Chomedey condo owners face steep bill for fireplace removal

Some buildings erected after 1985 had non-conforming chimney firewalls

When Shiva Ashtari and her family moved into a condominium on Charles Best St. in Chomedey eleven years ago, they weren’t aware that the fireplace which had been installed when the eight-unit building was completed in 1986 didn’t meet construction and fire code requirements.

A fire code issue

After deciding a little more than five years ago to go ahead and buy their unit, they found out that condos in Laval with fireplaces like the one in their home, which are mostly decorative but still useable for burning wood, had to be upgraded or removed in order to conform to the code.

“We have been told by the service incendie de Laval that all condos with fireplaces like ours (the fancy ones, that are mostly for entertainment, not generating heat), need to be removed completely from the building construction,” Ashtari said in an e-mail to the Laval News.

Some owners of condos in Laval with fireplaces like these face a choice: upgrade the installation with firewalls, or remove them altogether.

Not conforming to code

The reasoning, according to the LFD and the municipal fire code, is that some of the building’s firewalls aren’t separated between the condos, and if a fire breaks out in a condo unit, it can spread to others. Although constructed in 1986, the design of the building’s fireplace and chimney emplacements didn’t conform to new fire code regulations which came into effect in 1985.

“We have given our consent that we’re not using the fireplaces, but it’s not enough as even not using the fireplace,” added Ashtari, noting that an initial estimate for removing the fireplaces and resolving the problem has been estimated at a cost of around $4,000 for each of affected condo apartments.

High cost of removal

This diagram from a Régie du Bâtiment du Québec document on multi-unit building fireplace and chimney installation illustrates the problem.

“This is understandable as our safety is very important. However, the cost of completely removing the system is very high.” Ashtari said that she and virtually all the other condo owners find this outrageously costly and are seeking a less expensive way of resolving the problem.

In the meantime, she said the Laval Fire Department has continued to press the residents to carry out the fireplace and chimney removals as instructed and that she received a formal notice from a city lawyer advising her family to start the fireplace/chimney removal process.

Unanswered questions

“I understand that it’s the firecode and everything,” Ashtari said in an interview with the Laval News. “But my concern is: why isn’t there another solution but for removing these things completely? It’s been there been there for years. What happened to the fire code before?”

‘This is a situation that a number of condo owners in multi-unit buildings with fireplaces in Laval are going through now,’ says Laval Fire Department spokesperson Véronique Maheu

Reached at the Laval Fire Department, LFD spokesperson Véronique Maheu explained to the Laval News that Régie du Bâtiment du Québec regulations governing the installation of fireplaces and chimneys with firewalls in multi-unit dwellings weren’t followed when a number of residential projects took place in Laval more than 30 years ago.

RBQ rules not respected

“On each floor where there is an apartment and a technical space where the chimney is located, there should have been firewall separations,” she said. “This has to be there so that if there is a fire in an apartment, the fire cannot make get through the technical space and make its way to the other floors of the building.”

While acknowledging that in more recent years, contractors started installing gas-operated fireplaces in newer condos, she said the vast majority of earlier builders “did not respect the requirements of the RBQ – the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec. And this is a situation that is generalized on our territory in this type of building.”

According to LFD spokesperson Véronique Maheu, condo apartment buildings built in Laval during the mid-1980s often didn’t conform to RBQ regulations requiring firewalls for fireplaces and chimneys.

Owners have two options

According to Maheu, the condo owners are given two options. Firstly, they can hire a consulting engineer who will supervise and oversee that their fireplace/chimney installation is brought up to the conforming specifications for safe operation.

On the other hand, should some condo owners find the required upgrade work as too expensive, the fireplace and chimney can be removed, although the firewalls must be installed in the technical space to meet the current fire code specifications.

“This is a situation that a number of condo owners in multi-unit buildings with fireplaces in Laval are going through now,” said Maheu, adding that the Laval Fire Department has been enforcing the rule for nearly a decade now.