Getting your chimney professionally inspected each year helps reduce fire and carbon monoxide poisoning hazards. Often, damage and problems are not readily apparent.
A professional like Chimney Inspection Charleston SC will inspect the entire system, including both the masonry and the flue liner. They will assess any interior damage and make recommendations. Home inspectors are generalists and do not have the extensive training of a certified chimney sweep.
Level 1 Inspection
Before 2000, chimney sweeps were left to their own discretion on what exactly needed to be inspected during a fireplace or chimney inspection. But on January 13, 2000, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) put into place a code called NFPA 211 that removed a lot of that “discretion” and established three levels of inspections for chimneys, fireplaces, vents, and solid fuel-burning appliances.
A level one chimney inspection is the most common and basic type of inspection. During this inspection, your chimney technician will examine all of the easily accessible portions of your chimney and fireplace. This allows them to determine whether or not your fireplace and chimney are in good condition and if they have any obvious signs of damage or deterioration, as well as check for obstructions or excessive creosote levels.
Your chimney technician will also clean your chimney during a level 1 inspection. This makes sure your fireplace and chimney are free of the dangerous combustion byproducts that can build up on the walls. Using a specialized vacuum with a flexible brush head attachment, your chimney sweep can remove the combustible deposits that accumulate along your fireplace walls. This is a great way to make your fireplace look new again.
Level 1 chimney inspections are typically done annually as part of your regular chimney maintenance and cleaning service. This is a great way to ensure your home and family are safe, as well as keep your chimney running smoothly all year round.
While a level 2 chimney inspection is more detailed than a level 1 inspection, it is still less involved than a complete dismantling of your chimney or cutting into the walls of your house. During a level 2 chimney inspection, your chimney technician will examine all of your fireplace’s accessible parts as well as any areas in proximity to the fireplace that can be reached without specialty tools. These can include attics, crawl spaces, and basements.
A level 2 inspection is also required if there has been a change to your system, such as switching from wood to gas use or changing the flue liner material or shape. Also, if you are getting ready to sell your home, a level two chimney inspection is recommended so potential buyers can be assured that your fireplace and chimney are in good working order.
Level 2 Inspection
As the name suggests, level 2 inspections are more thorough than level 1. They include a visual examination of all readily accessible portions of the chimney’s exterior and interior, including attics and crawl spaces. In addition, a video scan is used to ensure that critical clearances for combustibles are maintained. Level 2 chimney inspections also address the basic structure of the chimney and flue as well as any associated appliances and their connections to the chimney.
This type of inspection is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) any time a property changes hands. This is to help ensure that the chimney has not been damaged in any way and is safe for use by the new owners. Having a level 2 real estate inspection done before you move can save you from unforeseen problems that could cost you a lot of money and stress.
Home inspectors are trained to be generalists and do not receive the in-depth training that a professional chimney sweep does. Because of this, they often miss things when looking at a chimney. Often, they only shine a flashlight up the inside of the flue to see if there are any signs of damage, but this doesn’t give them the detailed look that is needed.
A professional chimney sweep is specifically trained to look for things that may not be visible to the naked eye and uses sophisticated equipment like a video scanner to examine the inside of the flue and determine whether it is structurally sound. During a level 2 chimney inspection, your chimney professional will also check for proper airflow and clearances from combustibles, as well as the condition of the chimney crown and flashing.
If nothing has changed in the way that the fireplace and chimney are used, then a level 1 inspection is sufficient. However, if the fuel type has changed, a relining of the chimney is required, or there is any damage caused by an external event such as an earthquake or chimney fire, then a level 2 inspection should be performed.
Level 3 Inspection
If a level 1 inspection suggests there is a hidden hazard or that the chimney or flue cannot be inspected without special tools, then a level 2 inspection is required. This more extensive assessment takes place when a home has experienced a major change to the chimney system and focuses on hard-to-reach areas of the chimney, such as attics, basements, and crawl spaces. A video scanning process can provide a complete look at these concealed areas of the chimney and flue.
This level of inspection also covers proper clearances from combustible materials in accessible areas and addresses any potential issues with the chimney structure. Chimney sweeps do not typically use specialized tools to perform a level 2 chimney inspection, but rather items such as a ladder, flashlight, pliers, and screwdriver. This allows the chimney sweep to examine openings that are normally blocked or open and find safety risks like combustible deposits or damage from smoke and fire.
Chimney experts typically reserve level 3 chimney inspections for the most extreme cases and when a homeowner feels that there are serious concerns with their chimney. In the case of a level three inspection, a technician will dismantle the fireplace and chimney to get a closer look at what is actually happening inside. This type of inspection is a good idea for homeowners that have recently changed the way they use their fireplace, are selling their home and require a real estate chimney inspection, or have experienced an external event that has caused severe damage to the chimney.
While a level one inspection may seem sufficient for many situations, the reality is that this type of examination is just a basic visual. A home inspector, even a certified and insured chimney sweep, is not trained to be able to identify many of the things that are found during a level two or level three chimney inspection. This is especially true when a house has been damaged by a chimney or building fire, a seismic event, or severe weather. The bottom line is that a home buyer will likely require a level 2 chimney inspection prior to purchasing the property.
Prefabricated vs. masonry
When a homeowner adds a fireplace to their home, they usually choose between a masonry chimney or a prefabricated or factory-built chimney. Both systems are designed to safely vent a home’s fire and provide warmth, comfort, and enjoyment for decades. However, while masonry fireplaces are made of brick and mortar, prefabricated chimneys are largely constructed from stainless steel and metal, and they can be subject to different maintenance requirements than a traditional masonry chimney.
A masonry chimney that’s maintained regularly and protected with a quality chimney cap, chase cover, and professional water-repellant coating will stay in excellent condition for years to come. Masonry chimneys are also more prone to weather damage than prefabricated chimneys because they’re exposed to the elements and can suffer from the effects of freeze-thaw cycles. This type of damage is commonly found with masonry chimneys that are unprotected and that have not been sealed with a waterproofing system.
If a masonry chimney is not regularly cleaned and protected with a waterproofing system, it may eventually need to be replaced. Insufficient or improper repairs or installation can allow water to penetrate the chimney structure and cause major damage, including cracking tiles and deterioration of mortar joints. This can lead to a chimney fire, which not only destroys the structure of the chimney but can spread flames and embers throughout the home’s framing. Chimneys with cracked tiles and deteriorating mortar are especially dangerous because they can provide pathways for flames to reach the combustible interior of a home.
In contrast, a prefabricated chimney, like all factory-built products, is less expensive to install and has a shorter lifespan than its masonry counterparts. A homeowner can often tell if their fireplace or chimney is prefabricated by looking in the firebox and seeing whether it’s built of brick or a rounded metal pipe housed in a simulated brick housing.
Many older prefabricated chimneys with imitation brick housings seem to be favorite nesting sites for birds. Unfortunately, this can be very dangerous for homeowners because the birds can block critical air passageways and allow hot creosote to build up in their chimney system. Many sweeps report having to remove buckets of bird nesting material from these chimneys on a routine basis, which is an obvious fire safety hazard.