Updated Dec 26, 2022
Spending time in front of a fire is one of the most relaxing activities as the weather cools. However, operating a fireplace that hasn’t been properly maintained can be dangerous. According to our research, a regular chimney inspection should be part of your fireplace maintenance routine. Read on to learn more about the basics of a chimney inspection and when you need one.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), getting an annual chimney inspection is critical for the safety and enjoyment of a fireplace in your home. You must have your chimney, wood stove, or fireplace regularly checked to avoid serious problems.
During an inspection, a chimney sweep will check for cracks, creosote buildup, damage, flue blockages, leaks, and any other potential problems that may lead to costly issues, carbon monoxide poisoning, or increased fire risk.
Identifying any issues early on is crucial before you light a fire. Lighting a fire in an uninspected chimney can put you, your family, and your home in danger and cause extensive damage that can be expensive and time-consuming to repair.
There are a few different types of chimney inspections you can get. CSIA-certified chimney sweeps can perform three types of chimney inspections, depending on your needs and usage. On average, a chimney inspection costs between $175 and $449 but can vary depending on where you live and the required level of service.
During a Level 1 inspection, a chimney sweep performs a chimney cleaning and looks at the basic integrity of the chimney’s structure. In addition to the chimney cleaning, a chimney inspector will look at the flue, damper, connections, and firebox and ensure that the chimney is free of obstructions.
Level 1 inspections are recommended for those who want to continue to use their fireplace as they have in the past. If you haven’t made any changes and want to ensure your chimney is safe for use as normal, a Level 1 inspection is a good option.
Level 2 chimney inspections are needed under multiple circumstances. If you’re changing the chimney system, selling your property, getting a home inspection before you buy a property, or an event like a chimney fire or earthquake has occurred, you’ll need a Level 2 inspection. Changes to the system include changes in chimney shape or fuel type, like switching from wood burning to a gas fireplace.
In addition to all the things covered in a Level 1 inspection, a Level 2 inspection includes a visual inspection of the internal surfaces of your chimney, where the technician will use a camera to inspect the joints and connections within the chimney.
If, during a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection, a serious hazard or potentially hidden issue is discovered, a Level 3 inspection is required. A Level 3 evaluation requires special tools and may also necessitate removing or deconstructing certain parts of the chimney. Removal or deconstruction may be necessary for the technician to access certain parts of the chimney that would ordinarily be inaccessible.
In addition to understanding the importance of a chimney inspection, it’s also important to recognize the dangers of neglect.
Byproducts from using your fireplace or wood stove, like vapor, smoke, and unburned wood, can travel to your chimney and condense to form a coating on the chimney walls called creosote. If the buildup is thick enough, the creosote can easily catch fire and create a dangerous situation. During an inspection, a professional chimney sweep will look at creosote and soot levels in your chimney and assess whether it needs preventative cleaning.
Chimneys that don’t have a chimney cap installed can be susceptible to obstructions like twigs, leaves, and animal nests. These obstructions are combustible and can prevent proper ventilation, creating a backup of smoke that can enter your home and expose you to carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide can be lethal, so it’s critical to inspect for obstructions semi-regularly, especially after a heavy storm or if you hear animal noise in your chimney.
If you’ve got a fireplace, your homeowners insurance policy likely requires a regular inspection to compensate you for fire-related damages. If you neglect to inspect your chimney, it could mean that potential fire-related accidents or damage are not covered.
Many parts of the chimney aren’t visible without specialty tools and equipment. Trained and well-equipped chimney sweeps will be able to inspect the following:
The crown is at the top of the chimney and diverts water that would otherwise run down the chimney and potentially cause erosion and structural damage. Ensuring the crown is functioning is important to your chimney’s overall operation and structural integrity.
The flue liner is an additional layer of chimney protection and venting system that prevents smoke, fire, and harmful vapors from entering your home. If cracks are present, a chimney specialist can identify them and remediate any issues.
If you have a brick or stone chimney, it can be susceptible to cracks, which can affect the structure, performance, and safety of your chimney. If cracks are detected during an inspection, you should repair the masonry to prevent structural issues.
The following are signs that you shouldn’t put off a chimney inspection any longer and must schedule one as soon as possible.
These are signs that your fireplace and chimney are not functioning properly and should be taken seriously. Avoiding an inspection when any one or multiple of these signs are present is dangerous.
To enjoy your fireplace worry-free, you should schedule an annual inspection with a certified chimney inspector. Doing so can help prevent costly damage and potential dangers and give you peace of mind.
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