Fireplace condition

When I bought my place the condition of the fireplace was a known quantity, I wrote it off as unimportant since I don't see myself using it all that much.
However looking at it I wonder if it is serviceable for winter or if I should repair it before use.
I know I know it would have been best to look at it BEFORE the onset of Autumn, but I don't live in a severe weather location, so if my gas furnace ever gave it up, I'd still be fine.
So looking at the firebox I notice that the fire brick is cracked and the joint compound is missing in places. The shell of the fireplace is cinderblock and looks air tight, I'm just talking about the firebox itself here. Should the firebox be airtight inside? Should it have no cracks or broken bricks or is that type of condition normal and not a concern? It was also noted when the inspection was done that the chimney is very dirty, and looking at it it is very dirty - like an inch of ash and soot on the walls of the chimney. I understand that this is a fire hazard, if only because the soot can ignite and fly out the chimney and land on either the roof or bushes or my neighbor's roof. But again am I mistaken and this condition is normal?
It's not my intention of cashing in on my fire insurance any time soon so I'd like to make sure I'm not overly concerned about nothing. BTW: I do intend of having a chimney sweep come out and clean it, what do people like that typically charge?
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I don't know what a chimney sweep will charge where you live, but he should be able to advise you on your chimney and fireplace, and recommend folks who can repair if necessary.

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Fire brick is the first line of keeping the rest of hte house secure. Missing mortar is a potential problem, but easily repaired. A tight crack should be OK, but an air gap is a potential problem, THe chimney sweep can see it and make a determination better than anyone here.

Ash does not burn, but creosote does. If you have that much gunk on the wall, it is a potential VERY serious problem. Again, I can't see it, but there is probably enough creosote there to start a major fire. It should be cleaned before even considering a fire.

$100 to $200. How high is the chimney? Pitch of the roof? Condition of the lining? How much to be cleaned?
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Alright, so chimney sweep it is.
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you need to get a camera inspection of the entire chimney and all flues to check for detoriation.
might need a chimney liner
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vector,
The firebrick that is used as part of the firebox is very important for safety reasons. What you describe is a chimney which is not safe to use. Block it up so they you are not tempted to roast weeniers in it after an ice storm has cut off the electricity. If you want to resurrect it have a chimney sweep clean and inspect it. Once it's clean then masons can give you estimates based on what needs to be done. Can't advise you on cost.
Dave M.
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My fireplace was in similar condition when I moved into our 30 yr old home. The chimney was gunky and the damper was bad and leaky. The sweep said the damper needed replacement ($500) and a cleaning was needed ($110) and the fireplace brick needed replacement and recaulking ($400). Personally, I opted for a cleaning ($110) and a chimney balloon ($40) instead of the new damper and firebox . My wife bought a candelabra for the fireplace that we light when we want ambiance, but we dont burn wood in there anymore and we still enjoy it. If we did burn wood it would just suck heat out of the house anyway. So if you get a big bill from the sweep to fix it, just consider what you want to use it for. If it is for heat...dont bother or get an insert. if it is for looks...get a cendelabra. if you really like the smell of burning hickory...get it done right.
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