Here at the Chimney Safety Institute of America, (which has 1,500 certified chimney sweeps in 49 U.S. states and Canada), we advocate for annual chimney inspections.

Not  annual chimney sweeping. 

Here is why.

Although a thorough sweep will remove creosote and other products of combustion from the flue, some might argue that the inspection is more vital, particularly because a sweeping provides only one aspect of an evaluation of the chimney venting system.

A Level 1 inspection, which is what is recommended when no changes are expected and no problems are known, will determine if the flue is clear and whether or not the chimney needs to be swept. 

Basically anything that can be reached is included as well as viewing the interior of the chimney.  This inspection should be done every year so we can begin using the fireplace or other appliance knowing the chimney is capable of delivering the exhaust out of the home as it should. 

Clearances surrounding the appliance and any components such as glass doors or gaskets are inspected to see if they are in need of repair or replacement.  Floor protection, hearth size or bookshelves adjacent to the fireplace are all part of this inspection. 

MORE: Our CSIA video walks you through a typical chimney inspection.

 A Level 2 Inspection, on the other hand, will cover all critical components: Is the chimney cap missing or incorrectly fitted? Is there damage from water? Is the chimney the correct height? How are the connections? Was there evidence of a chimney fire that might serve as a precursor to an even bigger damaging blaze?  This level of inspection will include a view of the chimney from the roof, the attic and crawl space if they are accessible.  This is also where a camera is inserted into the chimney for a close-up view of the interior.  The camera can be added to the level 1 inspection without all of the other requirements for a level 2 inspection, so be sure to ask what is included when you schedule the appointment. 

MORE: Find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep by zip code near you using our free locator.

One of our chimney professionals will even answer questions or teach the homeowner in regards to instructions on your type of your masonry or factory-built chimney, and discuss with you about the right kind of firewood to burn (or how to react if you can’t find seasoned firewood.)

“Frankly, the mechanical act of sweeping of the chimney is not as difficult as the intellectual exercise of inspecting it,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “That’s where you really need a professional. Professional chimney sweeps, such as a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, actually use a video camera so that can help them assess the interior condition of that chimney from top to bottom with a very close up view.”

We talk about chimney inspections versus chimney sweeping because, while we’re appreciative of the coverage that CSIA gets from interested media during this time of year, these two terms get intertwined.

By the way, if you don’t employ a CSIA certified chimney sweep, there’s no guarantee that they know the three levels of inspection or have knowledge of proper chimney construction or installation details. You don’t want a handyman unfamiliar with this information doing this type of work.

While CSIA has no control over pricing, we do have information on our website about what a typical inspection would include, with lots of useful info.

Be safe, and inspect to protect!