Great Spaces • Spring 2014 – Chim-chim-cher-we

Posted on 25 Apr 2014 at 5:15am

Maintaining a fireplace is a far cry from Dick van Dyke and Cockneys dancing on the roof

fireplaceBy Rich Lopez

Moving into a house with a chimney and fireplace was exciting. Until it wasn’t. What started with romantic notions of cozy nights by the fire with the hubby turned into unrealized potential. Having a homey hearth is a nice idea, but it’s the chimney that’s the kicker. And these are the reasons why.

1. Sweep stakes. After moving into the boyfriend’s house, I discovered he hadn’t used the fireplace much. I figured a good chimney sweep was necessary. I secretly wished for Burt from Mary Poppins to come by free of charge, dust it out and do a jig. Come to find out, without having had much use, the quote was in the $350 range. We were told that with much time passed, buildup becomes solidified and thus the cleaning would be more extensive. (Homeadvisor.com estimates that in Texas, the average cost of an averagely used fireplace ranged from $185-$241.)

2. Fool’s logic. I feel like I’m fairly smart about most things, but home repairs don’t click in my head. I can’t make sense of piping, garage door openers, drywall patching or similar “simple” fixes. But sure, I thought I could shove a broom up the chimney to do it myself. So clearly, an eHow video would help me out.
There wasn’t a worse idea. Before the broom was even mentioned, I would need goggles, gloves, a dust mask and a ladder. Whoa. What? Doing it my way, from the confines of the inside of my house, could work … provided I also had a Shop-vac handy, tarps covering everything and someone there to help. Idea ditched.

3. Look closer. Dispelling the illogical immediate notions, I thought it would be wise to have the chimney inspected. Apparently this is a thing. Learning there is a Chimney Safety Institute of America, I discovered there are three levels of inspection. From CSIA.org (paraphrased):

A “Level 1” inspection is recommended for a chimney under continued service, under the same conditions and with the continued use of the same appliance. The “chimney service technician” will be looking for the basic soundness of the chimney structure and flue as well as the basic appliance installation and connections. The technician will also verify the chimney is free of obstruction and combustible deposits.

A “Level 2” inspection is required when any changes such as the fuel type, the shape of, or material in, the flue (i.e., relining) or the replacement or addition of an appliance of a dissimilar type, input rating or efficiency. Additionally, a Level 2 inspection is required upon the sale or transfer of a property or after an operation malfunction or external event that is likely to have caused damage to the chimney.

roof When a Level 1 or 2 inspection suggests a hidden hazard and the evaluation cannot be performed without special tools to access concealed areas of the chimney or flue, a “Level 3” inspection is recommended. Level 3 includes all the areas and items checked in levels 1 and 2, as well as the removal of certain components of the building or chimney where necessary. Removal of components (i.e., chimney crown, interior chimney wall) shall be required only when necessary to gain access to areas that are the subject of the inspection. When serious hazards are suspected, a Level 3 inspection may well be required to determine the condition of the chimney system.
What we read: Cha-ching!

4. Shut it down. I learned that my chimney could easily have leaks, which would make our utility bills no fun. By now, my cozy and romantic ideas have been ripped apart and thrown into the wind and sensibility kicked in. This is an idea I could get behind, but the work would be extensive. Energy.gov advised to consider an inflatable chimney balloon. Um, yes — there are such things. This can be an easy fix for any potential air leakage. What looks like one huge condom, a large balloon on Amazon ran only $87 — a bargain for any kind of home fix.

5. Give up. With my lazy quotient and frugality, I opted for the fake fireplace. The boyfriend had already closed the fireplace screen and placed a mirror in front of it. This was an effective trick. When I took either a strand of white Christmas lights or a collection of votive candles, the effect wasn’t so bad. We had our warm lights emanating from the “fireplace” and we had each other.
Cue the “Awww.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 25, 2014.

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