A house fire that occurred in late winter of 2012 at a Kansas City residence was caused by an improper installation of a fireplace by a local hearth retailer. Fire investigator Gene Padgitt, CFI, of Padgitt Forensic Investigations and HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri recently found the origin and cause to the fire after investigating the site thoroughly. The name and location of the homeowner or the installer cannot be released due to privacy issues.
“It was obvious where the origin of the fire occurred. The attic insulation shield had not been installed around the chimney in the attic. This is a very critical component to the system and without it insulation can be blown around and down the sides of the chimney pipe and cause a fire,” said Gene Padgitt. Manufacturers always require this component and it is not optional. An insulation installer blew insulation in the attic and around the chimney pipe, and the combination of the missing component and insulation caused the fire.
Padgitt was shocked to find out that the fireplace installer, who works for a local hearth retailer, has been putting in prefabricated fireplaces in the same manner, without an attic radiation shield for 21 years. He has installed thousands of fireplaces in the greater Kansas City area in the same way, leaving homeowners at risk.
When the installation is done incorrectly without an attic insulation shield, otherwise known as an attic radiation shield, heat from the chimney pipe can transfer through the insulation to nearby combustible wood framing. This is a severe fire hazard. Manufactured fireplaces are U.L. Listed and tested products with all components. If any part of the required compoents are not insatalled, or are installed incorrectly, a house fire may result, even if the fireplace has been in use for years without incident.
Gene Padgitt said that homeowners in the greater Kansas City area in Missouri and Kansas who have homes built since 1991 and have manufactured fireplaces (non-masonry) should inspect their chimney in the attic area to make sure that an attic radiation shield is installed, and that no insulation is blown onto the chimney or down into the chimney chase. If unsure as to what they are looking at, Padgitt suggests that homeowners call a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep who is a chimney contractor with at least 10 years experience inspect the installation before using the fireplace again. The Chimney Safety Institute of America has a listing of Certified Chimney Sweeps at www.csia.org, however, the homeowner should check the contractor’s website for other credentials as well.