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A fire breaks out and destroys a single-family home. An investigation reveals that a chimney sweep cleaned the fireplace system 10 months prior. As a claims adjuster, what issues and areas are important to assess? Let’s first look at fireplace systems, and then the duties of a chimney sweep and what areas adjusters should review when it comes to evaluating the potential for subrogation recovery.

The Fireplace System – “Not Practically Perfect”Most homeowners’ familiarity with chimneys comes from seeing the movie “Mary Poppins.” In that movie, set in England, chimneys are swept as a backdrop to the story. However, chimney systems are not “practically perfect in every way,” like Mary Poppins. Chimney fires are extremely dangerous and pose a serious risk of harm to occupants as well as concurrent property damage.

There are different combinations of fireplace and chimney systems. Many are masonry products consisting of bricks, blocks, or stone and mortar, which can have a metal chimney system. Others are lightweight metal chimneys and metal fireboxes commonly known as prefabricated, zero-clearance, or factory-built fireplaces. Hybrids exist, so precise inspections and detailed knowledge of fireplaces is necessary.

Masonry fireplaces can be large structures, and because of their weight, settlement and rotation are common problems to be evaluated. Settling is often recognized where the firebox makes contact with the facing. There can be open gaps in this area created by settlement or during construction, which may permit fire or heated gases to travel into a wall cavity, contacting adjacent combustibles. Fireplace fires can burn up to temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, igniting inappropriately exposed combustibles. The chimney and firebox should be examined for damage, as joints in the firebox and chimney system can expand and contract based on usage. All components must be properly inspected to ensure that they will not fail, become damaged, or allow a fire or heated gases to escape.

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