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The Ultimate Chimney Inspection Guide [2020]

Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know

Introduction

There are three levels of chimney inspections. Simply put, a level 1 inspection is the most basic inspection and is required with each chimney swept. Level 2 and level 3 are progressively more detailed and comprehensive. 

Chimney techs can perform portions of a higher level of inspection without doing a total inspection. For example, at Patriot Chimney, we always run a camera, which is usually part of a level 2 and 3 inspections, even with Level 1 Inspections.

Chimney technicians also usually start with a Level 1 inspection and, based on their findings, may recommend a Level 2 or Level 3.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) — whose sole mission is to limit death, injury, and property damage from fire hazards — set the standard for chimney inspections in 2000 by providing the guidelines, procedures, and the three “levels” for chimney inspections in their Code 211.

Here’s what NFPA Code 211 suggests:

  1. Get an annual inspection if you’ve continually used your chimney and you didn’t change anything with it.
  2. Have your chimney inspected by companies that are responsible for venting, installing, inspecting, repairing, and/or servicing heat-producing appliances. Not a roofer, or a home inspector, or HVAC technician, or your friend that’s not a chimney technician. 
  3. Have your chimney inspected by a company that meets the requirements set by the fire marshal, with regards to licenses, insurance, and certifications.

Table of Contents

1. TL;DR (summary)

This is a long guide. So I wanted to create a pretty good summary for you. 

2. Important Definitions

Before getting too far into it, it’s a good idea to understand these definitions.

3. When to Get Your Chimney Inspected

There are certain times, besides annually, that you’ll need an inspection. This part explains that. 

4. Level 1 Chimney Inspections

We go in depth on Level 1 inspections, including what it is, what to expect, and how much it costs. 

5. Level 2 Chimney Inspections

We go in depth on Level 2 inspections, including what it is, what to expect, and how much it costs.

6. Level 3 Chimney Inspections

We go in depth on Level 3 inspections, including what it is, what to expect, and how much it costs.

Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR)

This is understandable. This is a very long guide. But I did say that it’s everything you could ever want to know about chimney inspections. And Patriot Chimney’s not the type of place to cut corners, so I really wanted to deliver.

Level 1 Inspection

As I mentioned before, a level 1 inspection is the most basic inspection. If your chimney is under continued service, under the same conditions, and used with the same appliance, you should get a level 1 inspection every year. 

Here’s what you need to know about Level 1 Inspections:

  • Limited to readily accessible areas of the chimney, structure, and flue
  • 50-Point Checklist for Level 1 Inspections
  • Camera inspection, so that we can get a full top-to-bottom understanding of the condition of your chimney.

Level 2 Inspection

A level 2 chimney inspection is more detailed and thorough than a Level 1 inspection. You’ll get everything from the Level 1 Inspection, plus we add more items to check on the list. 

Here’s what you need to know about Level 2 Inspections: 

  • Includes everything from the 50-Point Checklist in Level 1
  • An additional 40-Point Inspection for all Level 2 Inspections. 
  • Includes accessible areas, such as attics, crawl spaces, and basements, so long as they are actually accessible. 
  • Does not include any specialty tools that are required to open doors, panels, or coverings. 
  • You should have a Level 2 Inspection if you are buying a house with a chimney. Or if you experienced an operation malfunction or external event that may have caused damage to your chimney. This includes building fires, chimney fires, seismic events, or major weather events. 

Level 3 Inspection 

This is the big boy. A Level 3 inspection is the most detailed of all inspection types and includes inspection of concealed areas of the building. 

Here’s what you need to know about Level 3 Inspections: 

  • A Level 3 inspection includes all areas covered in a Level 1 and 2 inspections
  • Adds a 20-Point Inspection with all Level 3 Inspections
  • Includes the removal of certain components when the technician needs to check areas that are subject to inspection
  • When serious hazards are suspected, a level 3 inspection may be required to determine the full condition of the chimney system. 

Of course, if a level 3 inspection is required and removal of certain components is necessary, responsible and respectable chimney companies will consult with you and earn your permission first. 

 

Important Definitions

To help you understand the inspection requirements, I thought it’d be helpful to share the terms: readily accessible, accessible, and non-accessible (concealed). These are a pretty big part in defining which type of inspection you need to have.

Readily Accessible

These are areas that can be reached for inspection or maintenance without the use of tools or ladders.

Accessible Areas

These are parts of your chimney that can be reached without destructive action to the building or building finish. Though, access may require the removal or opening of doors. Panels and the use of common hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrenches, or ladders may be required.

Non-Accessible (Concealed)

These are areas that cannot be reached without damage or destruction to the chimney building or building finish. It also includes areas requires special tools to reach. 

When To Get Your Chimney Inspected

The most current edition of the NFPA 211 recommends annual inspections for all chimneys, fireplaces. But there are other times that would require an inspection to ensure your chimney can safely be used.

Malfunction

If your chimney faced some sort of operating malfunction, any unusual or sudden event, like a chimney fire, lightning strike, or earthquake, you should call a technician to check it out.

House Purchase

You should have a level 2 inspection of a chimney before purchasing a home with an existing chimney or vent.

Things Change

Whenever you make changes to your chimney or vent system you need to have a technician come inspect. This includes the replacement of connected appliances or installations of other appliances. This should also include if you relined or replaced your system.

Level 1 Chimney Inspections

Why Do You Need a Level 1 Inspection? 

There are many reasons to get a Level 1 inspection, such as the reasons mentioned above: a malfunction or things changed with your chimney.

But you should at least get a Level 1 Inspection each year if your appliance or venting system has not changed and you plan to keep using it this year.

In other words, if your chimney is under continued service, under the same conditions, and used with the same appliance, you’ll be fine sticking with a Level 1 Inspection. Otherwise, you should consider a Level 2 or Level 3 inspection.

What to Expect During a Level 1 Inspection

It’s pretty hard to speak for all chimney companies. But I can tell you what you can expect with a Patriot Chimney inspection, though I do think that we do things a bit differently.

It all starts with seamless scheduling, then moves to the actual inspection, and a review of it all with your technician.

<<download our full inspection condition report>>

Scheduling

The first thing you’ll do is schedule your appointment. We use an online booking system, so you can schedule online. Once you do that, someone in our office will give you a call to coordinate some time on the calendar.

Or if you’d prefer you can call our office at 540-225-2626 to book your appointment.

Once you’re on the schedule, you’ll get periodic emails and texts reminding you that your appointment is coming up. Of course, if anything changes, just let us know!

50 Point Inspection

On inspection day, we’ll arrive at your home and introduce ourselves. Then we’ll get to work!

We go through a proprietary 50-point inspection to check everything that we can. Your safety is our priority and we sure don’t want to miss anything.

Here is our list of everything we check (Buckle up. It’s a lot):

  1. Level of the cleanliness of the venting system
  2. Verification that the flue is not blocked
  3. Verification that the flue is not significantly restricted
  4. Verification that the flue is not obstructed in any way
  5. Appliance Clearance
  6. The general condition of the appliance
  7. Chimney or vent and its connector for general suitability for appliance
  8. Chimney or vent and its connector type
  9. Chimney or vent and its material
  10. Chimney or vent and its condition
  11. Chimney or vent and its connector clearance
  12. Chimney or vent and its connector joint security
  13. Chimney or vent and its connector for support and stability
  14. Chimney or vent and its connector for offset
  15. Chimney or vent and its connector for rise
  16. Chimney or vent and its connector for slope
  17. Chimney or vent barometric damper
  18. Chimney or vent damper
  19. Chimney or vent draft hood
  20. Chimney or vent heat reclaimer
  21. Chimney liner for proper support
  22. Appropriateness of the chimney liner type for appliance
  23. That the chimney liner is present
  24. That the chimney liner is free of readily visible defects, distortion, and spalling
  25. That flue cleanouts are present
  1. That flue cleanouts are properly installed
  2. Condition of wash when readily accessible
  3. That the chimney cap exists
  4. That the chimney cap does not contribute to flue blockage/restriction
  5. That the spark arrester is present
  6. That the spark arrester is not obstructed
  7. That the top installed damper is present
  8. That the top installed damper does not obstruct the flue
  9. Wall pass-through general condition
  10. That the connector is secure where it meets the wall pass-through, chimney, or vent
  11. The general condition of the hearth
  12. The general condition of the hearth extension
  13. Hearth extension sizing
  14. The general condition of the fireplace facing
  15. The general condition of the fire chamber
  16. The general condition of the smoke chamber
  17. Type of fire chamber lining
  18. Condition of the fire chamber lining
  19. Clearance to combustible trim and mantels around the fireplace opening
  20. Operation and closure of damper assembly
  21. Smoke chamber accessibility
  22. Smoke chamber transition to the flue
  23. That the air circulation grilles (openings) around the factory-built fireplace are not blocked or restricted
  24. Freedom from rust or corrosion of readily accessible metal parts in factory-built fireplaces and chimneys
  25. That mechanical draft systems are operable and free from rust and corrosion.

Camera Inspection

As I mentioned before, a Level 1 Inspection is pretty limited to what is “readily accessible.”

I don’t like this because it’s not possible to get a full grasp of the safety and efficiency of your chimney without looking in the flue. I don’t know how many times you’ve looked in a flue, but it’s pretty dark and hard to see even with a flashlight.

That’s why we always try to run a camera to get a better view and understanding of inside your chimney with a camera.

Review

Once we have pictures, video, and filled out the condition report, we meet with you. This is to go over everything with you so that you can understand the full condition of your chimney. 

If there is anything that you should be concerned about, your technician will discuss his or her recommendation to fix it. After the recommendation, we will send a proposal for the work via email within the next 24 hours.

It all starts with seamless scheduling, then moves to the actual inspection, and a review of it all with your technician.

So, How Much is a Level 1 Inspection in Roanoke, Lynchburg, or Blacksburg?

Of course, prices vary. But luckily the price you’ll pay for an inspection is usually refunded or included in the price of whatever work you may need to have done. Even if it is a basic chimney sweep.

We’ve put together this table to help give you an idea of how much everyone charges for inspection within our market.

Level 2 Chimney Inspections

Why Do You Need a Level 2 Inspection?

A Level 2 inspection is required when you make any changes to your system. This includes changing the fuel, shape or material of the flue, or replacing the appliance. 

Also, a Level 2 inspection is required upon the sale or transfer of your property. Some people think that the home inspection during the due diligence process is enough. But what they don’t realize is that chimney inspections must be done by companies that are responsible for venting, installing, inspecting, repairing, and/or servicing heat-producing appliances. 

You definitely should get an inspection if you experienced an operation malfunction or an external event that may have caused damage to the chimney. This includes building fires, chimney fires, seismic events, as well as some other weather events.

 

What to Expect During a Level 2 Inspection

Just like with the Level 1 Inspection, some parts are pretty standard between inspections. This includes the fact that I can’t speak for all chimney companies. But I can tell you what to expect with a Patriot Chimney Inspection. 

It all starts with easy scheduling, then moves to the actual inspection, and a review of it all with your technician. 

Scheduling

The first thing you’ll do is schedule your appointment. We use an online booking system, so you can schedule online. Once you do that, someone in our office will give you a call to coordinate some time on the calendar.

Or if you’d prefer you can call our office at 540-225-2626 to book your appointment.

Once you’re on the schedule, you’ll get periodic emails and texts reminding you that your appointment is coming up. Of course, if anything changes, just let us know!

Level 1 Inspection

So you’re here looking at information on a Level 2 inspection, right? So why am I mentioning a Level 1? 

It’s because most of the time, your technician will use a Level 1 inspection to determine if you need a level 2 inspection. It’s a very thorough inspection. In fact, all Level 1 inspections go through our 50 Point Inspection. Your safety is our priority and we sure don’t want to miss anything. 

Level 2’s 40 Point Inspection

Your technician decided that you needed to have a more thorough check. At this point, they would have reviewed their Level 1 findings with you and made the recommendation for a Level 2 inspection. Most of the time, the technician just knocks it out while they are there.

Even though with Level 1 inspections we have a very thorough check, for Level 2s, we still have a 40 Point Inspection. Once again, your safety is our priority and we don’t want to miss anything. 

Here is our list of everything we check: 

  1. Condition of your chimney
  2. Attic insulation shield for factory-built chimneys
  3. Attic insulation shield for factory-built fireplaces
  4. Housing and shrouds for factory-built chimneys
  5. Housing and shrouds for factory-built fireplaces
  6. Factory-built chimney support type
  7. Factory-built chimney is assembled with appropriate parts
  8. Factory-built fireplace is assembled with appropriate parts
  9. Factory-built chimney clearances
  10. Factory-built fireplace clearances
  11. Factory-built chimney attachment to the appliance
  12. Factory-built fireplace attachment to the appliance
  13. That the venting system is properly sized for the appliance
  14. Height and dimensions of the liner
  15. Installation and condition of offsets in the flue
  16. That the unused openings (into the flue) are properly sealed
  17. Construction of the wash
  18. Expansion joint between the flue and wash
  19. Condition of the flashing
  20. Condition of crickets, when present
  21. Chimney connector or vent connector gauge (material thickness)
  22. That the chimney diameter is proper for the appliance connected
  23. That the vent connector diameter is proper for the appliance connected
  24. That the wall pass through is properly installed with adequate clearance and installation details
  1. Chimney or vent connector configuration (appropriate dimensions for sizing and compared with vent or chimney)
  2. Manifold sizing
  3. Combustion air supplied for fireplaces in accordance with Section 11.4 of NFPA 211
  4. Conditions of the outside air inlets in accordance with Section 11.4 of NFPA 211
  5. Conditions of the outlets in accordance with Section 11.4 of NFPA 211
  6. Conditions of the ducting in accordance with Section 11.4 of NFPA 211
  7. Ash dump
  8. Combustible framing/forms under hearth or hearth extensions of masonry fireplaces
  9. Fireplace opening size (ratio with flue) of masonry fireplaces
  10. Size of throat of masonry fireplaces
  11. Smoke chamber dimensions (angle/height) of masonry fireplaces
  12. Smoke chamber lining (parged, firebrick, etc.) of masonry fireplaces
  13. Smoke shelf area of masonry fireplaces
  14. Factory-built fireplace brand, model, and listing
  15. That the factory-built fireplace glass doors and accessories (inserted items) are approved
  16. Factory-built fireplace hearth platform and covering

Review

Once we have pictures, video, and filled out the condition report, we meet with you. This is to go over everything with you so that you can understand the full condition of your chimney. 

If there is anything that you should be concerned about, your technician will discuss his or her recommendation to fix it. After the recommendation, we will send a proposal for the work via email within the next 24 hours.

So, How Much is a Level 2 Inspection in Roanoke, Lynchburg, or Blacksburg?

Prices per company may vary. But a Level 1 inspection is always included in the price for a Level 2 Inspection. Also, if anything was uncovered in your inspection and you choose to accept the proposal that we send to you, we’ll refund the price of the inspections.

Level 3 Chimney Inspections

Why Do You Need a Level 3 Inspection

Level 3 Inspections are rare and only come up in extreme cases where the previous two inspections uncovered potential issues and troubleshooting that issue requires your technician to look further in areas that are not accessible. 

For example, let’s say that you had a chimney fire, or crazy weather knocked things around in your chimney, and you decide that you need an inspection. Both options will require a Level 2 inspection. During that inspection, while your technician is in the attic, he or she discovers a water spot on the wood near the chimney. 

This could mean that you have a crack in your chimney that is causing water damage that is hidden behind the wood in your attic. To fully inspect, your technician may need to cut away some of the wood.  

Another instance that may signal concern is broken flue tiles that are discovered with a camera inspection or even improper chimney clearances to combustibles. 

A Level 3 Inspection may sound destructive and unnecessary but bear in mind that a Level 3 inspection is only needed when serious problems are hiding and a level 1 and level 2 inspection are insufficient.

What to Expect During a Level 3 Inspection

Much like with Levels 1 and 2, many parts of the inspection are pretty standard. Whatever you do, it all starts with easy scheduling, moves to the actual inspection, and ends with a full review with your technician.

Scheduling

The first thing you’ll do is schedule your appointment. We use an online booking system, so you can schedule online. Once you do that, someone in our office will give you a call to coordinate some time on the calendar.

Or if you’d prefer you can call our office at 540-225-2626 to book your appointment.

Once you’re on the schedule, you’ll get periodic emails (like the one below) and texts reminding you that your appointment is coming up. Of course, if anything changes, just let us know!

Levels 1 & 2 Inspections

You shouldn’t ever jump right into a Level 3 inspection. Your technician will perform a Level 1 inspection and that will lead to a Level 2 inspection unless he or she can immediately tell that you need a Level 3 inspection. In that case, you’ll still get the full Level 2 40-Point inspection and a complete Level 1 50-Point inspection.

Evaluation of Further Inspection

If your technician uncovers hidden dangers, they will consult with you before doing any destructive work. He or she will talk with you about what they found during the inspection by going over the condition report, sharing video footage, and pictures. 

If the Level 3 inspection does require destructive action, the technician will work with you to come up with a plan and we will work to get you back on the schedule to perform the full inspection.

Level 3’s 20 Point Inspection

At this point, your technician has recommended a Level 3 inspection after discovering potential hazards in the last two inspections. And you agreed to have the work done. 

After the Level 1 50-Point inspection and Level 2’s 40-Point inspection, we begin our Level 3 20-Point inspection. This list is something that we try to check every time, but it is not all-inclusive, which means that we tend to check more than what’s on this list.

Here is our list of everything we check:

  1. Firestopping
  2. Debris in the annular space of the factory-built chimney
  3. Debris in the annular space of the factory-built fireplace
  4. Clearances inside the chase housing of the factory-built chimney
  5. Clearances inside the chase housing of factory-built fireplace
  6. Masonry foundation
  7. Masonry foundation depth
  8. Masonry foundation dimension
  9. Masonry foundation soil conditions
  10. That the space around the chimney liner is adequate
  11. That seismic requirements, where required, have been met
  1. Thickness of fireplace walls
  2. Clearance around fireplace walls
  3. Smoke chamber wall thickness
  4. Smoke chamber clearance
  5. Factory-built fireplace clearance
  6. That the factory-built fireplace hearth strip is properly installed
  7. That the factory-built fireplace installation is stable
  8. Connection between factory-built fireplace and its chimney
  9. Factory-built fireplace hearth extensions per manufacturer’s installation instructions including U-valves

Review & Repair

Once the inspection is done, your technician will give you recommendations for work that needs to be done to keep your fireplace safe. You should not use your fireplace until you have had the work done and another inspection confirms that your chimney is safe to use.  

Once everything is complete, your technician will work to repair all of the parts that were damaged. This could either be with the technician or with a hired contractor. 

NOTE: At Patriot Chimney, we usually repair the damage. But it should be determined upfront who is responsible for repair and/or replacement of the removed components.

 

So, How Much is a Level 3 Inspection in Roanoke, Lynchburg, or Blacksburg?

Since the Level 3 inspection often requires some destructive action, repairs for that will exceed the base price for level 3 inspections. For example, if the base price of a Level 3 Inspection is $290, there will be an additional cost to accommodate for destruction and construction. 

That being said, the typical cost of Level 3 Inspections ranges between $1,000 to $5,000, which includes the repairs.

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