Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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The $214 Chimney Re-Build (don't laugh)

I don't get hired to re-inspect chimney repairs often, but when I do, I'm often disgusted.  Here's how it works: the home inspector says the chimney needs repair, and the buyer tells the seller to fix the chimney.  The sellers usually hire the cheapest chimney repair contractor they can find... and it's usually an unqualified hack with a trowel.

Just as there is a big difference in the quality of work between home inspectors, there is a similar gap in the quality of work between good chimney contractors and hacks.  I'd like to share a couple of our recent encounters with these chimney hacks.

The $214 Chimney Re-Build

I inspected a home in Saint Louis Park that had a chimney with bricks that were disintegrating, and in need of major repair.

Disintegrating chimney bricks

Here's what I wrote in my inspection report:

The bricks at the chimney were literally falling apart. They were disintegrating and allowing water in to the chimney,which will hasten their deterioration. I suspect the bricks used at the chimney weren't the right type. Have the upper portion of the chimney re-built. This will be a major expense.

The buyer went back to the seller asking for the chimney to be repaired, and the seller hired someone to fix it... for $214.  That's a fraction of what I was guessing it would cost, so when the buyer learned what the seller paid for the repairs, he was rightfully suspicious and hired me to go back out.  The photo below shows what I found:

Hack chimney repair

I know what you're thinking - either "that's the same picture!" or "where's the duct tape?", right?  If you click on either of the photos for a larger view, you'll notice that in the second photo, someone simply slapped some mortar on the chimney; they didn't fix it.  This chimney still needs repair.

The Disintegrating Chimney Crown

I inspected a home in Minneapolis with a chimney that had recently been rebuilt.  The chimney walls looked great... but the crown was literally falling apart, due to a poor mix of concrete.

Disintegrating chimney crown 1Disintegrating chimney crown 2Disintegrating chimney crown 3Disintegrating chimney crown 4

Unfortunately, the entire crown will need to be redone.  Hopefully someone will go with a better mix of concrete, and a better design of crown as well.  To read about the differences in chimney crown designs, click here Tops to Last a Lifetime.

The Dry Stack

Neil inspected a home in Minneapolis where the clay tiles had been stacked together without any mortar between the joints.

Gap in fireplace flue

In order to be safe for use, the chimney liner must contain all products of combustion, which means every joint needs to be tightly mortared.  Neil told the buyer that this was an improperly constructed chimney that should be repaired.

The buyer hired a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to give an estimate on the repair; it was approximately $8,000.  The seller had someone else come out, who happened to be a mason and volunteer firefighter, who said the missing mortar wasn't a concern.  Pardon me?  A volunteer firefighter does not a forensic fire investigator make.  I'll trust the chimney expert, as well as the building code, which says "Clay flue liners shall be laid in medium-duty refractory mortar conforming to ASTM C 199 with tight mortar joints left smooth on the inside..."

Hopefully I've made my point. There are a lot of hacks with trowels that claim to be chimney experts.  There are three local companies that I've had firsthand experience with and recommend regularly: Jack Pixley Chimney Sweeps and MasonryLondon Chimney Sweeps, and 2nd Generation Chimneys.  The one thing that they all have in common is that they're all CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps.  If you're looking for a high quality chimney contractor in your area, you would do well to start at www.CSIA.org.  They have a zip code search right on their home page.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 48 commentsReuben Saltzman • August 02 2011 06:02AM

Comments

Reuben: This is great material. I had no idea that chimney sweeps could be certifed, but it makes geat sense. In our area, many chimneys get relined with stainless steel, any thoughts on that?

Posted by Anne M. Costello (Weidel Realtors) about 7 years ago

Hi Anne - as long as the chimney is large enough, stainless steel works well.  It's expensive, but so are the other options.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Hi Reuben,

Good post.

You show yourself as the expert.

And show the rest of us the inside scoop on chimneys.

Thanks

Phil

Posted by Phil Leng, Phil Leng - Retired (Retired) about 7 years ago

Very informative post. I will add to my database and bookmark for future information for buyers. I need to find a certified chimney sweep to inspect my mother's fireplace. After reading your post, the hack work looks very familiar and similiar to how hers look.

Posted by Carolyn Nelson, The Best Broker in Alamance County! (REALTYONE 247) about 7 years ago

Hi Reuben,

 

I too have seen issues with chimneys that were poorly designed in the 1970's and would be deemed unsafe to use with today's codes in place.  I don't think home inspectors give enough attention to chimneys and that buyers should hire someone certified to do a more indepth investigation as part of the inspection process.  Most inspectors use binoculars and don't look down inside the chimney but will approach it from the bottom. 

 

Laurie

Posted by Laurie C. Bailey-Gates, ABR, SFR (Robert Paul Properties) about 7 years ago

I agree totally with your first statement!  But totally DISagree with the rest.

Those gaps, loose bricks, stacked tiles and crappy top are just to promote air flow.  And we all know that air flow is essential to a properly drafting chimney.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

;>)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Good morning Reuben. Good post and great pictures. While it is not always true I generally believe that you get what you pay for.

Posted by Sheila Anderson, The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133 (Referral Group Incorporated) about 7 years ago

Phil - I've seen enough of the hack work to know when it's not an expert doing the work!

Carolyn - hopefully the zip code locator at CSIA will be of use.

Laurie - you can't inspect a chimney with binoculars. You just can't.  Even when I can see down the chimney flue, this is only a cursory level I inspection.  For a detailed inspection, a camera needs to be fed up inside the flue; this is called a level II inspection.  Hmm... future blog topic.

Jay - yeah man, without all those gaps, how is the chimney supposed to breathe? 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Sheila - I totally agree; that's a great rule of thumb.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Hi Reuben,

Any one with a hammer and a truck seems to be the "go to guy" when a person needs a repair done.

Problem is, they can't fix it any better than grandma and her cat.

Simply put. Get a real "Pro" this way if there is a problem you can contact them for a solution.

Best, Clint Mckie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) about 7 years ago

Hi Rueben - In many cases, it is better for the buyer to hire someone to fix the problem.

Posted by FN LN about 7 years ago

Great post Reuben.  It is amazing what type of "professionals" sellers hire to get repairs done.  I had to do a reinspection recently also because of the hack job completed on repairs.  

Posted by Sherri Berry, Murfreesboro TN Homes & Real Estate (Reliant Realty, Murfreesboro) about 7 years ago

Oy vey!  Too many fly-by-nighters! 

Posted by Mike Cooper, Your Winchester, VA Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) about 7 years ago

Reuben, of course most sellers will try to get it done cheaply before the closing. All the need for having the chimney reinspected to make sure it is done right. Good info!

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 7 years ago

You are sooooo right!  I've seen thsi quite a bit as well and the sellers have ALWAYS hired the cheapest, most incompetent repair person they can find.

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) about 7 years ago

We have an issue with chimney repairs in California, except it's with homes where the chimney was damaged by an earthquake.  The seller sees the inspection report and does exact as you described, hire a cheap contractor to "repair it" for a fraction of the rebuild cost.  The buyer then pushes back for a credit to actually do it right.  One way or another, the seller pays.

 

Posted by Bryan Robertson, Broker, Author, Speaker (Intero Real Estate) about 7 years ago
You are right on that most buyer does not pay inspector to come back to verify the fix. It doesn't cost much to have it reinspected. Great post.
Posted by Mike Yeo (3:16 team REALTY) about 7 years ago

Way to go Reuben...The pictures just deliver your post point rather well....thank you

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) about 7 years ago

The cheapest repair is not always the best way to go. They don't fix it accordingly and hence the cheaper price. I always advise clients to pay for reinspection.

Posted by Loreena and Michael Yeo, Real Estate Agents (3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Frisco TX Real Estate Co.) about 7 years ago

Good post Reuben, many people have no idea what condition there chimney is in

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) about 7 years ago

Very informative. Love the supporting photos, as well. I think with the economic situations across the US people are trying to find the "cheaper" route. As you depict in your blog, "cheap" now, becomes even more expensive later. ~ Jennifer

Posted by Atlanta's Home Inspector, David Lelak IHI Home Inspections, Experience the IHI Difference (IHI Home Inspections 404-788-2581) about 7 years ago

Hi Reuben - As always, you provide great information in your posts! Sorry I got here to late to Suggest it - but glad you got a well-deserved Feature star.

Posted by Judy Klem, Home Staging, Senior Move Management, Fairfield/New Haven counties (Transition Stage LLC) about 7 years ago

How sad, Reuben, but unfortunately this happens quite a bit regardless of the repair requested.  I always advise my buyer to have the repaired work reinspected!

wake forest nc house chick

Posted by Leesa Finley, RED Properties - Raleigh NC Real Estate (RED Properties) about 7 years ago

Great article Reuben. I see a lot of chimneys in this state were also. Many times the top is improved by sheathing it it flashing metal coverings once repairs are made. Properly done the sheet metal are a very effective solution and keep the masonry dry.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) about 7 years ago

It looked better before he fixed it. All trades have these " handyman" and " jacks of all trades, master of none" that think they can do anything. Although, in some counties, the building codes use to differ on putting mortat between flus. Many bricklayers just use standard type N mortar, and don't even know what refractory mortar is. One time in MD, the inspector did not want to see mortar parged on the throat, and at same time in VA, inspectors wanted throats parged and brushed.

Posted by Jeff Pearl, Full Service Full Time Realtor (RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA) about 7 years ago

Chimney Sweeps are certified? Seriously? i had no idea. I just picture a guy with a broom sticking it up the chimney and a bunch of soot coming out...

Posted by Donna Harris, Realtor,Mediator,Ombudsman,Property Tax Arbitrator (Donna Homes, powered by JPAR - TexasRealEstateMediationServices.com) about 7 years ago

Hey All,

I’m no expert but I am a Home Inspector and in; (my own opinion) we inspect the Integrity of Components. Integrity being not the value, rather an unimpaired condition,

I = Inspected, NI = Not Inspected, NP = Not Present, R = Not Functioning or In Need of Repair

I see a photo of a chimney In Need of repair and was properly noted with an informative explanation by a Home Inspector. The question to ask here is; was the chimney repaired, not to visible likeness, (i.e., perfect or pretty but repaired for safety purposes for anybody, especially the home owner or potential home owner and prospected purchaser in preventing falling debris (soft brick/rock) and leakage from in climate weather?

I believe some of the repairs many of us Home Inspectors can become so overly engrossed with (myself included) are replacements and new construction or home improvements, all of which I believe should be left to the discretion of a new home buyer and property owner, providing the repair has been completed for the component inspection to function properly for its purpose for the warranted period of time. We are home inspectors not marketers for home improvement and building contractors or building supply companies. 

Although, Reuben, I am still looking hard for the Duct Tape and Crazy Clue! Nice Post and continue being safe on rooftops especially those with a steep pitch.

Dave

Posted by David Stokes (Ambassador Home Inspections, LLC.) about 7 years ago

Ouch, that is scary. This is why I use local craftsmen who have been in business many years and do quality work. I just had my chimney re-pointed last month... a little maintenance goes a long way.

Posted by David Popoff, Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct (DMK Real Estate ) about 7 years ago

Wow , Reuben.  That's some piece of work in the first photos.  Guess you could call it a slapstick repair, for more than one reason.

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, President, Wrenn Home Improvements (Wrenn Home Improvements) about 7 years ago

Clint - ain't it true?

Marc - I definitely agree.

Sherri - and I bet you found more problems at the reinspection, right?

Mike - you said it.

Michael - exactly.  What would they get out of putting more money in to the property? 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Justin - that sure happened here, huh?

Bryan - the problem is, the seller often wastes time and money having the repairs done wrong.

Mike Y - I don't have any kind of set fee for my reinspections; it all depends on what I have to look at, and who did the work.  I charge less if I can see receipts from professional contractors, because there's a much lower likelihood for the work to be done wrong.

Richie - thanks!

Loreena - that's good advice for your clients.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Chris - you're definitely right.  Thanks for the re-blog :)

Jennifer - it's that way with a lot of things, isn't it?  Penny wise and pound foolish.

Judy - thanks :)

Leesa - this is exactly why I don't like doing re-inspections; it's usually wrong, and then I need to get in the middle of it.

Robert - it seems to me that the metal would work just as well, and wouldn't cost as much, yet I see very little of it.  I wonder why?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Jeff - how can there be so much variance?!

Donna - I know, that's what most people have in mind; I know I used to.

David S - I might be reading in to your comment too much, but it seems like your saying that you wouldn't have taken issue with the chimney repairs shown above on the first chimney.  

My problem with that so-called repair is that this does nothing to address the problem; the problem is that the bricks are disintegrating, and probably weren't the right type.  Slapping some mortar on them might only forstall their deterioration.  

At any rate, thanks for reading!

David P - good for you.  I'm glad to hear it.  

Jeremy - good one ;)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Thanks!  :D

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, President, Wrenn Home Improvements (Wrenn Home Improvements) about 7 years ago

Wow, you post such useful information!  I always like reading your blogs.

I have a chimney issue here that my inspector found when we purchased 3 years ago, and we didn't get it addressed.  As a result, we've never used our fireplace.  On the Texas Gulf Coast fireplaces are more for atmosphere and ambience rather than heating.  Our inspector indicated that the flu was too close to the rafters making it a fire hazard.  If the flu gets too hot it could ignite the wood.  In the photos you can see that there's only about one inch of space.

Any thoughts?

Posted by Kate McQueen, Tailored service for your real estate needs! (CB&A Realtors) about 7 years ago

Kate - thanks.  My thought on your situation is to just have small fires.  I can't guarantee it, but I think you would probably be fine doing that.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

Rueben:

Thanks for a great post.   I've always assumed that when a repair is done that it would be up to snuff.  Now I'm going to make sure to send the inspector back out to the properties.

Posted by Carol Pease, CRS, Broker-Associate 512-721-6320 (JP & Associates Realtors) about 7 years ago

Hey there Reuben,

You are reading into or misreading actually, however for yours or anyone in needs of clarification, I stated that; "I see a photo of a chimney In Need of repair and was properly noted with an informative explanation by a Home Inspector," (meaning you) a credit and a compliment, but I understand where you're coming from at any rate.

Having a Chimney re-pointed is your standard and most effective Chimney repair.  


 

Posted by David Stokes (Ambassador Home Inspections, LLC.) about 7 years ago

Reuben, it looks like they jammed pancake batter between the same bricks that were already there! I can't believe.. wait, I can believe it. I'm sure their thinking was that it looks good from the ground.

Posted by Eric Michael, Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519 (Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI) about 7 years ago

Like the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. That liner is priceless.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 7 years ago

Carol - I think you'll start to find a lot of defects once you start hiring home inspectors to go out to verify that repairs have been completely properly.

David - sorry about that, I didn't mean to put words in your mouth... er, keystrokes on your keyboard ;)

Eric - and I'm guessing they weren't expecting anyone to double-check the work.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

James - I know, can you believe it?  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago
Important information! Stresses the importance of having the repairs inspected. Too often, buyers don't want to spend the money for that but with something involving fire and their safety, the expense is money well spent. Great wake-up call. Thank you!
Posted by Mary Richards, Mary Richards (Reece & Nichols Realtors) about 7 years ago

Hey Reuben! Awesome write-up! You can't just make these things up- now can you?!

Thanks for reinforcing the fact that Home Inspections are cheaper than unknown repairs!

 

Cheers!

 

Posted by Bisendra Melaram, Realtor (Brita Realty Corp. 718-909-0233) about 7 years ago

Reuben, I wish you were in my area to give me recommendations for a good chimney company. I've also run into a lot of hacks in that field!

Posted by Shannon Jones, Long Beach CA Real Estate (The Shannon Jones Team) about 7 years ago

We in our area have chimnies, but we do not usually have smoke coming out of them.

Posted by James Sanson - Ranked in the TOP 1% of Arizona, Homes for sale in Maricopa AZ (Keller Williams Realty Phoenix) about 7 years ago

Mary - thanks.  After reading all of the comments, on this post, I'm thinking I need to write a blog about re-inspections.

Bisendra - no way man :)

Shannon - try that zip code search. I don't know what your zip code is, so I punched in the zip code of one of your listings: http://csia.org/default.aspx?tabid=174&Zip=92679 

James - funny, Russell Ray just wrote a featured post talking about smoke coming out of chimneys :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

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