Who Is Responsible? - Old House with Big Problems
I purchased a home this past July in Rhode Island. Let me state that it is an old home, almost 100 years old, and I had all the inspections done before purchasing. This house was not a foreclosure or sold "as is".
Despite all the repairs that needed to be done (drafty windows, no insulation, partial inaccesible crawlspace, etc.) to the house, I decided to purchase the home. I was very pleased to see the seller had installed a brand new furnace. The inspector checked it and of course, it worked perfectly.
Last week, I had a chimney specialist come out to check both chimneys for cleaning since we hope to start up our woodstove for heat. One chimney has a woodstove insert, and the other chimney is used for venting the flue gases from the furnace in the basement.
On the seller's disclosure, he stated that there was one (1) chimney working and that a liner had been installed in 2001. On the assumption that a liner had been installed, it leads one to believe it was done right, right?
My chimney technician told me that the chimney with the wood stove was not up to code because the liner had not been installed up to the flue tile. He told me it was unsafe to use the woodstove. I was upset when he told me this because we are relying on that woodstove as our main heat source. Ok, so I thought that was the end of it.
Next, my chimney technician inspects the furnace flue and upon removing the duct work that is attached to the new furnace, finds that the entire opening (about 1 ft in diameter) is jammed packed with debris. Not just any debris, but a combination of sawdust, large rocks, soil, etc. He took pictures, and said he had never seen anything like this before. He then thought it was a collapse in the liner and went to the roof to look down the chimney. He put the rod all the way through, so there were no obstructions, but discovered that THAT liner had been improperly installed, and the flue gases (carbon monoxide) were backing up into the basement and kitchen right above the furnace (through an opening in the floor behind the stove for the gas line from the crawlspace).
After cleaning out the debris by hand and half filling a 5 gallon bucket with this stuff, he could see clearly in the duct work. There was no collapse of the masonry, so the mystery is how that debris got there in the first place. It was located in the right angle part of the flue, so even if someone were to pour down the chimney, it would go straight down. But, this wasn't the case because the debris was in the duct work perpendicular to the chimney. Also, he said that the chimney soot on the top of the chimney had creosote, but the debris he pulled out didn't! He said it looked like sawdust and didn't have any creosote. The carbon monoxide detector went off in the basement (I didn't have one there previously) - evidence of flue backup gases. The CO detector also went off in the kitchen as well. To say I was shocked and disturbed is an understatement.
I called the furnace company who installed the furnace in Feb. of 2008 and asked if they saw any of the blocked passage - thinking they must have certainly checked the duct work before installing the furnace. The company said their only responsibility was installing the furnace up to the wall, that was it. My chimney technician said that's a bunch of bull, they should have checked.
The furnace company was very familiar with this house, having serviced it for over 30 yrs. I can't imagine they didn't know about the liner condition. But, maybe they didn't. They were also good friends with the seller.
So, my question is - who is responsible for that? My technician was so concerned he is putting this work ahead of their 1 month backlog because of the CO danger. I'm trying not to use the furnace that much (steam heat, but won't put it on so I don't create more fumes). I can't heat with my woodstove because THAT liner is not up to code. Estimates on the furnace flue liner start at $3,000 (about $100 per foot - steel). I'm outraged that this is happening and would be so grateful for any advice on this.
Just to note, I told my buyer's agent about this, and she said that I can't do anything because the house had to pass a CO test in order to close, so in her estimation, it did. I reminded her that the CO tests were done during early July - when the furnace was not in use, plus the fact that the owner had the house on the market and it was vacant for nearly a year, so even if the furnace was used occasionally for hot water, flue gases from that were minimal. And, therefore, there may not have been an indication of a CO problem at the time.
One more thing...at the closing, the seller's ex-wife represented him as power of attorney. She was very obnoxious and rude, to the point of my attorney asking her to stop her rude comments. She threw her driver's license at him when it came time for him to collect our licenses. This is a grown 50-something year old woman. She talked about her doctor husband and the 4 other properties they owned. Her misery was in part to having to bring $15K to the table. Anyways, the point is, she appeared very vindictive talking about her ex-husband and this house. Not to say she would damage the house in spite, but it makes me wonder especially when the technician indicated that it looked like the debris in the furnace had been manually put in.
Please help me. I'm a first time home-owner and love this house. Despite the number of "surprises" that I have found and swallowed the pill on (3 leaky, cracked pipes - kitchen & 2 bathrooms), this issue I something that I can't accept without a fight.
I don't know what my rights are, if any, at this point, but hope someone out there can start me in the right direction. I did waive chimney inspections before purchasing, however, I did it because (1) the seller had stated that a new chimney liner - assuming for the woodstove - was put in in 2001, and normally presuming it was done correctly and (2) a new furnace was in place, therefore I thought the furnace company would have surely checked to make the flue was safe. My assumptions of the above were based on good faith of seller disclosure.
Thank you in advance for any comments or advice. I also posted this on the Buying and Selling Board. Thank you.