How safe is your chimney?

The inspection and evaluation of chimneys is an important service we offer. Chimney inspections come in many forms and you should be aware that not all inspections are alike. At American Chimney and Masonry, we follow the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommended inspection procedures.

NFPA divides the inspection procedure into three categories, or levels. The circumstances which give rise to the inspection determine what level of inspection we will conduct. 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 standard for each chimney cleaning or sweeping.

Level I Inspection

We recommend a Level I inspection when a you need an evaluation of the chimney system and the conditions of use are not changing. This could include:

  • Routine or annual evaluations of the venting system
  • You are replacing an appliance that connects to the system
  • During chimney cleaning or sweeping

A Level I inspection is limits 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 doesn’t have blockage or significantly restrictions.

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 we recommend a Level II inspection is:

  • 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 determining that its material and sizing is appropriate for the appliances
  • 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, examining hard to reach areas limits to areas we reasonably suspect of containing hazards that we cannot evaluate 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.

Frequency of Inspection

NFPA recommends chimney inspecting every year. In addition to this requirement, there are other times we should inspect your chimney and venting systems:

  1. After any unusual, or sudden occurrence event, such as a chimney fire, lightning strike, or earthquake
  2. Prior to purchasing a home with an existing chimney
  3. Whenever changes are occuring to a chimney or vent system, including replacement appliances that connect to the chimney
  4. Prior to major system repairs

Video Scanning

Chim Scan
Video inspecting chimneys allows the sweep to examine the entire flue for missing mortar joints and cracked flue tiles.

 

A video scan is where we use a camera system which is lowered into the chimney (or pushed up from the bottom). The camera allows us to inspect the chimney from a range of just a few inches instead of just looking from the top or bottom. The camera image is viewed on a TV monitor by the inspector. Video inspections may be recommended if the customer or sweep suspects certain problems. 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.

Summary

In conclusion, you should be aware that even the most thorough inspection will not reveal all problems. Some areas of a chimney simply are not assessable due to construction of the house. Be sure to discuss any specific concerns with your service technician. The recommended inspection technique will often be based on your comments and concerns. Finally, our technicians are trained to perform the appropriate level of inspection based upon the use of the chimney and any performance problems or safety concerns using the NFPA 211 as our standard.