Maintaining fireplaces, chimneys and wood-heaters

Open fireplaces

An open fire or wood heater can add appeal to a property. Cosy nights sitting around a crackling warm fire with your favourite beverage in hand is a great way to unwind. But brick and stone fireplaces need to be cleaned from time to time. This cleaning is done by a chimney sweep. Remember the Mary Poppins movie? Yes, chimney sweeps exist outside of fairy tales and kid’s movies. It’s worth the expense of having an older fireplace inspected and cleaned by your local chimney sweep to ensure it is clean and safe to use. Cleaning and checking clearances and for deposits every year is recommended if you are using the fireplace regularly..

NOTE: The building inspector will not test the fireplace or wood heater as part of a standard building inspection.

Some older houses have fireplaces that are ornamental. In other words, the fireplace, hearth and mantelpiece are there, but the chimney has been removed or blocked up. Maybe they had problems with vermin or water leaks. Either way, it’s going to get pretty smoky and even dangerous if you start a fire and the chimney has been blocked. Look outside, above the roof, to see that there is a corresponding chimney or flue for each fireplace (and its clean and has the right clearances) before you light a fire! Any cracks in the chimney or deteriorated mortar should be repaired.

 Wood heaters

Wood heaters provide a lovely warmth that appeals to many people. They must be installed strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Have your solicitor check with the local council for evidence of building approval and final inspection to ensure that the wood heater was properly installed with correct clearances and materials.

Note: Inspection of wood heaters is not included in a standard building inspection.

Wood heaters are generally more efficient than traditional fire- places. In a past life as a council building inspector, I checked hundreds of these approvals and installations. The key points to understand are these:

1.    You need building approval to install a wood heater.

2.    Manufacturers get a prototype tested at a laboratory to ensure it meets the Australian Standards.

3.    The installation needs to be strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications.

4.    Making sure the ‘appliance’ has enough clearance from combustible elements is the key to compliance.