Fireplace Retrofit into Log Cabin wall

Periodically I inspect Log Homes, typically in remote areas in Colorado. I had a home owner contact me recently that had a fire in their log wall around a retro fitted wood burning unit. They’ve been told by a reputable log home restoration contractor that the entire unit and chimney need to be removed to repair the log wall. They need an additional perspective grounded in a recognized code or standard to make a case to their insurance company because they live in a county that does not have any code requirements. I’ve attached a before and after picture of the unit. (note: the CMUs around the unit are hollow, most notably the CMUs along the top.) The exposed wood at the top is a D-Log. I did not inspect this home for the buyer.

Any thoughts,

advice or recommendations on this are appreciated.

Then the vendor or contractor can state that in their repair estimate to be submitted to the the insurance company or adjuster. If there’s push-back, then the parties can sort it out, or the carrier will ask for specific follow-up details.

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I would suggest they get a 2nd and 3rd “reputable log home restoration contractor” to give them a opinion/estimate for submission to their insurance company.
My ponderance is: why isn’t the insurance company doing their own damage assessment/appraisal of the damage?

To convince the insurance company, they’re going to have to get more than one opinion, and likely in the form of fixed price bids.

The question of what’s needed has a lot to do with hidden conditions that can’t be seen off site, and risk tolerance for structural issue callbacks.

The issue of who’s at fault comes in also. Who built it, when, who installed the insert, and how did they screw it up?

Thank you all for your input. In case you are as facinated by this situation as I am, the home owner is getting a couple second opinions/estimates. I also recommended that she call a public adjuster. Her insurance is pushing back to just remove and replace damaged materials, but the contractors are saying the whole thing needs to be removed to repair the log wall properly.

The whole thing was installed by the previous home owner, and since there is no code requirement in her county, there is no permit for the job, which also entails a giant external stone masonry chimney that blocks the wall from the exterior.

What I’m seeing is that the fireplace is framed in with CMUs that are hollow, especially the ones at the top that are directly in contact with the D Log and some plywood that is slipped in between the CMU and the D Log there.

My hunch is that the installation doesn’t meet clearance requirements to combustibles, especially since those CMUs are hollow below wood. But I have reached out to some experts familiar with relevant code to help me verify.

Since you said you’re in a county WITHOUT codes, and because their are many many different versions of a code INCLUDING the manufacturers specs (in KC where I grew up there are over 70 municipalities and probably 7 codes in use today (1997 UBC, 2000 IRC, 2003 IRC, 2006 IRC, 2012 IRC, 2015 IRC and 2018 IRC). Then other parts of the country might be on CABO … Then it depends on what year it was built, etc. …

So WHY are you looking for code references versus mfg guidelines and specs.


Because there are no mfg guidelines. If there was some kind of labeling on the unit, its burned up now. If there was a product guide that came with the unit when installed, its long gone. The present home owner never got anything along those lines when they bought the place last year. The unit was likely installed back in 2006 during a disclosed renovation, but of course there are no permits because there is no code and the contractor probably took off to Vegas with the proceeds from the install a long time ago.

So I’m fishing for anything that can help the homeowner build a better case for themselves…Because I Care, And Because I Can Afford the Time it Takes to Help. And because I despise negligent lazy people/contractors that put other people’s life at risk.

It’s pretty clear that the installation was faulty, evidenced by the fact that it lit the house on fire. (But I don’t know, maybe they had a pig on a spit in front of the fireplace that night.) However, now that we can see inside the wall since it’s been burned away, it appears that clearances to combustibles do not meet any standards I can find, including some other details.

The home owner is traumatized and looking for help. The insurance company is trying bail out at the lowest cost, and the restoration contractor hasn’t been heard from in weeks. They live in the boondocks so they don’t have alternatives.

Right now I’m operating off of 2021 IRC: 2021 INTERNATIONAL RESIDENTIAL CODE (IRC) | ICC DIGITAL CODES. Since its the code with the broadest jurisdiction that I can find.

I’m not a code inspector so I have to qualify my perspective for them.

If you can offer any constructive advise or guidance, I’m all ears.

I would move towards an engineer who can access the damage, depth of the char and subsequent structural consequence. Without design plans, someone will have to make that determination. Apparently, the insurance company does not like the contractors opinion.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thread Brian. You are right on the money. This whole thing was triggered by the insurance company not accepting the original contractor’s recommendation. At this point I’ve recommended getting 2nd and 3rd opinions from other contractors. I’ve recommended having a public adjuster do an assessment. The home owner is going to go down to their one horse town and ask around if she can find the company that installed the fireplace “to get more info” about it. wink wink. I’m kind of hoping they get the info they need to persuade the insurance company without me having to expose myself to unnecessary liability.

However, on an entirely other note, nobody seems to know where all the water went from the fire department spraying down the fireplace while inside the house. And the homeowner is so traumatized that they are afraid there is something else that could go wrong that they don’t know about. So I may end up doing an inspection after everything to offer some peace of mind. They are 4 hrs away from me, so I’ve been doing this remotely because I have the time right now. It’s a pretty facinating situation to me.

(I should add that I am certified by IICRC as a tech in Fire and Smoke Damage and Water Damage.)

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Don’t do something foolish and use a 2021 code to call something old as defective BECAUSE it does not conform to 2021 codes.

I’ve beaten 3 licensed engineers in expert witness because they did that

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Great call! Thanks Dan!

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Ok, here’s a way to turn the tables. I’ve threatened this more than once, it worked. The insurance company wants to make your friend/client do all the work. But they can ask for the insurance company to send an adjuster. Or, better yet, say since the adjustment and the contractor are odds you want them to hire an independent construction expert.

That’s expensive. They don’t want to do it. This may soften them up to accepting a higher bid, in order to make the problem go away.

I understand the boodocks location, but you can still get three bids. Just pay two contractors from too far away a travel fee of $100 to come out and inspect and bid. If they have a better way to do it, fine, else your original guy is the compliant low bidder.

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Good ideas, thanks Bryce. At this point the home owner decided to bring in a public adjuster (which I recommended as an option), his consultant on the fireplace issue, the original contractor and myself to tackle the problem. That’s a pretty big deck stacked against the insurance company. We’ll see…

Hey Dan, I thought you might appreciate this update. I spoke to the the public adjuster that went out to this property and I mentioned that we should refer to the IRC Code from the time of the installation (based on your recommendation). In this case around 2006. His response was that the insurance companies want to evaluate the situation from the most recent code. I assume that is because they need to consider the code requirements for a repair or replace estimate now. This was a fascinating one of a kind situation for me. The home owner was very happy with the process/experience guided by my observations for the adjuster. However, it sounds like the public adjuster is thinking of using me as a third party expert in the matter, including his own code expert consultant’s evaluation. Any advice on how to handle this properly in my role as an inspector is greatly appreciated. Thanks Again Dan.

The insurance or a contractor might need to use CURRENT code for a repair BUT if you were preparing testimony to slam someone with and used the … HERE is what it oughta be today so THEY’RE bad because it wasn’t done that way 16 yrs ago … You could be in for a shock