The Importance of Regular Chimney Inspections.

How often should I have my chimney swept?  This is a very common question asked of hearth shops and chimney professionals that often receives the unsatisfying answer of “as needed”.  The more accurate question for consideration should be “How often should I have my chimney inspected?”  The answer to that question is easy, all chimneys should be inspected annually.

The NFPA 211 (the national standard for chimneys, fireplaces, vents, and solid fuel-burning appliances) requires that chimneys be inspected at least once a year, and that cleaning and repairs as necessary.  In short, while all chimneys should be inspected at least annually, some may need cleaning multiple times a year.  Chimneys that are not used may never need to be swept.

The reason for the distinction between inspection and sweeping is, if someone simply sweeps a chimney, a host of other problems may be present but go unnoticed.  Certainly someone pushed a brush through your chimney, but did they look to see if all the creosote was removed and that the flue tiles were not cracked?  Did they verify that the roof flashing is in good condition to prevent water intrusion?  Did they check your mantle clearance to make sure it doesn’t present a hazard? Did they notice the smoke stains above your fireplace that indicate a drafting issue?  If you have a wood stove, did they inspect and assure your pipe joints secured?  Is it positioned with enough clearance to combustible materials?  These are only a few of the things that should be noted as part of a basic inspection.

The NFPA 211 establishes three different levels of chimney inspections and defines each level’s scope and the circumstances upon which each should be performed.

Level 1 Inspection:

  • Suitable for appliances & chimneys that are in service and will continue to be in service without any changes in the foreseeable future.
  • Include all “readily accessible” aspects of the chimney.

(Readily accessible refers to areas that are exposed, or can be exposed, without the use of tools)

Level 2 Inspection:

  • Includes the addition of all “accessible” areas of the chimney.

(Accessible refers to areas that are inspected by removing panels or doors that require the use of common hand tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, ladders, etc.)

  • Appropriate if there is suspected damage to the chimney, if the property is being sold,

or if an appliance is being added or changed

(Such as installing a gas log into a fireplace or updating a wood stove).

Level 3 Inspection:

  • Arises after the appliance or chimney has been involved in an incident that is likely to have damaged part of the building or chimney.
  • Required if a hazard is suspected within a concealed area.
  • Involves removing parts of the structure that were intended to be permanent.
  • Includes the cutting of siding and drywall to inspect behind walls and within floors.

A level one inspection should be part of every chimney sweep service.  Since chimneys must be free of soot and creosote in order for them to be inspected, sweeping and inspection frequently coincide.  These routine inspections by diligent technicians help keep customers aware of developing maintenance issues, and can preemptively identify conditions that have the potential to be dangerous.  They also help identify whether a more in-depth evaluation is prudent and a level two or even three inspection initiated.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your chimney inspection and sweep appointments, be sure to be present while the service is being performed.  Your technician should ask you if your appliance has been functioning properly, and if you have any specific concerns before they begin.  Afterward, you should receive a written report, and have that report explained to you by your technician.

Prior to the inspection, it is helpful if breakable items are removed from the mantle and within close proximity to the fireplace opening.  Furniture also should be moved to allow at least six feet to access the work area.  Please put pets away if possible, and be prepared for the sustained noise of our dust collection vacuum.  To ensure that we can properly provide our services, refrain from having any fires 24 hours prior to your appointment.

Regular inspections can ensure that you’re able to enjoy your fireplace for years to come, and provides peace of mind that comes from an in-depth understanding of its condition.

Jason BrownJason Brown

Fireplace Department Manager| HomCo Lumber & Hardware

Chimney Safety Institute of America

-Certified Chimney Sweep #8167

National Fireplace Institute Master Hearth Professional

– Woodburning, Pellet, and Gas Specialist #160574

{Jason Brown has been at HomCo since 2003. He got his NFI Pellet Burning Specialist certification in and Wood Burning Specialist Certification in 2009, his Gas Burning Specialist Certification in 2010, and he has also been CSIA certified since 2014.}

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