Chimney Inspections Prevent Fires

Both the Chimney Sweep Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommend an annual chimney inspection for a reason: They prevent fires from occurring. According to a landmark study completed in 2013, over 20,000 fires related to Fireplace & Chimneys occur annually. According to the CSIA, many of these fires are preventable by a chimney inspection and a chimney cleaning. Chimney inspections are best performed by individuals who carry the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep credential, as they are trained and certified in what to look for. At Chimney Works, our technicians are certified, and we follow the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommended inspection procedures. Contrary to popular belief, it is not enough to have someone come out and clean your chimney once per year. Your sweep should be doing an inspection while they are cleaning, and based on what they see, take further action. Watch this video or read on to learn what to expect from a chimney inspection.

Frequency of Inspection

NFPA recommends that all chimneys, fireplaces and vents be inspected annually. In addition to this requirement, there are other times when chimney and venting systems should be inspected, such as:

  • After any unusual, or sudden occurrence event, such as a chimney fire, lightning strike, or earthquake
  • Prior to purchasing a home with an existing chimney
  • Whenever changes are made to a chimney or vent system, including replacement of connected appliances
  • Prior to major system repairs

Not All Inspections Are The Same

Chimneys that have not been inspected are at risk of a chimney fire that can spread to the roof structure.
A licensed chimney sweep will not only clean the chimney of built-up creosote, but will alert you to defects in the flue or firebox that cause safety concerns.
A qualified chimney sweep will inspect:



  • A cap with a screen should be present on the 

    chimney to prevent rain, snow and birds and animals from entering the chimney.

  • The condition of the bricks and mortar should be inspected. The bricks exposed to weather need to be reset or the mortar may need repointing.
  • The flue liner should be inspected for excessive creosote buildup or cracked flue tiles. The leading cause of fires from wood-burning fireplaces, inserts or wood stoves is partially burned fuel (creosote) deposited on the walls of the chimney flue.
  • If your fireplace has glass doors, the gasket material around the door opening should be inspected. Defective gaskets should be replaced to ensure proper operation of the fireplace. If you have an insert or a wood stove, the gasket is responsible for making the unit airtight. Defective gaskets can cause an excess air can leak into the firebox creating an over fire condition, which may permanently damage the appliance
  • If applicable, the blower of your fireplace should be cleaned. Excessive dirt will shorten the life of the blower and create a potential fire hazard.
  • A professional should check for deteriorated or broken brick in the lining of the firebox. Replacement of the bricks may or may not be necessary depending on the severity of the damage.

Inspection Levels

NFPA divides the inspection procedure into three categories, or levels. The circumstances which give rise to the inspection determine what level of inspection is to be conducted. A Level I inspection is the most basic level of inspection while Level II and Level III inspections are progressively more detailed and comprehensive. A Level I inspection is completed during each chimney cleaning, or sweeping.

Level I Inspection

A Level I inspection is the recommended level when an evaluation of the chimney system for continued service is needed and the conditions of use are not changing. This could include:

  • Routine or annual evaluations of the venting system
  • An appliance connected to the system is being replaced with a similar appliance
  • During chimney cleaning or sweeping

A Level I inspection is limited to readily accessible portions of the venting system, and accessible portions of the connected appliance(s) and the chimney connection. The inspector will check the readily accessible portions of the chimney, its enclosing structure, and the flue. A Level I inspection includes verification that the flue is not blocked or significantly restricted.

Level II Inspection


A Level II inspection is more detailed and thorough than a Level I inspection and is the recommended inspection when conditions of use for the appliance or venting system are changing, or when a Level I inspection reveals the need for a more detailed inspection. Several instances where a Level II inspection is specifically recommended include:

  • Replacement of an appliance with one of dissimilar type, input rating or efficiency
  • Prior to a flue relining
  • Upon sale or transfer of the property
  • After an event likely to have caused damage to the chimney, such as a chimney fire or other sudden occurrence event

A Level II inspection includes all of the requirements of a Level I inspection as well as the following:

  • Inspection of accessible areas of attics, basements, and crawlspaces
  • Accessible areas of the chimney exterior and interior
  • Accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection
  • Video scanning, or other thorough inspection, of the flue interior
  • Evaluation of the flue lining to determine that its material and sizing is appropriate for the appliances being served
  • Proper clearance to combustibles in the accessible areas listed above
  • Proper construction and condition of the chimney system in the accessible areas listed above

While the Level II inspection is a rather thorough inspection and requires access to many areas of the building, it does not require removal of permanent parts of the building, such as siding, chase covers or wall coverings.

Level III Inspection

A Level III inspection is the most detailed of all of the inspection types and includes inspection of concealed areas of the building. However, examination of concealed areas will be limited to areas reasonably suspected of containing hazards that cannot be evaluated otherwise.

A Level III inspection includes all areas covered in a Level I and Level II inspection, and inspection of concealed areas to investigate known or suspected problems. In as much as certain portions of a Level III inspection require destructive action to the building, the inspector will discuss these areas with the building owner prior to the inspection.

High Definition Video Chimney Inspections

It used to be that a chimney inspection would involve someone shining a light in the chimney and doing a visual inspection. While sometimes problems can still be spotted in this fashion, technology has evolved to allow a high definition camera be placed in a chimney to reveal problems that would otherwise be hidden. These are sometimes referred to as a chim-scan, or a video scan. The specialized camera allows a chimney technician to inspect a chimney with a much better visual, allowing problems to be spotted (or sometimes eliminated). Video inspections are often recommended after a chimney fire or some other form of damage to a chimney, and are a routine part of a Level II or Level III inspection.

Final Thoughts On Chimney Inspections

Even a certified technician with the latest in technology may not be able to spot all potential problems with your chimney as there are parts of your chimney that are concealed due to the construction of your home.  Be sure that any chimney sweep you call out is certified and is performing an inspection, not just running a brush up your chimney. If issues with your chimney are found during an inspection, make sure they can show you the problem with a video or an image, if possible. Also make sure that the proper level of inspection was done based on the findings during the level I inspection. Finally, we can not stress enough how important it is for homeowners to have a conversation with their chimney technicians about their concerns and to ask any questions that come to mind. No one knows your home better than you, and our friendly and knowledgeable technicians want to make sure you are safe and you have peace of mind when using your heating appliance.

did you know?

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