Let’s face it: Checking out real estate listing photos is the fun part of home shopping. Oh, so many gorgeous kitchens, bathrooms, and backyards to swoon over, or even buy!
But in some cases, those picture-perfect real estate snapshots may reveal more than just a home’s good points. It can also reveal the bad—and as a buyer, you’d want to know what those flaws are, right?
Look no further than realtor.com‘s new series, What’s Wrong With This Listing Pic?, where we challenge home buyers to scrutinize photos from current real estate listings and see if they can spot the problem hiding within. To pinpoint these issues, we turned to Welmoed Sisson, a Frederick, MD–based home inspector at Inspections By Bob and author of “101 Things You Don’t Want In Your Home.”
Sisson, you see, has a knack for spotting all sorts of problems in a home just by checking out the real estate pics posted online. And she immediately flagged the listing photos in this article.
Can you guess why? Take another close look below and see if you can pinpoint what raises a (burning) red flag.
What’s wrong with these listing pics?
Did you just ask yourself, “Wait, what’s missing?” Then you’re on the right track. It’s the hearth extension, the official name for the ledge (typically made of brick, stone, or tile) that extends outward from the opening of the fireplace into the room. (The hearth itself is the floor of the firebox, where the logs are stacked.)
In the case of the photo above, the wood floor goes all the way up to the hearth—and let’s just say that having a wood floor that close to a wood-burning fireplace is a bad idea.
“Combustibles too close to the fireplace opening can not only catch fire due to stray embers, but can also be damaged by exposure to the heat from the fires,” Sisson says. “Wood that is exposed to excessive heat undergoes a process called pyrolysis, which lowers the ignition point of the wood and can cause it to catch fire even more easily.”
How can you remedy this? With a hearth extension, of course. For safety reasons, all fireplace openings should be surrounded by at least 16 inches of a noncombustible material.
And this wasn’t the only listing photo to be found with such a problem. Below is another fireplace with no hearth extension, which seems even more obvious without furniture to distract the eye.
The same goes for wood-burning stoves (pictured in yet another listing photo below), which also need to be on a noncombustible surface.
How much does a hearth extension cost to install?
Sisson says if a new hearth extension must be put in, it could run several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity and choice of materials, but $3,000 would a realistic estimate.
Are hearth extensions needed for gas fireplaces?
What happens if you have a gas fireplace? It depends on whether the gas logs are set into a masonry fireplace, or if they are a prefabricated gas unit, notes Sisson.
“Many people convert wood-burning fireplaces into gas fireplaces by having log sets installed,” she says. “However, these still must have the clearances, as they could be converted back into wood-burning in the future.”
Gas fireplaces in new construction, however, are a different story. Gas fireplaces are designed with glass doors that are not meant to be opened, and they don’t have true chimneys, but rather are vented directly to the outdoors. These direct-vent gas fireplaces actually aren’t fireplaces at all; they are considered “gas appliances,” so they’re not subject to the same clearance restrictions as long as the glass front is not an operable, openable door.
Other fireplace safety clearance considerations
Even if your fireplace has a noncombustible hearth extension that’s the right size, Sisson says, you should still be cautious about where you place your furnishings. Wood-burning fireplaces can throw off embers that can ignite other materials, making it dangerous to have chairs and carpeting (pictured in another listing photo below) too close.
“There needs to be adequate clearance in front of and around fireplace openings to minimize the risk,” Sisson says. “Anything that burns needs to be kept clear of the fireplace. The bigger the fireplace opening, the more clearance it needs.”
Watch out when placing holiday decorations beside the fireplace and atop the mantel. No combustibles should be placed within 6 inches of the fireplace opening, so hang those stockings with care!
Mantel placement and material matter, too
The hearth extension isn’t the only hot-button topic to watch out for. Can you spot a second issue in the photo below?
A mantel, or shelf above the fireplace opening, adds charm and a place to display family photos or even a beloved collection. But what if it’s a little too close for comfort? Before you start showcasing your treasures and stacking your logs for a roaring fire, take Sisson’s advice and make some measurements to ensure your mantel doesn’t go up in smoke.
“Decorative wooden mantel surrounds should have the proper clearance—ideally, a minimum of 12 inches from the fireplace opening,” says Sisson.
When it comes to the right mantel material, Sisson says she’s seen everything “from wood to marble to brick to stone to tile to plaster,” but is “partial to anything that won’t burn.”
Of course, another option is just keeping your fireplace empty and turning up the heat. It’s not quite as picturesque as a roaring fire, but it sure beats burning down the whole house, right?
The post What’s Wrong With This Listing Pic? Learn Before You Get Burned! appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.