On the morning of January 5, 2015, a two-alarm fire started in Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera’s house. Fortunately, no one was hurt (thanks in large part to a properly-working alarm system), and the coach told reporters on scene that everyone got out safely but that they had no idea how it started. Firefighters on the scene reported finding heavy smoke and flames coming from the structure when they arrived shortly after 4:00 a.m. It took 55 firefighters more than an hour to get the fire under control. The fire resulted in significant damage (approximately $500,000 worth) to the home’s roof and attic. Coach Rivera said that the master bedroom, family room and living room are virtually destroyed and the insurance company estimates it will take six to eight months before they’ll be able to return to the home.
After an extensive review by fire investigators, it was determined that the fire was accidental. According to the Charlotte Observer, a missing baseplate and a hairline crack in the fireplace likely contributed to the blaze. “The early morning fire in south Charlotte…points to a potential safety hazard for thousands of modular fireplaces installed over the past 25 years in U.S. houses as less-expensive alternatives to all-brick hearths, fire experts say.” The gas fireplace was built directly onto the wooden subfloor without the baseplate (although the instruction manual explicitly cautioned against it), which deteriorated and caught fire after a decade of use and being on for an extended period the day prior.
Code enforcement employees and/or home inspectors can easily overlook fireplace problems, as they would have to rip apart walls or floors to see some flaws (which would be highly impractical). According to the CSIA’s Director of Education (who also happens to be a former chimney sweep), “The reality is that many of those things remain hidden until someone does some serious investigation.” Because of this, it is extremely important that homeowners have their gas fireplaces checked each year by certified installers or the gas company. This isn’t a cost-prohibitive process, but is one that could ultimately save money and even lives.
One thing you don’t want to take for granted year after year is that the equipment in a gas fireplace is operating the way it should. Over time, valves and connections could develop leaks. Thermopile and thermocouple could be worn and/or need cleaning. The ceramic logs should be checked to ensure they’re properly placed and in working condition. It’s also important to have the entire fireplace cleaned and ready for another year of use, including cleaning any residue from the glass doors, inside and out. Even though a gas fireplace burns clean (meaning that no creosote or soot is deposited in your chimney), the structure still needs to be inspected annually. It’s essential that the chimney work properly in order to prevent dangerous fumes from entering your home.
Many Charlotte, NC homeowners think their chimneys only need to be cleaned and inspected if they burn wood in their fireplaces or wood stoves. However, any type of open combustion system has the potential to cause a house fire. Gas fireplaces should be treated with the same level of awareness and respect as wood-burning fireplaces, including being cleaned and inspected annually. An annual chimney inspection by one of our North Carolina Certified Chimney Sweeps is a modest investment that can reduce the danger of chimney fires or carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. Contact us today to schedule an inspection.