What Is a Chimney Inspection & Why Do You Need to Have One Every Year?

A lot of homeowners have questions around chimney inspections, like:

  • What is a chimney inspection?
  • Why do I need a chimney inspection?
  • When do I need a chimney inspection?
  • What’s included in one?

Well, we’re going to dive in and answer those questions for you right here. Ready? Let’s go…

What is a chimney inspection?

First things first: What is a chimney inspection? A chimney inspection is an evaluation of the chimney or venting system to assess its condition and determine if it’s fit for use.

We’ll talk about the three levels of chimney inspections (as outlined by the National Fire Protection Association) and when each is recommended a little bit later. But first…

Why do you need a chimney inspection?

There’s no way to eliminate all fire and carbon monoxide risks associated with your fireplace, stove, or furnace, but there are certainly things you can do to reduce your risk and make heating your home safer. The most critical thing you can do is schedule routine chimney inspections.

Here’s why: During a professional chimney inspection, you will have experienced eyes on your system to check for creosote buildup, flue blockages, leaks, cracks, damage, and other issues that could cause costly problems or increase your risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Which means you’ll know about (and can address) problems before you light a fire in your fireplace and put your family and home in danger – and before damage becomes so great that repairs are time-consuming and expensive.

Protection and peace of mind are the two big thing that chimney inspections give you. That’s why they’re so important.

When do you need a chimney inspection?

CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps® are trained to follow the NFPA 211 Standard, which states that all chimney and venting systems shall be inspected every single year – regardless of whether the chimney is used:

“Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances.”

But when else might you need to schedule a chimney inspection?

When:

  • You’re making a change to your system – like installing a new appliance, replacing your flue liner, or changing fuel types or appliance types.
  • You’re having problems with your chimney system, or you’ve noticed a change in performance.
  • You’ve had a chimney fire, severe weather, or other significant event that could have damaged the chimney system.
  • You’re moving into a new home.

What’s included in a chimney inspection? Are there different types?

Not all chimney inspections are the same. Some techs might simply shine a light up in your fireplace and call it a day. But here at CSIA, we know that no two chimneys are the same, and that different chimneys and different situations may require different types of care.

That’s why CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps® are trained to provide three different levels of inspections (per the NFPA 211 Standard). When you hire a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, they’ll be able to recommend the right inspection for your chimney and needs.

Here’s a little bit about each type of chimney inspection…

Level 1

  • When do you need a level 1 chimney inspection? If your appliance or venting system has not changed and you plan to use your system as you have in the past, then a level 1 inspection is a minimum requirement. A level 1 inspection is recommended for a chimney under continued service, under the same conditions, and with the continued use of the same appliance.
  • What’s it like? In a level 1 inspection, your CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® should examine the readily accessible* portions of the chimney exterior and interior, plus accessible portions of the appliance and the chimney connection. Your technician will be looking for the basic soundness of the chimney structure and flue, as well as the basic appliance installation and connections. The technician will also verify that the chimney is free of obstructions and combustible deposits.
Level 2

  • When do you need a level 2 chimney inspection? A level 2 inspection is required when any changes are made to the system. Changes can include a change in the fuel type (for example, you’re switching from woodburning to gas), changes to the shape or material of the flue (i.e. relining), or the replacement or addition of an appliance of a dissimilar type, input, rating, or efficiency. Additionally, a level 2 inspection is required upon the sale or transfer of a property, or after an operation malfunction or external event that is likely to have caused damage to the chimney. Building fires, chimney fires, earthquakes, as well as weather events are all indicators that this level of inspection is warranted.
  • What’s it like? A level 2 inspection shall include all things covered in a level 1 inspection but should also include a visual inspection (through video scan or other means) to examine the internal surfaces and joints of all flue liners incorporated within the chimney. A level 2 inspection will address proper clearances from combustibles in accessible locations, so it should also include an inspection of the accessible** portions of the chimney exterior and interior, including attics, crawl spaces, and basements. There are no specialty tools (i.e., demolition equipment) required to open doors, panels, or coverings when performing a level 2 inspection. No removal or destruction of permanently attached portions of the chimney or building structure or finish shall be required during a level 2 inspection.
Level 3

  • When do you need a level 3 chimney inspection? When a level 1 or level 2 inspection suggests a hidden and serious hazard, and the evaluation cannot be performed without special tools to access concealed areas of the chimney or flue, a level 3 inspection is recommended.
  • What’s it like? A level 3 inspection addresses the proper construction and the condition of concealed portions of the chimney structure and flue. It will include all the areas and items checked in a level 1 and level 2 inspection, as well as the removal of certain components of the building or chimney, where necessary. Removal of components (i.e. chimney crown, interior chimney wall) shall be required only when necessary to gain access to areas that are the subject of the inspection. Removal or destruction, as necessary, of permanently attached portions of the chimney or building structure will be required for the completion of a level 3 inspection.

*Readily accessible means: Exposed, or capable of being exposed, for operation, inspection, maintenance, or repair, without the use of tools to open or remove doors, panels, or coverings. **Accessible means: May require the use of commonly available tools to remove doors, panels, or coverings, but will not damage the chimney or building structure or finish.

Note: If you’ve just moved into your home, or if it’s been a while since you had your chimney inspected and you just want peace of mind, ask your chimney sweep to perform a level 2 inspection. If they don’t know what that is or refuse to do a level 2, find someone else.

Speaking of moving into a new home, let’s talk about real estate inspections…

What’s a real estate inspection and how is it different from a home inspection?

We mentioned above that another time you’ll want to schedule a chimney inspection is when you’re moving into a new home. This type of chimney inspection is called a real estate inspection.

But wait, doesn’t a home inspector look at everything when conducting a home inspection prior to closing? Well, yes and no. Yes, a home inspector looks at the chimney, but no, they’re not looking at everything.

For example, they’re not looking at the interior of the flue, beyond what they can see with a flashlight. Plus, home inspectors are trained to be generalists – to know a little bit about everything. They don’t receive the intensive, focused training of a chimney sweep, so a home inspector could miss some pretty big things.

The bottom line is: If you want a comprehensive evaluation of the chimney prior to closing on a new home, then you’ll need to schedule a real estate inspection with a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®. Doing so can:

Save you money and stress by letting you know about possible issues, prior to closing.
If the chimney system has serious issues or needs repairs, you can negotiate with the seller for a lower price – a price that will take into consideration the amount of money you’ll have to put into the chimney once you purchase the home.
Give you peace of mind when you light that first fire in your new home.
Your first cold night in a new home can be magical when you’ve got a fireplace or stove to gather around. But you want to know everything is in good working order and you’re not putting your family at risk – a thorough real estate inspection can give you that assurance.
For more info on real estate inspections, check out our resource for homebuyers.

What types of chimneys and appliances need to be inspected?

The NFPA Standard 211 states that all chimneys and venting systems need to be inspected on a yearly basis. That means:

  • Chimneys venting fireplaces
  • Chimneys venting woodstoves
  • Chimneys venting fireplace inserts
  • Chimneys venting furnaces (oil AND gas)

Kill two birds with one stone – schedule your furnace flue inspection at the same time as your chimney inspection. That way, you’ll be ready when the cold nights hit, no matter how you decide to heat your home.

Check out this video to see how quickly a chimney fire can destroy a clay chimney liner and compromise your safety.

How much does it cost to have your chimney inspected?

We try to cover some general chimney project price ranges for you over in our Budgeting for Chimney Care: Your Cost Guide resource center piece. But the truth is, costs can range greatly depending on the company you work with (and their experience, expenses, and overhead) and your location.

In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from around $100 to $500 for a level 1 or level 2 inspection, and up to $5,000 for a level 3 chimney inspection.*

*Price range from HomeAdvisor

Is It Time for Your Chimney Inspection? We Can Help You Find the Right Person for the Job

Phew – that’s a lot of info to go through, but you made it! Now you know what a chimney inspection is, why you need one every year, and if it’s time to get one on your schedule.

If it is, finding a qualified expert for the job is easy – just type your zip code into our search and you’ll get a list of CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps® in your area. Easy, breezy. Click the button below to find qualified pros near you!