A Valuable Amenity Shouldn’t Be a Liability – Fireplace Safety and Maintenance
Some lucky New Yorkers may come home from work on a cold winter night and warm their feet by the blazing fire while sipping a hot swirl. A working fireplace is a desirable amenity for many, adding a touch of vintage charm to pre-war homes or a touch of luxury in sleek, newer buildings. Aside from hot toddlers, maintaining a fireplace in your home is not an easy task. From regular cleaning to proper ventilation, maintaining a working fireplace is a serious task – and critical to the safety of people and property.
Maintain a relic
While fireplaces can be seen as a nice touch these days, they used to be a necessary part of every home, warming the house and providing a place to cook. But that was a century and a half ago. Today, approximately 16 percent of New York City homes have wood or gas fireplaces. Wood burners are most commonly found in converted townhouses built in the second half of the 19th century, as well as upstairs apartments and penthouses in pre-war luxury buildings, while newer buildings generally have gas-powered or electric stoves. And wooden models are now officially collectibles; In 2014, Mayor Bill De Blasio signed an ordinance banning the construction of wood fireplaces in new buildings and renovations. (Gas and electric models are still okay.)
Eddie Delgardo is the sales director for Westchester Fireplace and BBQ in Elmsford, New York. “The maintenance requirements for a fireplace in a residential home are no different from those for a single family home,” he says. “A wood-burning fireplace requires a regularly scheduled brush and vacuum, an inspection of the chimney sweep and an inspection of all safety components. The inspection should be carried out annually and by a properly licensed expert. “
Maintaining gas fireplaces is similar to maintaining a gas stove, says Delgardo, and he adds that such fireplaces should also be checked once a year. “Gas fireplace units require the same inspection of the hood and its components by a licensed chimney sweep as well as the maintenance of gas valves and fuel-air mixtures as well as an inspection, check and, if necessary, the replacement of parts in the chimney filter system. ”
Common room or private equipment?
As with any element in an apartment building that includes components that invade both private homes and public areas, it is important for cooperative or condominium owners with chimneys to know whether the serviceable components fall within their purview or the purview of the Cooperative or condominium association.
The answer depends on what’s on your own rental or condominium documents. In many cases, the fireplace, fireplace, and other parts of the fireplace system are the sole responsibility of the shareholder or owner. In other cases – especially in a building with multiple chimneys in a single row of units – the chimney can be considered as a common element, but the mantle, stove and firebox in the apartment itself are the responsibility of the shareholder or owner.
“When you think about annual maintenance,” says Delgardo, “the homeowner usually pays us directly. However, when organizing the maintenance visit, this depends on the building and the overall situation. If there are a large number of chimneys in the building, the manager can have all the inspections done at the same time and schedule maintenance in a similar manner. Otherwise, the apartment owners arrange the annual visits themselves. In both cases we are paid directly by the owners. ”
Another point of interest is that, unlike a wood-burning fireplace, gas fires are made of stone or brick like cars: they come in many different models. When a gas fireplace requires maintenance, the maintenance company will ask about the make and model of the appliance. Not all gas or electrical appliances are created equal and not all components are interchangeable. Special replacement parts from the original manufacturer may be required.
If you are fortunate enough to have this rare find – a wood-burning fireplace – Delgardo has one important piece of advice for you: “Learn how to make a fire safely. The problem is that when most people start a fire they want to start Christmas log right away. “That’s an amateur mistake, he says. “Make your fire small. There is a limited amount of smoke that you can put into the chimney before it comes out from the front. A chimney is like an inverted funnel, it can only handle so much smoke. You don’t want smoke to flow back into your apartment. “
Delgardo says older fireplaces are more difficult to maintain than newer ones and often require a good amount of TLC. And he adds, residents, building staff and others should never try to do fireplace repairs or serious maintenance themselves! It’s just too dangerous for both the owner of the unit and the building. Always use a licensed professional chimney sweep. While there is no formal certification or degree for chimney sweeps, these professionals must be members of a chimney sweep’s guild, duly licensed in New York State, and like any other contractor, have the necessary and adequate insurance.
Speaking of insurance …
Beautiful and adding value as it is, at the end of the day a fireplace is essentially an open fire in close proximity to any number of combustible materials as well as pedestrian traffic, children and possibly pets. So operating them in an apartment building poses obvious safety challenges. Fireplaces by their presence in a home increase the likelihood of a fire or smoke or ventilation problems. This risk has led some cooperative buildings to just forbid owners from using their chimneys in full. And some insurance companies won’t insure an apartment building with chimneys.
Alex Seaman, Senior Vice President at HUB Insurance in Woodbury, New York, said, “The main concern for insurance carriers is lack of maintenance. If fireplaces are not properly maintained, there is a serious fire hazard. Insurance companies that write properties with chimneys rely on systemic inspections at least once a year and sometimes every six months.
“Inspections can be arranged regardless of who owns the units,” continues Seaman, “but a better way is to have a contractor [inspect] all units in the building at the same time. This way they can confirm that everything was done as required and that not a single unit was left out. “According to Seaman, when it comes to the selection of inspector and maintenance personnel by a building authority or management, it is vital that they verify that the selected professional is properly licensed and has proper and adequate insurance that includes the language for risk transfer .
According to Delgardo, electric fireplaces have become increasingly popular in recent years. “They are very popular with millennial buyers,” he says. “Lots of new rental buildings are also choosing them.” While this is clearly not the “real thing,” many electrical units mimic the sound and appearance of crackling logs and flickering flames very well. The technology is remarkably simple: the light from an LED lamp is reflected off a rotating metallic silver refractor (a bit like a rotisserie) that is cut with three-dimensional patterns, creating the illusion of a random flickering flame. Some models have an audio element that creates a crackling sound and extends the illusion even further. According to Delgardo, other popular features include programmable visual effects – such as changing colors – that users can control with their smartphone and other devices.
Electric fireplaces not only look cool, they also provide warmth. As described on electricfireplacesdirect.com, “Electric fireplaces can provide additional heating for rooms approximately 400 square feet. Customers control the heating elements in addition to the flame effect. As a result, electric fireplaces can provide a flame with or without heat so that it can be enjoyed all year round. An electric fireplace is a heating element that is similar to a traditional wood or gas fireplace, but does not require ventilation or professional installation of any kind. Electric fireplaces suck in cool air, heat it internally with a heating coil and gently press the heated air back into the room using a fan. Some electronic fireplaces also use infrared technology, which directly heats objects in a room. In both cases, additional heating without dirt, vapors or hazardous gas is provided for the desired area. “
Whether you have a turn-of-the-century conversation starter with a three-foot-deep mantelpiece held up by carved lions, or a sleek new electric model that you can turn on and off from 1,000 miles away, it’s important for your own safety and that of your neighbors, to know how your fireplace is working and to make sure it is receiving all the care and maintenance it needs to function properly and safely.
AJ Sidransky is a writer / reporter for The Cooperator and a published writer.