Practically everyone loves the smell, crackle, and pop of a warm blaze in a fireplace during the colder months, especially around the holidays. But offering a fireplace in your home or unit for rent can be risky. In addition to presenting fire, burn, and breathing hazards, a fireplace may make it harder to keep a home warm. Plus, they're challenging to maintain and keep clean.
Before providing a fireplace feature in your rental, explore all the factors involved, including:
- Different types of fireplaces.
- The benefits of offering a fireplace.
- The drawbacks of providing a fireplace.
- Servicing a fireplace and ensuring safety.
- Other considerations.
Fireplaces are a valued amenity that tenants can appreciate. And with the right house-hardening techniques, you can significantly reduce the risk of fire in your home. But they may also be more trouble than they're worth.
Different types of fireplaces
When many people picture a fireplace, they envision a traditional wood-burning type, with logs crackling away in a firebox surrounded by a handsome hearth, apron, and mantel. But these aren't the only kinds of fireplaces in use today.
Another popular fireplace option is a gas-burning type, commonly fueled by natural gas. These fireplaces typically fire up with the push of a button and can either be built in, log set (burners that fit within an existing fireplace), or retrofitted within a previously wood-burning fireplace.
Gas fireplaces can also be ventless, using indoor air without venting combusted air outside, or direct vented, which pulls in air from outdoors and exhausts combusted air out of the wall (without the need of a chimney, which a wood-burning fireplace requires).
A third common option is an electric fireplace, which usually employs metal coils to generate heat and a fan or blower motor to push the warmed air into your living space (the flames you see are actually light reflected from an LED bulb). Electric fireplaces come in three types:
- An insert positioned inside an existing hearth.
- A standalone unit with a heater and mantel.
- A custom unit placed within a furniture piece or on the wall.
The benefits of offering a fireplace
Hind Domanowski, senior director of sales and a CSIA certified chimney sweep with Priddy Chimney Sweeps in Rockville, Maryland, says a fireplace conjures up nostalgia for a time before technology and helps make a house (or a unit in a multifamily building) a home.
"It can also function as a backup heat source," she says. "For all these reasons, a fireplace makes a rental more attractive to prospective tenants."
Eugene Romberg, a real estate investor and home flipper in Fremont, California, says the fact that a fireplace can provide practical heat can make it a worthwhile feature to include in a rental.
"It can save on energy costs. Plus, it offers a romantic setting for your tenants," notes Romberg.
In the metro Atlanta rental market, where Realtor, attorney, and property investor Bruce Ailion offers several rentals, he says, "most single-family homes and suburban condos have fireplaces. What's nice is that you can charge about 5% more for a unit with a fireplace than one without."
The drawbacks of providing a fireplace
But fireplaces can present several costly and concerning disadvantages, too.
"Wood-burning fireplaces aren't practical for apartments or condos. There's no good place to store firewood or easily discard the ashes," explains Welmoed Sisson, a professional home inspector in Frederick, Maryland. "And the safety hazards are magnified in multifamily dwellings, as the actions of one unit can affect the entire building."
On the other hand, gas-burning types always run the risk of a gas leak. And there's always the chance that renters won't operate a fireplace or follow safety rules properly.
"Some people burn improper materials, fail to remember to open the flue, and fail to clean it, which can potentially damage the property interior and fireplace," cautions Ailion.
Sisson frequently observes ventless gas-burning fireplaces in the apartments and condos she inspects.
"While these are fine for short-term use, like 30 minutes or less, if they're allowed to run longer it can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide -- if proper precautions aren't taken," says Sisson. "Most people tend to ignore the instructions for these fireplaces, which typically state that a window in the same room as the appliance should be opened several inches to allow for fresh air to dilute these gases."
Also, since one of the products of gas combustion is water vapor, these units can produce a lot of humidity within the living space, Sisson notes.
Domanowski adds that having a fireplace may increase your property insurance, too. And Romberg points out that it may make it more difficult to get financing for a property (such as in Northern California, where wildfire risks are a concern), although that will depend on your location.
Perhaps the biggest reason why many landlords don't provide working fireplaces is the most obvious.
"Most tenants seldom use it," Ailion adds.
Servicing a fireplace and ensuring safety
Fireplaces need to be regularly maintained and inspected, per local and state laws and ordinances. Wood-burning types should be inspected and cleaned annually, Sisson says.
"If your fireplace has gas logs installed, it still needs regular cleaning. And the damper should never be closed all the way, to prevent gas leaking into the living space," says Sisson.
"Landlords should view this as property upkeep and have a yearly maintenance plan with a local CSIA-certified chimney sweep. At a minimum, this includes a level two inspection with a report detailing the condition of the fireplace in accordance with NFPA 211 guidelines," suggests Domanowski. She says the cost of a level-two inspection ranges between $150 and $250, while a sweep ranges from around $200 to $300.
The experts advise choosing and scheduling visits from an inspector/sweep/maintenance provider yourself to ensure that a properly licensed, certified, and experienced professional is hired.
"The costs for maintenance and inspection could be passed on to the tenant, but chimneys could be considered part of the common structure that would normally be the landlord's responsibility," says Sisson. "Make sure you clearly stipulate this in your lease agreements."
Domanowski agrees. "I would recommend that your lease agreement mention the fireplace and plainly spell out the landlord's and renter's responsibilities," she says.
Just because the rental home or building you bought has a fireplace included doesn't mean you have to make it operational to tenants.
"Removing a fireplace is rarely advisable. Instead, install a top-sealing damper on the chimney to disable the fireplace and keep rain, animals, and cold drafts out," Domanowski says.
Finally, think twice before installing a fireplace in a rental that doesn't already have one. It can create more liability issues and expenses than you bargained for.
"I would never add a fireplace where one did not exist," says Ailion