Fireproof Wood?

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

When one thinks of fireproof materials, metal, stone and brick readily come to mind. Wood definitely would not. So one has to wonder, why would anyone build part of a fireplace using wood. There is no doubt wood belongs in the fireplace. But as a part of the structure?


While inspecting a not very old colonial style house, about 45 years, I arrived at the second fireplace in the house located in the family room above the garage. The smoke stained mantel grabbed my attention first. Often a sign of venting issues. I snapped a picture and moved in closer.

Something else was not right my brain nagged. 

The mind is a funny thing, when our consciousness can not grasp something because it so absurd, the unconscious mind is busy screaming to wake up and smell the coffee.

I finally heard the shout.

The mantel, a very large timber, was not set above the fireplace separated by bricks the required minimum distance. No, instead the wood had been made a part of the actual fireplace, set right inside the firebox.

Wood mantel built inside fireplaceWas this some insane experiment concocted around a dimly lit table in an altered state of consciousness from some distorted brainstorming session. A plan that once set in motion became like a runaway train, unstoppable.

Or a more plausible reason could be simply plain stupidity.

The buyer was more than a little taken aback by this discovery. Questions immediately followed like, how could anyone build a fireplace like this and hadn't anyone realized wood inside the fireplace was not safe. 

Good questions, none of which I could answer. A call was then made to the building department. An inquiry regarding permits and inspections was made. The building officials reaction was disbelief. Like myself, he had never seen or heard of a fireplace built in this manner. He stated emphatically it was not right or safe.

Not a surprise to anyone in the room.

Oh, and those permits, none were found. Again no surprise. Further the chimney that served this new concept fireplace also was discovered to have other questionable construction techniques and other deficiencies during the inspection.

Innovation occurs typically through experimentation while mindful of long established principals.


Wood plus heat equals fire. Someone apparently forgot about that.

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

To find out more about our other high tech services we offer in Connecticut click on the links below:

Learn more about our Infrared Thermal Imaging & Diagnostics services.

Serving the Connecticut Counties of Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven, Southern Litchfield and Western New London.


This entry hasn't been re-blogged:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
Home Buying
Connecticut New Haven County
Dedicated Bloggers
Addicted to Active Rain
WeBlog Anything (almost)!
home inspectors in connecticut ct
inspecting houses in connecticut ct
unsafe fireplaces in connecticut homes

Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Connie Harvey
Pilkerton Realtors - Brentwood, TN
Realtor - Nashville TN Real Estate

I think Hella's right. Insurance companies would scream if they saw this!

Dec 01, 2013 11:35 PM #13
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

Building a fireplace out of wood is indeed a new concept, or is it? A self feeding fireplace does sound appealing, just as I have been searching for self cutting grass! I think they sat around the dimly lit table a little too long... hey, a bad idea is better than no idea at all! Right? Maybe not...

Dec 01, 2013 11:36 PM #14
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Tom, As were all in the room.

Michael, That could be required.

Clint, As I said in the post, permits were not on record for the construction.

Bill, It would appear.

Andrew, Which is also why designs change. This type of mantel was certainly common way back in the colonial times.

Steven, You're welcome.

Robert, It was constructed to look like an old colonial fireplace. 

David, As I said in the post, the town has no records of the fireplace construction.

Hella, The fireplace was made to look old. The exact age of the addition is not known, but would be no more than the house, about 45 years. 

Connie, That is for certain.

Fred, A little too much thinking apparently. 

Dec 02, 2013 12:06 AM #15
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

We are educated once again...thank you

Dec 02, 2013 12:15 AM #16
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jim, the old colonial fireplaces it is attempting to mimic is WAY too small for the wood to survive very long if the fireplace was used all the time.  There are probably good reasons some of the old houses it is mimicing are no longer around   Every fire lowers the combustion temperature of the wood until.......

Dec 02, 2013 05:02 AM #17
Bill Reddington
Re/max Southern Realty - Destin, FL
Destin Florida Real Estate

Am trying to find a permit on a reroof at this time. Inspection said new roof was not installed correctly. Things like this are why you always have an inspection.

Dec 02, 2013 05:37 AM #18
Jeff Jensen
The Federal Savings Bank/Lending in 50 states - Greenwich, CT

I have a 1740 fireplace with the oven in back of the fire itself.  After that they stopped bulding them that way as too many skirts were catching fire.

Dec 02, 2013 06:38 AM #19
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Let's see.  Wood, fireplace, closeness.  I'm not sure if I can put my finger on that one!

Maybe it was designed by the same people who put together a website that doesn't work.  You know the one - the one that cost so much it would have been easier to give every American citizen $2million instead.

Dec 02, 2013 09:17 AM #20
Ralph Gorgoglione
Maui Life Homes / Metro Life Homes - Kihei, HI
Hawaii and California Real Estate (310) 497-9407

James, simply mindblowing. I can't believe anyone would not apply common sense to something as potentially dangerous as a fireplace. Thanks for sharing.  

Dec 02, 2013 10:58 AM #21
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Richie, I try :) Thanks!

Charlie, Yep. Eventually...POOF!

Bill, Especially when a safety issue is found. 

Jeff, Exactly, this is an old design that is no longer allowed for good reason.

Jay, Where can I get the 2 mil?

Ralph, Yes indeed, it does boggle the mind. 

Dec 03, 2013 09:28 PM #24
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, Well that was well thought out ;) Does make you wonder sometimes.

Dec 03, 2013 10:25 PM #25
Michelle Vickers
HER Realtors Worthington 614-353-3698 - Worthington, OH
Prompt Professional Proactive

The whole fire place thing scares me. My dad has a fire place he has not had cleaned out in many years and I keep telling him he needs to do this to prevent a possible fire.

Dec 03, 2013 10:32 PM #26
Randy Shamburger
Movement Mortgage - Greenville, SC
FHA, VA, USDA and Conventional Mortgage Expert

Thanks for sharing this information!

Dec 03, 2013 11:58 PM #27
Jimmy Faulkner
Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage - Wantagh, NY
The Best Of St. Augustine

Now someone does not understand reality in the homebuiling process. A very dangerous person is doing this and if it is a contractor, that person has to be stopped.

Dec 04, 2013 03:50 AM #28
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Don, My head is often full of wonder :)

Michelle, May not be a problem IF your dad has a fireplace, not a wood stove. Fireplaces burn hot and fast, generally not dirtying up the flue like a stove. 

Randy, You're welcome.

Jimmy, The fireplace has been there for many years. No way to know who built it. Actually at this point it really isn't important. Repair is the priority. 

Dec 04, 2013 09:20 PM #29
Jared Garfield
Rich Life Real Estate Team - Buford, GA
Invest With The Best For The Highest Returns!

Wow, that is crazy, you have to really wonder what they were thinking there.  That discovery alone sure pays for the home inspeciton, just think how long that has been there and nobody ever replaced the wood!


Dec 05, 2013 12:20 AM #30
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jared, Yep, it is crazy, and yet, there it is.

Dec 06, 2013 09:43 PM #31
Kent Hendrickson
Hendricksonhouse - Albuquerque, NM
Homexaman USA
12-31-13 2125 Hours: That is "Crazy" stupid. As a retired Fire Marshal, I must tell you that is in the top ten of stupid things that I have seen. He/she must have been thinking that they were actually living in 1776. Happy New Year to you all.
Dec 31, 2013 12:25 PM #32
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Kent, That is one possibility. Happy New Year to You too. 

Dec 31, 2013 10:47 PM #33
louie donovan
Sounds hilarious, is there such a fire proof wood? I bet if there is a new material invention or by nanotechnology then maybe fireproof wood will come into existence. If such wood were integrated into fireplace, then the whole fire place burn as well. Just sharing my opinion, thanks by the way for giving me an opportunity here to comment. brooklyn home inspector
Apr 04, 2014 10:33 AM #34
Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Show All Comments

What's the reason you're reporting this blog entry?

Are you sure you want to report this blog entry as spam?


James Quarello

Connecticut Home Inspector
Ask me a question
Spam prevention