PUBLISHED: 4:12 PM on Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Fireplace trouble in quest to toast marshmallows
You know summer's kiss is dead and gone when Pottery Barn's fat holiday catalog arrives in the mail.

So many pages, so many cute fireplace photographs with monogrammed stockings hanging from the mantel.

All those hearth shots reminded me there was a dog kennel in my fireplace instead of logs.

This isn't how it was supposed to be. Last winter when I was house shopping, fireplaces were high on my list.

But I kept running across chimneys that had been bricked in.

"I want a fireplace I can use!" I harped at the real estate agent. "I want to have fires and makes s'mores."

I'm from a cold climate, where fires are part of the winter. Men in lumberjack shirts arrived about the same day as the Pottery Barn holiday catalog ready to sell you a big stack of firewood. The big chore for my brother and me was to "go get a log" from the pile in the garage when Dad deemed a fresh one necessary.

When I bought my place, the nostalgia spurred me to excitedly tell family and friends about my new fireplace.

These savvy people suggested I have the chimney inspected before I lighted up a Duraflame log and started toasting marshmallows in the 80-year-old structure. This sounded wise to me.

Have you ever had your chimney inspected?

I expected a somewhat in-depth procedure involving complicated chimney-specific tools I could never possibly operate and a 21-point checklist. That is not what I got.

The chimney technician came over and roughhoused with the dog for a while to establish a rapport with me.

We talked about his pit bull and how if he ever stops at a convenience store for a hot dog and doesn't get her one, she won't speak to him for hours.

Then he lay on the living room floor and shined a flashlight up the chimney.

He pulled out some newspapers dated 2002 that the previous owner had stuffed up there as some sort of low-rent, MacGyver-esque solution to energy loss.

The 2002 news didn't impress Chimney Tech. He had recently pulled some newspaper scraps out of a Springfield chimney that were dated 1903.

Next, he grabbed his ladder, bolted up to the roof and peeked down the chimney with his trusty flashlight. He bolted back down and returned to the living room to scratch the dog.

And that's about it. I spent 50 bucks for a trip up the ladder and a peek with a flashlight. I know the man has to make a living, but jeez. At least pretend you're doing something more than just looking at it.

So what was Chimney Tech's conclusion? "You can't have a fire in here."

Apparently holes in the mortar would allow smoke from a fire to seep into the house and give everyone in it carbon monoxide poisoning. Very uncool.

"So in the same environment, 80-year-old mortar doesn't outlive 100-year-old newspapers?" I asked.

Chimney Tech shrugged. "And even if you did have a fire, all these tiles in front of the firebox would crack since they're not heat resistant."

He suggested putting in a flue liner, and then laying some bricks in front of the firebox. Simple solutions that run about $2,500.

"That seems like a lot to spend for some toasted marshmallows," I lamented.

"My wife loves toasted marshmallows, and she just makes them over a candle."

And so shall I, Chimney Tech. So shall I.