Homebuyer alert:: The WETT inspection, a disaster in the making.

Homebuyer alert:  The WETT inspection may be a disaster in the making for you!

If that home, cottage, or commercial property you are looking to buy has a wood stove or other type of wood burning appliance in it, your insurance company, your realtor and maybe even the home inspector you called all say you should have a WETT inspection.  The home inspector you contacted may have even indicated they can perform the WETT inspection at the same time as the home inspection saving you money and making the WETT inspection cheap or even free.  Should you?   My answer is most emphatically NO! The reasons I give to my home inspection clients I will now share with you as I believe, as do many others, a WETT inspection could be a disaster in the making for any homebuyer.

Wood Energy Technology Transfer Inc. (WETT Inc.) is a non-profit training and educational association. Through professional training and public education, WETT Inc. promotes the safe and efficient use of wood-burning systems in Canada. How could anyone argue that this is the wrong thing for a homebuyer to have .  The WETT inspection that insurance companies require,  realators recommend, and  many home inspectors offer in conjunction to the home inspection service is a level 1  insurance inspection.  This is a very basic inspection that any WETT certified member is trained to perform in the course of a four day training program. But, don’t you believe that it offers any peace of mind with regard to your family’s safety.

The level 1 inspection consists of a general overview of the readily accessible parts of a woodburning system to determine if the system meets current regulations.  In other words, Does the stove have a data plate?  Is it installed to meet the critera on the data plate? Or, if the appliance data plate is hidden, given the installation guidelines in the four day training program, is this woodburning  appliance installed correctly as far as you can see.  If the answer is yes the inspector gives you a  “pass”.

But wait. What haven’t we done during this basic inspection?  We have not inspected the fire box or the chimney. These are the parts that contain and guide smoke, flames, and sparks away from the firebox and safety out of the home. Inspection of fireboxes, dampers,  the smoke shelf, and the chimney is not required for the insurance required WETT inspection.  When home inspectors Firemen and many others who perform WETT inspections , inspect wood burning appliances they normally exclude the chimney and burning area and provide what is deemed a 'Level 1' insurance inspection. So they take measurements inside but do not inspect the interior of the firebox for cracks or splits, they do not check chimney or dampers.  They do not check automatic thermostat controls on wood/oil furnaces, nor do they check the rain caps and spark arrestor screens on chimneys.  Even if a dedicated home inspector did look, the items are normally covered in soot and creasote deposits so what could they see anyway?

Frankly, that type of inspection is a disaster waiting to happen to you the homebuyer!  Any masonry chimney can have loose mortar joints or even be missing pieces that cannot be seen until the chimney is cleaned properly.  An earlier chimney fire may have gone unnoticed by an owner when it went out through lack of fuel while still overheating the mortar, mine did.  If missing mortar leads to a space in the wall cavity, guess where the sparks can get to. I know, and any fireman will tell you it happens all the time.  Metal prefab chimneys can and have failed dramatically on the inside but seemed whole and in good condition to all outside appearances. The “Square D chimneys” are a notorious example but there are many examples each year of the inside seams opening up. Seams can open up through overheating from chimney fires, and through the insulation inside getting wet through a poorly sealed joint. The insulation can freeze and pop the seam open.  Any place that open seam allows heat to touch the outside skin will get extremely hot, hot enough to start a fire if it is against any combustible like the side of the home.

 As both a home inspector and a person who has been through a home fire I always tell my home, cottage, and commercial, inspection clients in Orillia, Gravenhurst and all of Muskoka  Ontario: Do not get a WETT inspection alone. You must, for safety sake, have a certified sweep clean and inspect the entire chimney and the firebox prior to using any woodburning appliance.  After a proper cleaning and inspection the sweep can issue the WETT certificate the insurance company requires but you will have the added assurance the rest of the system is in good condition and safe to use.  Just like Smokey told you when you were a kid ‘Only you can prevent forest fires”,  when it comes to fire safety in the home, as a homebuyer  Only you can order the proper inspection to prevent home fires, and it is not the standard level 1WETT inspection.


Visit WETT Inc.’s Web site at http://www.wettinc.ca and click the WETT Member search link for a complete list of WETT-trained professionals. For a proper cleaning and inspection contact members listed as WETT-certified technicians or sweeps.  Call WETT Inc. toll-free at 1 888 358-WETT (9388).