Fireplace Safety and Maintenance A Valuable Amenity Shouldn’t Be a Liability

Yours may not be this grand, but whether it burns real logs or is powered by gas jets, a fireplace is a beloved (and valuable!) amenity.

Some lucky apartment owners can come home from work on a cold winter’s night and warm their feet by a roaring fire while drinking a hot toddy.  A working fireplace is a coveted amenity for many, adding a dash of vintage charm to prewar apartments, or a touch of luxury in sleek newer buildings. But hot toddies aside, maintaining a fireplace in your apartment is no small task. From regular cleaning to proper venting, taking care of a working fireplace is a serious responsibility – and crucial for the safety of both people and property. 

Maintaining a Relic

While fireplaces may be considered a nice touch today, at one time they were necessary components in every home, warming the house and providing a place to cook.  But that was a century-and-a-half ago.  Today, wood-burners are most commonly found in converted townhouses built in the second half of the 19th century and in upper-floor and penthouse apartments in prewar luxury buildings, while newer construction generally features gas-powered or electric hearths. They are also very common in townhouses, reports David Levy of Sterling Management Services located in Holliston, Massachusetts.  Some units may even feature multiple fireplaces. 

John White is the sales manager of Boston-based Billy Sweet Chimney Sweeps, which serves Boston, the North Shore, and Portland.  “Maintenance requirements for a fireplace in an apartment building are no different than for a single-family home,” he says. “Solid fuel fireplaces should be swept and inspected once a year.  That recommendation is made by the Chimneysweep Safety Institute of America (CSIA). They are the most accepted certification in the industry.”

“If you use it, it needs to be swept,” White stresses. “Additionally, throughout the entire year, thanks to heat and snow, freezing and thaw, a chimney’s masonry can become damaged, and can deteriorate over time. Annual inspections are not only to make sure the fireplace system is clean, but also to make sure it’s in good working condition.”

Common Area, or Private Amenity?

As with any element in a multifamily building that involves components that penetrate into both private homes and common areas, it’s important for co-op or condo owners with fireplaces to know whether the component parts to be maintained are under their purview, or that of the co-op or condo association. 

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