There are likely many different factors that lured you to your current home. Location is always important, but the features of the home themselves (open floor plan, gorgeous kitchen, spacious master bedroom, basement bar, sprawling deck, etc.) are what usually seals the deal. One home component that definitely makes the “asset” list is a toasty, warm fireplace.
Brace for some bad news, because a fireplace and the subsequent chimney aren't the blessing you might have once considered them to be. Sure, there's nothing quite like cozying up to a warm fire on a cold night – but at what cost?
Most home improvement professionals see your chimney as a liability instead of a commodity and actually recommend sealing it up permanently. Here are the reasons driving that suggestion:
1. A Fireplace Can Be a Huge Source of Energy Loss
Your chimney has a flue that exhausts air to keep a healthy circulation in your home. It makes sense, then, that during the summer and other times when your chimney is not in use that you should use something like a Chimney Balloon to prevent HVAC-treated air from escaping.
The problem is that you run into a slippery slope when closing off your chimney temporarily. Your chimney needs an equilibrium of intake/outtake air to maintain its physical properties. When closed off, the salts in the flue liner will absorb water (especially pre-1956 chimneys) and collect flammable debris. If left open for airflow, that drives up utility bills and increases heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) wear.
2. Even a Dormant Fireplace Has Value
One of the things that drives the appeal of a fireplace is the look itself and not necessarily the function. Decorative mantles and elaborate hearth frames can form a focal point of a room and be an interior design dream. You get this value whether the chimney is out of service or not – without the added work that comes when it's operable.
3. Having a Functioning Fireplace is a Lot of Work
Sure it can be soothing to relax in front of a fire but many times that calmness is needed simply from the stresses of starting the flame in the first place.
First off, you have to gather wood to burn and continually stoke the fire to keep it comfortable. Don't forget to constantly watch the fireplace screen so that popping embers don't ignite flooring, furniture, etc. Is your carbon monoxide detector functioning? A blockage in your flue could cause dangerous backdraft. That fire was nice – now it's time to dig all the ashes out of your firebox and turn up the furnace to replace all the make-up air that was just lost up the fire.
4. You Don't Use It or Can't Use It
Many homeowners will tell you that the fireplace was very appealing at first but became too much of a hassle and eventually just became a decoration (kind of like a treadmill). Then again, others will tell you that they'd absolutely love to snuggle up by their fireplace except for the fact that local ordinances have made wood burning illegal. There's really no sense in keeping your chimney cleaned and maintained annually if you either can't or just don't want to use it.
5. You May Not Lose Much Value by Blocking a Chimney
You can not only block a chimney without losing market value on your home, you can remove the fireplace altogether and actually increase your property's appeal.
A fireplace does offer nice aesthetics, but increased storage or added windows supply a very valuable function. Even just adding wall space for a television can increase the essential size of the room by offering a more functional layout.
6. Indoor Air Quality Matters
People are spending more time indoors, whether it's longer hours at the office or getting caught up in a Netflix marathon at home. Because of this, indoor air quality is more important than ever. Chimneys and fireplaces unfortunately contribute to the cause of a poor indoor breathing environment by
• Burning poor wood that creates a smokier atmosphere.
• Not having proper ventilation to contribute to the buildup of soot and creosote.
• Carcinogenic air being pushed back into the living space because of blockages in the flue.
Poor air quality and the health risks (nausea, irritation, headaches, allergies, fatigue, and other illnesses) are just some of the dangers of having an operable chimney. Blocking it off permanently increases your home safety overall against other issues such as mold, fire, rodents, and more.
Ensuring Proper Covering
Once you've made the decision to block off your chimney permanently, it's important to do so properly. A poorly covered chimney leads to leaks, which can not only cause damage to your home's interior but can start to structurally desecrate the chimney over the years and make it a risk of collapse. It's best to hire a professional to cap the structure, and it's also recommended to have the chimney inspected as part of your annual roof maintenance.
Footnote: images in the lead illustration courtesy Fresh Home. For more information, click here.