The Importance of a Chimney Inspection

Chimneys and fireplaces are exposed to all kinds of debris, including twigs and leaves, that can fall into the chimney. Animals can also find their way into a chimney and block airflow.

Chimney Sweep

Chimney Inspection Charleston SC examines all readily accessible portions of the chimney exterior and interior and appliance/chimney connections. The sweep may go into a crawl space or attic and use a camera to look inside the flue.

The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, establishes three levels of chimney inspections. The first is known as a Level 1 inspection, which only covers what can be easily seen and assessed.

During a Level 1 inspection, your chimney service technician will examine the readily accessible** portions of your chimney exterior, interior and appliance and the chimney connection. This includes ensuring the basic soundness of your chimney structure and flue, assessing the condition of your chimney cap, and examining the chimney for combustible deposits. Moreover, your chimney sweep will inspect the fireplace and chimney to ensure that the chimney is connected correctly to your fireplace or wood stove and that there are no open flames in the fireplace or wood stove.

Chimney sweepings typically need little more than the tools they use for a regular cleaning to perform a Level 1 chimney inspection. The chimney sweep will not have to remove any doors or panels, and he or she won’t need to climb into your attic or crawlspace. Typically, these inspections take less than an hour.

While a Level 1 inspection may be enough for your system if you continue using it the way you’ve always used it and under the same conditions, NFPA 211 recommends annual chimney and venting system chimney and flue inspections.

The Level 2 inspection goes into more detail than the level one inspection and includes a more thorough chimney assessment. This includes a video scan of your entire chimney interior and flue using closed circuit cameras. This is done in addition to the standard chimney inspection and can help identify hidden safety risks like creosote buildup, deteriorating mortar and loose bricks, and more.

In this inspection, your chimney service professional will also need to enter your attic or crawl space and possibly disassemble the top of the flue if needed in order to get a closer look at its interior and assess its condition. Your chimney service technician will also check the lining materials in your flue and determine if it is still intact.

A level 2 inspection is required if you’re selling your home and want to make sure that the chimney or venting system is in good condition, or if there’s been a major change to your system such as a new fuel type (like gas from propane) or a different kind of installation. It’s also a good idea if you’ve had any type of weather-related event that might have damaged your system.

Level 2 Inspection

As chimney sweeps, we see lots of chimney problems and issues: missing or cracked bricks, rust staining on the exterior, water damage in the attic, etc. Some issues are quite apparent while others, such as a flue blockage or poor drafting, can only be detected with specialized equipment and experience.

While a basic part of every chimney sweeps’ service is a Level 1 inspection, there are times when a more in-depth assessment is needed. A Level 2 inspection includes all of the elements of a Level 1, but also requires that the chimney sweep evaluate additional, accessible portions of the chimney interior and exterior including attics, crawl spaces and basements. This will ensure that proper clearances from combustible materials are maintained.

A Level 2 inspection is a must when a change has been made to the fireplace system such as changing fuel sources, installing an insert of a different type and/or size or relining a prefabricated chimney. This level of inspection is also recommended following an operational malfunction or external event such as a building fire, chimney fire or seismic event.

The other time that a Level 2 chimney inspection may be necessary is when a chimney professional recommends this level of assessment. This is usually when a previous Level 1 inspection has indicated serious deterioration of the masonry structure or significant issues with the flue liner, which cannot be assessed from a visual examination.

During a Level 2 chimney inspection, the chimney sweep uses a special high-definition video scanner to evaluate the condition of the flue and chimney components that would be difficult to evaluate using just a flashlight. The video scan is also an excellent tool to use in determining the condition of the chimney crown and flashing.

Chimney professionals are often called upon to perform Level 2 inspections for real estate transactions. This is because a home inspector will not look at the fireplace and chimney system with the same detail that a chimney sweep does. Having a level 2 inspection performed by a CSIA certified chimney sweep prior to putting the house on the market will provide home buyers with a valuable, in-depth look at the chimney and fireplace system that they wouldn’t be able to get from just shining a flashlight up there.

Level 3 Inspection

Chimney inspections are essential to the safety and integrity of your chimney and fireplace. When a chimney is regularly inspected, deterioration can often be spotted before it becomes a serious problem and repairs are needed. It also allows the technician to spot issues that may be impacting the function of your chimney or your home.

As a result, the National Fire Protection Association has defined 3 levels of inspections for chimney and venting systems. Each level is determined by how much access is necessary to examine the system. A level three inspection involves opening or removing components of the chimney or the building and is used only when a more serious issue is suspected.

A level one chimney inspection includes an examination of the readily accessible portions of the chimney exterior and interior, as well as all areas that can be easily reached from the fireplace area including attics, crawl spaces and basements. It also includes a visual inspection of the flue and verifying proper clearances from combustible materials in all accessible locations.

Most chimney inspections performed for homeowners are level one inspections. These are recommended by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and are normally done annually or when you change the use of your fireplace. This level of inspection is also the minimum required by NFPA standards before a property changes hands.

This inspection level is the recommended inspection when an operating malfunction or external event has occurred that is likely to have affected the chimney or appliance. This can include chimney or house fires, seismic events and severe weather.

A Level 2 inspection is the next step up from a level 1 chimney inspection and requires more extensive work. A level two chimney inspection goes more in-depth and involves examining other parts of your home that are close to the chimney or can be easily accessed. These can include attics, crawl spaces and basements. A level 2 inspection will also look at the appliance and its installation and evaluate the structure of your chimney and fireplace.

This level of inspection is typically recommended by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep when a more serious issue has been discovered during a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection. This inspection process can involve opening or removing components of the chimney or your building in order to fully examine the system and determine the correct method for fixing it.

Schedule Your Inspection

It’s been said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Chimney inspections, especially annual ones, are preventative care for fireplace and chimney systems. They help identify issues like cracks, creosote buildup and deterioration, flue blockages, leaks and other problems that could result in costly damage or health hazards such as carbon monoxide poisoning. They can also help keep your home’s heating system running efficiently and your chimney in good condition to protect against a chimney fire that can spread throughout the house.

Generally, you can expect to spend $100 – $1,000 for a level two chimney inspection. This inspection option includes everything that a level 1 inspection covers, plus it involves a video scan of the internal chimney surfaces. A level two inspection is the right choice if you’ve made major changes to your fireplace or chimney since its last inspection; for example, if you’ve changed the type of fuel you burn in it or if you’ve altered the shape and/or material of the flue. A level two inspection is also typically required when a homeowner is selling their home; or after a dramatic weather event like a hurricane or earthquake.

To perform a level 2 inspection, your chimney technician will use specialized tools and equipment to get a closer look at hard-to-reach parts of your chimney. This may involve entering your crawl space or attic to inspect the areas around and connected to your chimney. It’s important to note that if serious deterioration or potential issues are discovered during a level 2 inspection, a more extensive, level 3 chimney inspection will be required.

Chimney inspections are a wise investment for any homeowner. When done correctly by a qualified and experienced chimney sweep, they can uncover issues that would otherwise go unnoticed. This keeps your fireplace and chimney in peak operating condition, preventing future problems and keeping your home warm and safe all winter long. For the best results, you should schedule your chimney inspection as soon as you notice any potential issues. Waiting almost always results in increased repair costs and sometimes property loss.