Moving into a great new home can be feel even better when you're excited to use the fireplace and chimney. If you want to avoid a chimney fire and damage to your house, however, you need to be able to do an adequate assessment of whether it's safe to start a fire with the setup you've got. If you're aware of any of the problems below, it could be best to wait and get a professional chimney inspection (try A Sound Chimney & Masonry LLC) first.
No Service Record
Something that should give you pause right away is the lack of any service record. If the previous owner didn't provide one to you and you're not sure when the chimney was last cleaned out, it's smart to assume that it's been a long time. Buildup of creosote, tar and soot can be so bad that starting a fire could end up creating a secondary fire in the chimney flue which can be dangerous to the entire house. Call a chimney sweep to clean out the flue just to be safe. After you start using your fireplace, be sure that you continue to have the entire apparatus cleaned professionally as well from time to time.
Cracks are never a good sign as far as a chimney is concerned. Cracks indicate that anything can get into the chimney flue, most notably water. Water can damage the interior of your chimney and moisture can, over time, destabilize the entire structure. Cracks should be filled and the interior of your chimney should be looked at to figure out whether lasting damage has already occurred.
As you sweep out the fireplace to set up wood for your first fire, one thing that should stop you right away is the sight of tiles. Those tiles were likely originally part of the internal tile barrier which lines the flue. The tiles block smoke and soot from getting into the rest of the home. By the time you see them in the fireplace, they have become unstuck for some reason, usually water problems or age. Being no longer in the flue, the tiles leave gaps which could end up causing a real problem. You'll need an expert to decide whether to replace fallen tiles or whether to take all the tiles entirely and replace them with metal instead.
Any of the issues here could be a signal that something's amiss with your chimney and has to be evaluated and by a chimney sweep. Contact a local pro so that you can soon enjoy your fireplace.