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VOL. 36 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 15, 2012

Don’t count on luck to prevent chimney fires

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“Chim Chiminey Chim Chiminey. Chim Chim Cher-ee! A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be,” or so the song from Mary Poppins goes. Chimney owners who are not acquainted with chimney sweeps are as lucky as lucky can be if they have not had fire damage to their homes.

The most catastrophic of events that can result from negligence and lack of maintenance of a fireplace and its chimney is the chimney fire. Those who have experienced the phenomenon describe the noise as similar to a freight train running through the house. And, if the chimney is able to withstand the heat without crumbling, it reaches temperatures that allow the chimney itself to ignite lumber.

These fires can be caused by the accumulation of creosote along the walls of the chimney as this chemical is emitted during the burning of wood. If the creosote ignites, the results can be devastating.

Poor chimney maintenance can prove life-threatening, as well. It is not unusual for animals to nest in chimneys. As these animals live there, the chimney can serve as the prefect latrine – private and comfortable. The waste from the various varmints vacationing in the edifice can fall into the fireplace, offering an interesting subject for the curious that explore such regions, be they animal or toddler.

Several years ago in Chicago, raccoons became contaminated with a strange disease that destroyed their brains. As many of these raccoons had domiciled in chimneys, their waste fell into homes of unsuspecting parents and pet owners. Sadly, there were a number of deaths associated with these situations. Simply adding a chimney cover can eliminate intrusion by man and beast, with the exception being Santa Claus, who has methods for entry regardless of any barriers.

While fires generate heat and heat is energy, the chimney is one of the largest sources of energy drain from the house. Dick Wass, an engineer who has studied the fireplace for decades has stated that a home inhabitant who burns a fire in the evening and leaves the flue open through the night will experience a heat loss equivalent to the home having had its entire volume of heated air pulled from the house seven times during the night.

For example, if a house has 2,000 square feet and 10-foot ceilings, thus approximately 20,000 cubic feet, Wass’ theory is that 140,000 cubic feet of air, heated by the home’s heating system, will fly into the air. Therefore, in addition to the chimney cover, there should be a functioning damper that should be utilized by the resident.

Prefab or zero-clearance fireplaces gained popularity in the 1980s as they were less expensive than their masonry counterparts but caused a number of problems since many were improperly installed.

The manufacturer recommended the firebox have a buffer of air between it and the lumber. As many of the firebox enclosures were framed imperfectly, the on-site contractor installed the firebox in any manner possible, often leaving firebox in contact with wood. This practice caused a number of fires, and there could be many looming.

However, the prefab fireplace does not have a monopoly on house fires since masonry fireboxes require ongoing maintenance in order to provide a safe haven for the cozy fire. Mortar will deteriorate as it ages and is exposed to intense heat. It should be replaced periodically with the proper mortar that is able to withstand the abuses of the fireplace.

With warm days ahead, it is a good time to service the chimney. Then you and the chimney sweep will be lucky as lucky can be.

Sales of the Week

There are 2,500 of them this week. The Greater Nashville Association of Realtors released the sales data for May home sales for the area this week and announced that sales were up 28.5 percent. For the year, sales are up 25.5 percent and with 2671 pending sales for June as compared with only 2,023 pending sales last year at this point, the growth will continue.

As a reminder, 2011 sales were up 6 percent compared to 2010, the first increase in four years. Also of interest is that the sales prices are on the rise.

The median price for a single family home increased from $165,000 to $179,000 while condominium prices rose from $143,000 to $160,000 as compared to last May.

Inventory is down from 22,514 to 19,503. A good rule of thumb states that a six-month inventory is the balance wherein neither buyer nor seller has the upper hand. In condominiums, there is less than a six month supply, so sellers have the edge under this theory. Single-family homes are on the brink, and next month’s sales should push the needle over to the sellers’ side.

A recent potential buyer relocating from California noted that the market looked “picked over” in his price range. He is accurate in his assessment, as some areas of the market are barren, while others are overstocked.

In 2009, the country and the city were in financial chaos with no end in sight. With only 1,783 home sales and 24,598 homes in inventory in May, 2009, there was over a year’s inventory on the books and prices were falling. It’s been a long three years.

Richard Courtney is a real estate broker with French, Christianson, Patterson, and Associates. He can be reached at

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