Of the 14 houses on my court, the same guy has roofed 6 of them... FWIW, I agree with you that many contractors that do homeowner stuff are flakes. They're all little guys who were wage slaves and started their own business. They may be great painters, but they don't know squat about business.

    Feel free to pm me with any questions or other stuff. Since I sent my kids off to college, I don't spend my evenings yelling at them any more and i'm bored.

    All the best,

  6. I just can't thank you enough for taking the time to write this whole thing out. I had the inspector in this morning, and probably will update tomorrow. Right now I'm attempting clever new ways to be in denial.