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   Fast-forward to today: about 75% of all new fireplaces are factory-built units, with components that are easier and less expensive to install than a site-built masonry fireplace. The fundamental difference between the two types of fireplaces is that a traditional fireplace is integral to the structure of the home, whereas a manufactured fireplace is essentially an installed appliance. And, just like a washing machine or a refrigerator, it has a serviceable lifespan--usually 20 to 30 years.

   The primary component of a factory-built fireplace is a firebox enclosed in a steel cabinet, which is fitted to a steel chimney or flue. The whole assembly is lightweight, inexpensive, and efficient. They are often called “zero-clearance” fireplaces because of the minimal safe clearance distance required around them for installation. An insulating air blanket is a key part of the design that keeps the outer wall of the fireplace cool, and enables the fireplace to be set in close proximity to wood framing.

   All factory-built fireplaces are tested to rigorous standards set by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the American Gas Association. They have an excellent safety record when properly installed and maintained; but, like any appliance with an open flame, there are several safety rules to follow to avoid a fire hazard:

  1. BulletThe fireplace should sit on a non-combustible material. If the floor is wood, then it should rest on a metal or tile panel that extends the length and width of the fireplace.

  2. BulletAny combustible flooring must be a safe distance from the fireplace opening.

  3. BulletThe grilles for inlet and outlet air should be unobstructed.

  4. BulletThe same fire-safety precautions used for a traditional fireplace should be observed for a manufactured fireplace.

  5. BulletRegular maintenance and cleaning are required. The chimney should be inspected monthly during the heating season for creosote buildup (the black, oily residue from wood-burning), and an annual cleaning by a professional chimney sweep is recommended.

While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection.

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