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When I bought my house (it was bank owned and empty for 2 years), the home inspector said that we had a gas fireplace insert, and not a "real" wood burning fireplace. We do not have gas service in this neighborhood, nor could we get it if we wanted it, so there is no pilot and no gas line to worry about.

My question is, is it ok to burn wood in this fireplace? There is a flue that goes up through the second floor and out the roof.

There is a small amount of creosote buildup, so I can tell it's been used before but either was installed shortly before the house was siezed by the bank or was not used extensively, however the home inspector told us that we should keep fires "small" since it "probably" couldn't handle the temperatures of burning wood.

We have yet to build a fire in it because the home inspector sounded rather unsure, and we don't know if he was just covering his butt from liability, or if it would actually be dangerous to light a fire. We also have no idea what it means to keep a fire "small" in a fireplace.

I'd really appreciate some guidance on this, I'd like to enjoy my fireplace if it's at all possible! Hopefully without the cost and hassle of installing a tank outside.

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A "small fire" in this case that would be safe would be decorative candles. Anything beyond it, get it inspected by a professional. –  richardtallent Mar 5 '11 at 7:59
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Maybe the LED battery powered lights might be safe!!!! –  shirlock homes Mar 5 '11 at 14:15

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The advice your home inspector gave you is ridiculous and he should have his license revoked. Either a flue is safe to use with wood, or it is not. Get a good chimney cleaning company that also inspects flues to clean it well first and run a camera down the length looking for any problems that might need attention and assure you it is safe for a wood fire. Don't guess at this or just try a "small" fire before getting a real inspection. Better safe than sorry.

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Just for the sake of clarity: It is the flue I'm worried about more than the actual insert itself? Most of what I've read has mentioned I should look up the model of the insert with the manufacturer. I've unfortunately been able to find a website for the manufacturer. –  Chris Sobolewski Mar 7 '11 at 3:10

Other factors that affect the safety of a fireplace are the entire surround of the insert, not just the flue. The question didn't mention just the flue.

It may be a decorative fireplace designed just for gas inserts, and lined with fibre-board or bricks and mortar that are not fire-rated. Is the lining purely exposed brick?

My parents bought a farmhouse which some idiot had lined the bottom of the fireplace with normal cement, filling in some gaps. This exploded the first time they burned a hot fire and they had to replace all the carpet due to embers being flung across the room.

I would get an expert in to examine the material of the fireplace before burning.

If you're not prepared to pay for that, run a small blowtorch across the surfaces and observe how they react (wearing safety goggles etc).

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Or... check if that's indeed a propane burning gas fireplace. With a tank outside.

If the flue was designed for a gas insert, it's almost certainly not ready for a wood fire. This is a case where you want a professional to look at the situation.

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