Does Your Home Need a Chimney Inspection?

Posted on Nov 29, 2021


Fireplaces add warmth - literally and figuratively - to a home, and they have long been prized as a cozy architectural element. Many pragmatic homeowners today, however, are looking to the future of their home and wondering: does a fireplace add value, or scare potential buyers off? And when it comes to buying the home itself, does the home inspection include the chimney? Here's what you need to know.

Does a fireplace add value?

It may seem hard to put a price on the warmth and comfort of a fireplace in a home, but you can: according to the National Association of Real Estate Appraisers, adding a fireplace to a home can increase the resale value of the home by 6-12%. So having a fireplace - and maintaining it - is a good thing. 

“In a recent survey of real estate agents, more than 83% see fireplaces adding between $1,000 and $4,999 to the home’s resale value," explains HomeGuide.

As we’ve pointed out in our renovation guide, it’s worth noting that renovations - of any sort - typically add value but rarely add ROI (a return on your investment). In other words, you may spend $3,000 to add a fireplace, but it will add $2,500 to your home’s value when you go to sell (an example ROI of 83% - you lose $500). This doesn't mean you shouldn't add a fireplace, of course - just think of it as getting your fireplace partially paid for by the future buyer.

Buyer agent Larry Lantz notes that while fireplaces are nice, in today's market they're rarely on buyers' "must have" lists. 

“I don't get a lot of requests or requirements for a fireplace. When buyers are listing their requirements and what they’re looking for, a fireplace isn’t something that really comes up,” he says. “It’s nice when it's there, and sometimes it’s a little disappointing to them - because in some houses you go in and the fireplace is blocked up, it doesn't work any longer. I always tell them if there is a fireplace, to have it inspected to make sure it’s safe to use, and personally, if there’s a gas line in place - they can always convert it to a gas fireplace. I think it’s a lot safer, a lot cleaner.”

Is it worth it to add a fireplace to your home?

Not every home comes with an existing fireplace - in fact, only about 41% of newly built homes now come with one, and they tend to be more common in the luxury market at that. The reason is cost: as home building prices have shot up, buyers are willing to forgo features like fireplaces in order to keep their starter homes affordable. 

While adding a fireplace may sound complicated, modern fireplaces are often more affordable and easy to install than you might originally imagine. Electric fireplaces, for example, can often be installed without outside help and can provide a warm and cheery fire without the bother of smoke and ventilation.

You can add a fireplace to your existing home, and you have three options to choose from:

  • Gas: $2,300-$4,000 
  • Wood Burning: $2,00-$3,300
  • Electric: $100-$2,000

(stats via HomeGuide)

Prices can vary widely depending on your home and the type of fireplace you want. Everything from the type of mantel you opt for, to the cost of installing a gas line if you need one for a gas fireplace, will impact your budget. Similarly, the cost of labor will vary from location to location, and even from season to season in one location.

Today, homeowners don’t need to install a chimney in order to have a fireplace. Even with a traditional wood-burning or gas fireplace, both ventless fireplaces and  direct vents are an option.

What about rehabbing a disused fireplace?

You may be the owner of a home where the previous owners stopped using the fireplace and placed candles or decorations there instead. While rehabbing the fireplace is definitely an option, it may be more extensive of a job than you anticipate (especially in the case of traditional wood-burning fireplaces). 

Rather than simply re-using the existing chimney, it’s likely that in order to get your chimney up to current safety standards, you may need entirely new flues installed within the chimney itself. Sometimes the entire chimney will need to be torn down and rebuilt in order to meet modern codes.

Are chimneys part of the home inspection?

While a home inspector will check your chimney for visible damage or signs that it needs cleaning, they will not be able to say for certain whether your chimney is in good/workable condition. For this, you’ll need a chimney inspection separate from the home inspection. In some cases, your mortgage lender may require a chimney inspection in order to ensure the home is safe and habitable. 

Chimney inspections are ranked as level 1, 2, or 3. A level 1 inspection is the most basic, while a level 3 inspection is the most thorough. A Level 2 inspection is the most common and will likely be the one required to sell your home.

“It's usually a separate inspection from a home inspection - a home inspector can look up the flue and give you an idea of if it’s operational, but I think it’s important to specifically have someone who inspects fireplaces to go in there and make sure it’s properly lined and safe to use and just get an expert opinion on it," says Lantz.

According to Home Advisor, chimney inspections cost from $300 to $600 on average, and this often includes the cost of cleaning services.

Chimney and fireplace maintenance

Once you have a fireplace and/or chimney, proper maintenance is key so that your investment doesn’t become a liability. Old and damaged chimneys can present health risks to occupants in the form of leaking deadly carbon monoxide. Chimneys actually have a propensity to deteriorate from the inside out, rather than the other way around, due to constant exposure to flue gases and particulates. Over time, acidic effluents can eat away at the structure itself, compromising its integrity. 

So how often do you need to get your chimney checked out? Chances are, it’s more frequent than you think: The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary."

If you’re not routinely using your fireplace, then you might be able to scale back on the checkups: however, it’s still a good idea to have your chimney inspected, especially to ensure birds and other creatures or debris aren’t blocking the flue during periods of disuse.

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8" of sooty buildup. At that point, there’s enough soot to start a fire (other than the intended one) - which can damage your chimney, or even your home if the fire spreads. 

This figure from the National Fire Protection Association indicates the danger of fireplace creosote buildup

Don’t play with fire - manage it properly

At the end of the day, a fireplace is a beautiful feature but introduces a potentially dangerous element - a fire - into your home. It’s worth mitigating potential risks by making sure your chimney is properly inspected when you buy your home, and properly maintained once you own it.

For further reading

For Sale

Get the Knowledge You Need to Win


Subscribe to our newsletter to get essential real estate insights.

Interests
Regions

Recent Articles