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The Complete Guide to a Level 3 Inspection [2020]

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 inspections 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.

NFPA 211 suggests you get an annual inspection if you continually used your chimney and you didn’t change anything with it.

It also requires that you 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. The person should also meet the requirements set by the fire marshal, with regards to licenses, insurance, and certifications.

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 with continuous use. 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.

What is a Level 3 Inspection?

A Level 3 inspection is the most detailed inspection of them all. It includes the 50 Point inspection from Level 1, the 40-point Inspection from Level 2, and an additional 20-Point Inspection to give your chimney a complete review. 

The biggest difference between Level 3 and the other two levels is that a Level 3 often requires that your technician remove certain components of the building or chimney to look for hidden problems. This typically includes the removal of: 

  • Drywall that is adjacent to your chimney
  • Exterior walls that surround your chimney
  • Your chimney’s crown
  • Interior and exterior chimney walls

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.

<<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 (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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