Archive for the ‘safety’ category

Insulation Near a Fireplace?

December 17th, 2013


Can I insulate the underside of my first-floor fireplace chase? I would like to put batt-insulation, and a ceiling below the fireplace. I currently use the area as a storage closet. The area is very cold, and the air seems to migrate upstairs. I also get frost above the basement wall, on the framing. The fireplace is ~20 years old, and non-gas.



You’ll need to check on the installation requirements for your specific type of pre-fabricated fireplace. They must be installed per specific installation requirements. In general, they require clearance around the metal firebox, and around the metal flue that is routed up through the boxed-in chimney chase. I don’t think your real problem is in the basement. I think the real problem is the exterior wall behind the fireplace. Insulating below the floor will be of little value.

The areas around the fireplace can be a big heat-loss, because the outside wall behind the fireplace may not be properly insulated. The exterior wall should be framed so that it can be insulated and sealed like a typical exterior wall. This does not always happen when the wall is buried behind a manufactured fireplace, and brick facing.

F007 - Metal-Framed Prefabricated FireplaceThe area below the fireplace (above the foundation wall) should be independent from the fireplace installation. Ice in this area (and around the sill/band joist) occurs because air moves through the fiberglass batts, and moisture condenses on the cold surface.

The ideal fix at the top of the foundation wall is to have the area sealed and insulated with spray foam. This will seal the air-leaks, provide a vapor-barrier, and insulate the area.

If you want to work with fiberglass, you need to remove it and caulk any gaps in the area around the sill-plate to the sub-floor. Fill the space with tight-fitting fiberglass, then seal it with drywall and plastic caulked in place on the heated side. It sounds like the foam is a much better option.

–Mr. Fix-It

Outlets on One Side of Room Don’t Work

February 11th, 2013


Last night I was watching TV, and part of the receptacles on one side of the room went dead. The other side is okay. I checked the receptacles that weren’t working; no wires were burnt. What could the problem be?



E002 - Electrical Main Circuit Breaker PanelFirst check the circuit feeding the electrical outlets on the side of the room without power. Is a breaker tripped or fuse blown? If there are no breaker problems, you should call an electrician. He can remove the main panel cover and start tracing down the issue. He would start at the dead outlets and in the main panel and look to see where the current flow stops. If it is not a breaker or fuse, it will be a loose connection between the panel and the circuit, or on one of the receptacles. You could lose a series of outlets with one loose connection on one outlet.


Natural Fireplace Maintenance

February 8th, 2013


We have a natural fireplace, not gas. Can you tell us the maintenance we should be doing on our fireplace? What is the maintenance on a gas fireplace? Should we be having our chimney cleaned out by a professional? Is this necessary?



F005 - Masonry FireplaceFor a typical wood burning fireplace, you should have the chimney cleaned and inspected every several years. The cleaning depends on how often you burn wood. If you burn most weeks, clean the chimney every year. If you burn a few times per year, clean the chimney every few years.

With a gas fireplace the maintenance is limited because the products of combustion are relatively clean. The fireplace logs should not be producing excessive soot and they should be checked along with the chimney flue every couple of years.

With either fireplace, you should also make sure the damper is closing tightly when you are not in use. You should make sure the damper opens fully and latches open when you build the fire. Outside there should be no bird or animal nests in or around the chimney.

For a masonry chimney, the cap should be solid and overhang the structure of the chimney. The structure should be solid without salt stains or surface spalling. For a framed-in metal chimney, it should have a cap that directs water away from the flue with limited rust. The box should be in good condition just like the siding of your home.

With either type of chimney, I think it is important to have a rain cap on the flue. They keep water and animals out of the chimney flue. When in doubt about chimney or fireplace issues, have a professional check it out.

GFCI What?

February 24th, 2010

On a GFCI outlet, is the imbalance of electrical current coming from the ground conductor and the neutral conductor, or is it read from the hot and neutral conductor? Will a GFCI outlet work on a two-wire only electrical system in a house?


A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) detects an imbalance in electrical flow between the hot and neutral wire. A slight leakage will trip the GFCI and protect you from a shock. The electrical leak may be flowing through your body!

A GFCI outlet will work on a two-wire hot and neutral system with no ground. In operation, it measures between the hot and neutral wire. Without a ground, a GFCI tester will tell you it has no ground but the GFCI will work. This type of installation should have a sticker that says no equipment ground.

A GFCI tester uses a current test that leaks current to the ground wire and causes the device to trip. When there is no ground, the tester will read no ground and will not work. This may be the confusing part of a GFCI and GFCI tester.