What I'm Seeing Now

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Cold Air Pours In My Gas Fireplace

I have heard this so often from people who have this problem - cold air pours in my gas fireplace.

There can be only one reason - poorly-placed or inadequate insulation.

A lot of homes have the gas fireplace built into the wall and sticking out from the house.

The box is surrounded with siding and is approximately 4' x 5' in size.

The support underneath, in newer construction, is composed of some form of wood joist, typically an I-beam like the ones pictured to the left.

The protruding cavity MUST be completely filled with insulation, front to back, top to bottom, or cold air will flow into the gaps.  This cold air creates convective loops and will make its way into the house via small openings left by the gas line and fireplace materials.

In the subject house the underside in the basement was completely covered with drywall, so no visual analysis could be made of the insulation to determine the cause.  So, what to do?

This client had read some of my many thermal imaging blogs, and especially on this topic, and wanted a thermal image examination of the circumstance to give to his builder.  The house is two months old.

MIGHTY MO TO THE RESCUE.

With the fireplace off Mighty Mo had a look see.

Looking at the fireplace with the camera, this palette uses orange and yellow to represent warmer temperatures and lavender, blue and purple to represent cooler temperatures.

The lower edge of the fireplace is very cold!

The surrounding area is 68F and the coldest spots are 46F!

Of course that cold can be felt coming in.  Outdoors at this moment the temperature is not that cold, about 30F.  Last week temperatures were much colder which was felt here, and precipitated the thinking about having a thermal image inspection.

Outside, again with the fireplace off, this is the view.

This is looking at heat escaping right at the floor level, which would be just under the fireplace. 

Radiant heat can be seen coming from underneath.

This is truly an insulation issue.

Then inside we turned on the fireplace and looked at the basement ceiling directly under the fireplace, covered with drywall.

The cold areas are obvious.

Convective looping (moving air) is happening as the fireplace warms up.

The cold is forced away from the fireplace, and here the drywall is probably 16" away.

So the solution is to remove the wood luaun panel on the underside of the fireplace box outdoors, and re-insulate the area properly, top to bottom, inside to outside.

And prevent air from being able to move inside that box!

Hopefully this will control the majority of the cold air felt in the family room!  And comfort is achieved.

My recommendation:  thermal imaging is a powerful tool and can evaluate things like this in a way that is not invasive and definitive.  The camera sees very long infrared wavelengths not visible to the human eye, measures temperatures, and organizes what it sees into an image.  Thermal patterns can be evaluated across surfaces evaluated to obtain meaningful data and interpretation.  And of course, all those interpreters, thermographers if you will, are really cute.  Give one a call!  You'll be glad you did.

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 65 commentsJay Markanich • January 16 2015 03:58AM

Comments

Way to go Mighty Mo! This wise consumer is following the right methods to get this situation rectified correctly.

So sad that it is a brand new home and he has this much "draft."

Have A Great Weekend Jay!

Posted by Bobbie Smith, 570-242-1891 over 3 years ago

Had I seen this house pre-drywall I would have suggested that the insulation in that spot can be very problematic and to make sure it is done properly, Bobbie. 

But alas, I did not!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

For sure, pre-drywall is the time for a home inspection.

Waiting for the pre-settlement walk-through just means looking to see if a home is pretty.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay,

Thanks for the tip on this one as we were viewing a home yesterday we could feel a similar situation from a new build.

Make yourself a great day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) over 3 years ago

Lenn - my client, named Jay!, will call when it's time for a 1 year warranty inspection.  Um, at 11 months...

Raymond - it's pretty obvious!  Why "professional" insulation companies don't understand this is beyond me.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Seems to me that the builder should be noticed BY PHONE and IN WRITING of the defect NOW before the home owner spends an extra $1,000 for heat.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay. Wow, I am impressed, never have Iheard anyone tackle this situation. Bravo.

Posted by Sheila Anderson, The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133 (Referral Group Incorporated) over 3 years ago

Lenn - something tells me that Jay, the client Jay, will get right on this.

Sheila - I am an old pro at this situation!  No brag, just fact.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

That is a big air leak, in our house we put the gas fireplace within the building envelope just to avoid this problem.

Posted by David Popoff, Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct (DMK Real Estate ) over 3 years ago

Mine is David.  But so many houses have the small box protrusion now.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay. Not uncommon for sure, but surprising that folks that are aware of the problem just don't do anything about it.

Posted by Joe Petrowsky, Your Mortgage Consultant for Life (Mortgage Consultant, Right Trac Financial Group, Inc. NMLS # 2709) over 3 years ago

Joe - for the number of calls I get about this, what do you guess, there are 1000 homes where nobody calls?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay-That is a great use of technology to solve a problem in a non-invasive way prior to the fix.

Posted by Wayne Johnson, San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale (Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS®) over 3 years ago

It's simplicity (and unseen complexity) is not as well known as it should be among consumers Wayne.

The paradigm shift toward the more common use of thermal cameras has not taken place.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Should put a fireplace pellet stove or gas log in the living room and thought about when not using it and the draft, breeze from the damper that is open, shut or somewhere in the middle. Heat loss, it happens. Nice gun to see the heat loss.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) over 3 years ago

Heat seeks cold Andrew.  Which is why people in Maine have heavier coats than people in Arizona!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Cool/cold air coming in from anywhere waylays the best laid heating plans.  In my house, we have an issue with the garage door which does not close properly. There's a gap under and over the door and the cold air pours in. Then it goes up the stairs into the rear entry way and from there it goes up into the house. Brrrr.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com) over 3 years ago

It's good to have the owners jumping on this issue now rather than wishing they had a few years from now Jay Markanich .

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 3 years ago

Seems you need a better entry door from the garage Kat!

Tom - I think this is very wise to do it now!  Why wait?  They just moved in!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Nice Info, my fireplace does this. I need to check out a solution...

Posted by Kevin Muhlestein, Just Loving Real Estate! (Signature Group Real Estate Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Utah) over 3 years ago

I don't know about the cute thermographer part... but the credit for finding the cold spot goes to you! Looks like it could be another case of the construction superintendant not making sure his insulation subs did the job correctly!

Cute? Nah.....

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 3 years ago

What do you want? It was Friday and the Dos Equis was Calling the crews name. Or maybe Schlitz? 

 

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) over 3 years ago

Lenn Harley should pre-inspect all new homes prior to dry walling and Jay Markanich  should thermal them afterwards....that's all I know

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 3 years ago

Kevin - it may be insulation!

Fred - ALL thermographers are really cute.  It is what it is.  The supervisor is to supervise?  Get real.

Probably true Scott.  Or, we'll get to it after lunch.  And that never happens.

Richie - the time to find this problem was pre drywall, but that's insulation under the bridge at this point.

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

I've seen this situation in several houses, thanks for the information, now I know what causes it.

Posted by Larry Brewer - Benchmark Realty llc (Benchmark Realty LLc) over 3 years ago

Like I said Larry, it is common.  And insulation is probably the cause almost all of the time.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay, glad to see Mighty Mo is back in action, displaying very clearly the cause of the problem! Not many home inspectors use this wonderful tool, is it very expensive?

Posted by Tom White, Franklin Homes Realty LLC, Franklin TN (Franklin Homes Realty LLC (615) 495-0752 or www.FranklinHomesRealty.com) over 3 years ago

Tom - Mighty Mo comes out whenever he is asked.  And right away!

When I bought MM in 2004 he cost $15K.  Training since has cost at least that much, but I haven't added it up.  I spent $3K last year alone in additional training.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Thanks for pointing out one of the very important uses of thermal imaging Jay Markanich . A picture is worth a thousand words.

Posted by Richard Robibero, ABR, SRS, Selling Your Home as if it were My Own! (Panorama R.E. Limited) over 3 years ago

Jay, thanks for the explanation as to how cold air comes in through a gas fireplace.

Posted by Sybil Campbell, REALTOR® ABR, SFR, SRES Williamsburg, Virginia (Long and Foster REALTORS® 5234 Monticello Ave Williamsburg, Virginia) over 3 years ago

Inspectors have such a wide range of tools and abilities at their service.  Makes it very easy to diagnose things like this.  

Posted by Kevin Mackessy, Dedicated. Qualified. Local. (Blue Olive Properties, LLC) over 3 years ago

I had to install glass doors on my gas fireplace so that it wasn't always pulling warm air out of my house in cold weather. And the law here says they must install a gadget on the damper to prevent it from closing when you have a gas insert. This whole setup is not efficient at all! Light the fireplace and all the cold air from upstairs comes rushing down on you because the glass doors must then remain open.

Posted by Carolyn Roland-Historic Homes For Sale In Delaware and S. Chester County PA, Carolyn Roland, GRI, CRS (Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate) over 3 years ago

I had a thermal energy audit done right after a remodel and expansion.   I had the builder there and he was surprised.    he beefed up what he could.  Most of the hard stuff was with the old structure.  It was wellworth the money.

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) over 3 years ago

air will actually blow out my thermostat when it gets windy... good info..

Posted by Doyle Lee Austin Davison Iv, 28+ years serving Investors/Banks/Buyers/sellers (Surf City Realty 714-968-6767) over 3 years ago

Nothing like thinking you are getting come value from the fireplace and discovering it is the biggest source of energy loss in the house.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 3 years ago

Richard - and thermal images are very definitive pictures.

You're welcom Sybil!  Any space improperly insulated will allow air movement.

Not many of us have thermal cameras Kevin.  But those of us who do think highly of the technology.

Carolyn - glass doors are essential on most any kind of fireplace.  They can be a huge draw of heat from a house.

William - energy audits are great, when done properly.  And you are right, well worth the money.

 

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Do you mean your pilot light Doyle?  That used to happen on the furnace in my wife's 1839 row house in DC!

Is that less value or valueless Ed?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

This seems to be somewhat common.  Thanks for this very informative post.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 3 years ago

Congratulations on a well deserved feature. I enjoyed reading your post and felt warmer as a result! Have a great weekend! 

Posted by Lise Howe, Assoc. Broker and Attorney Licensed in DC, MD, VA, (Keller Williams Capital Properties) over 3 years ago

Jay Markanich I have two gas fireplaces in my house! And it does really pour cold air. (How do you know?)

Now I need to get in touch with my home inspector for thermal imaging for sure.

Posted by Praful Thakkar, Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale (LAER Realty Partners) over 3 years ago

Jay, I would have a field day with thermal imaging in my home!

Posted by Sharon Parisi, Dallas Homes (United Real Estate Dallas ) over 3 years ago

Jay Markanich 
The Thermal Image does not lie! So amazing to see the photos taken with that camera! Hope to see you some day soon -Lynn

Posted by Lynn B. Friedman, Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers (Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ...) over 3 years ago

Joan - it is common!  This is not my first rodeo with this problem!

Thanks Lise.  Did you throw on a sweater?

Praful - you may not need images to know you need insulation!  Pop off the underside outdoors, if you can, and put in better insulation!

Sharon - I have a field day in most homes, including mine.  I often have people follow me and look over my shoulder.

Lynn - when I bought it the camera was state of the art (11 years ago).  Now it's slightly above middle range, but still doing well!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Morning Jay congrats on the well deserved feature.  Mighty Mo knows how to solve the problem (that is show proof) of your suspensions.  Nothing like visible proof to take to the builder

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 3 years ago

I can tell you the builders don't like to see thermal images James.  One actually suggested that I made it all up and needed a different camera!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay great blog! I have similar issue when I first moved into my home 15 years ago...you are right the simplest solution was to add additional insulation.

Posted by Ritu Desai, Virginia Realtor-Fairfax/Loudoun/PW-703-625-4949 (Samson Properties) over 3 years ago

My damper does not work.  I think I am going to have one of those fireplace inserts put in.

Posted by Russ Ravary ~ Metro Detroit Realtor call (248) 310-6239, Michigan homes for sale ~ yesmyrealtor@gmail.com (Real Estate One) over 3 years ago

My wholehouse inspector uses the thermal imaging camera to point out to the sellers and buyers the sources of energy leaks.  What a blessing these devices have been for that purpose and also for the purposes of pointing out the moisture spots in basements and behind walls.

Posted by Sham Reddy, CRS (H E R Realty, Dayton, OH) over 3 years ago

Ritu - fancy meeting you here!  Missed you the other day!  Solutions are sometimes really easy, but isn't it easieeeer to do it right from the start?

Russ - that has happened to me too with age.  Oh, you mean your fireplace.  We like our gas fireplace - click of a button and fire!

Sham - I consider my camera to be the sharpest arrow in my quiver.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Good morning Jay,

Excellent explanation of as to how cold air comes in through a gas fireplace. Love the visible proof you can take to the builder . Congrats on a well deserved featured post!

Posted by Dorie Dillard, Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate (Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.346.1799) over 3 years ago

Thanks Dorie.  I assure you builders don't like thermal images.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Thermal imaging is a great tool for inspections of things that are not visible to the "naked eye." Not cheap, but worth doing in some circumstances.

Posted by Nina Hollander, Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor (RE/MAX Executive | Charlotte, NC) over 3 years ago

Thanks Nina.  All true.  And while not cheap, it's less expensive than removing drywall to look inside the cavity from the basement!

It's all relative, said Dr. Einstein.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

I always learn something new from your posts. I will share this with others.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) over 3 years ago

And for that I am always glad Gita!  Share away.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Another great subject and blog, Jay. Thanks for the read.

Posted by Jeffrey Jonas- Minnesota Home Inspector (Critical Eye Property Inspections / JRJ Consultants) over 3 years ago

Glad you liked it Jeff!  Thanks for stopping by, as always.

Roll tide.  I mean, Go Pack!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay - I'm sending the link to this blog over to my nephew who lives in Ohio.  He was talking with me a couple nights ago about having this very problem!

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 3 years ago

That is why we choose to go with a free standing wood burning stove.  Not as easy, but the most efficent way to heat.

Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 3 years ago

Hi Jay,

Good post. It seems the builders don't take the time or don't want to spend the extra money to put a wood burning fireplace properly.

Posted by Steve Higgins (RE/MAX Kelowna) over 3 years ago

Myrl - insulation is probably the culprit in almost all of these cases.

Those are great heaters Tammy, if you have a cheap source of wood.

Steve - this is a gas fireplace.  But a poorly insulated wood-burning fireplace would have the same problems.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

I was in the spray foam insulation business for 10 years. Those cameras made sealing up a house possible, Well... it made selling the client on leaks possible

Posted by Mason Nettles (Mason Buys Houses) over 3 years ago

A thin coat of Icynene is the way to go now Mason, as a Best Practice.  Then the insulation is gravy.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

So fa no Thermal imaging Inspections an Albuquerque,,Great tool but I would cringe if a Home Inspector included one in his home inspection!

Posted by Greg Riley, e-PRO,RECS, Rio Rancho Real Estate (Prudential AllStar Realtors) over 3 years ago

I'm not sure what you mean by that Greg, but if the inspector is properly trained and experienced you have nothing to fear.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

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