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

Most fireplaces in multifamily buildings aren't quite this rustic, but whether built to burn real wood or powered by gas jets, they're beloved (and valuable!) amenities.

Some lucky New Yorkers 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, approximately 16 percent of apartments in New York City have working wood or gas fireplaces. Wood-burners most commonly are 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. And wood-burning models are now officially collectors’ items; in 2014, Mayor Bill De Blasio signed an ordinance that prohibits the construction of wood-burning fireplaces in new buildings and renovations. (Gas-fired and electric models are still okay.)

Eddie Delgardo is the sales manager of Westchester Fireplace and BBQ, located in Elmsford, New York. “Maintenance requirements for a fireplace in an apartment building are no different than for a single-family home,” he says. “A wood-burning fireplace requires a regularly scheduled brush and vacuum, a chimney sweep inspection, and an inspection of all safety components. Inspection should be done annually and by a properly licensed expert.”

Gas-burning fireplace maintenance is similar to that of any gas-fired furnace, says Delgardo, and he adds that such fireplaces also should be inspected once a year.  “Gas fireplace units require the same inspection of the flue and of its components by a licensed chimney sweep, as well as maintenance on gas valves and fuel to air mixtures, plus an inspection, check, and, if necessary, replacement of parts in the filtering system.”

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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