Liability issue for a faulty chimney

Just as a point of curiosity, I’m wondering what the liability is (if any) for the home inspector who inspected this property for the home sale:

*On a cold Easter night, Zach Weaver thought it would be a good time to light a fire in the fireplace, save a little on the gas bill, and warm up the house.

Only this time, things didn’t go as planned: “When I saw a little smoke coming from the top of the fireplace, I knew something was wrong,” Weaver said. “I ran to the laundry room and poked my head up into the attic and it was full of smoke. That’s when I knew it was time to call the fire department.”

The fire, at the Weaver house in the 1400 block of 13th Street, started in the insulation around the top of the fireplace, quickly spread through the attic and into the roof. By the time it was over, the Greeley Fire Department estimated the damage at $40,000.

The Weaver family — Zach and his wife and three kids under four years old — were able to get out of the house without any problem, and took their black Lab dog, “Nora” with them.

Fire reports state that as the firefighters arrived, flames were showing from the upper portions of the house, and firefighters were able to extinguish it quickly. They stayed to cool the hot spots in the attic, and made sure the fire wouldn’t come back.

“They said we could have spent the night here,” Weaver said Monday morning, “But we didn’t want to sleep in a place that smells like a campfire.” They spent the night with relatives, Weaver said.

Inside the house that the Weaver family bought two years ago, the ceiling of the living room has a huge hole now, and the burned rubble lies on the floor in front of the fireplace. Weaver said firefighters told him the fireplace had been incorrectly installed before they bought the house and it was just a matter of time before the heat and fire in the fireplace caught the roofing materials on fire.

“Now,” Weaver said Monday morning, “We’re waiting for the insurance company to see how much this is gonna cost us.” *

You should always include a recommendation to have a level 2 inspection of the chimney in every report.

Was there an obvious issue that could have been caught with a visual look at the chimney would be my next question?

Most importantly, the Weavers made it out with their well-being intact.

Blame? It depends… I’m sure now that it’s burned down and whatever the cause was is exposed, it will be much easier for someone to say that in hindsight “So and so should have caught it”

It’s human nature to blame and maybe even more to find a deserving recipient of the blame. Who built it and when? What type of fireplace was it? When was the last time it was cleaned or inspected? Even a fireplace that looked relatively safe to operate even just a couple seasons ago could have had an adverse condition develop.

As mentioned, stating what we can see and what we can’t is a good start.

Why don’t they go after the person whose job it was to PROPERLY install a fireplace, not the generalist who inspected it?

Surely you should know that Ben…

Because! <-- Isn’t that good enough?

And… once an item burns down, fails, or otherwise falls apart… it’s much easier to see why it failed and point a finger and say “XXXX shoulda known that” oh and “I’ll fix it”. Ya can’t forget that part… it magically seems that who and however helps assign the blame makes the client feel better about writing a check to fix it. They now have someone to blame.

I imagine if George Carlin were still alive… he could easily help people see how transparent this is simply by adapting his “Trying to find a place for your stuff” to “needing someone to find someone to blame for stuff”

Kate was the improperly installed portion clearly “visible”? Also what insulation around the top of a fireplace are you talking about?

While anyone can be sued by anyone for anything … there are many factors to consider in this case in which, individually or collectively, would remove any blame from the home inspector.

First, somewhere in the city or county archives there is a permit and a record of inspection by the authority having jurisdiction in this area that approved the plan and the installation of the solid fuel burning system. If the work had been improperly installed, as the fireman is reported to claim, it was also improperly inspected and approved before the first fire was lit. Additionally, the approved official inspection directly contradicts the claims made by the fireman.

Second, unless it was only recently installed, there is likely to be a long history of use without incident or … if not … there is an intentional act on the party who sold the house to conceal the defect. Intentionally concealed defects do not necessarily fall within the scope of a home inspection.

Third, the operation of a solid fuel burning system is not within the scope of a home inspection.

Blaming the home inspector is always the easiest thing to do … but I don’t think that something of this nature would stick.