When you think of home maintenance and safety, you likely think about smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, flood lights and security cameras. However, one often overlooked area of the home is the chimney and fireplace. A routine inspection can help ensure that your chimney and fireplace are clean, functioning properly, and safe to use.
What is Chimney and Fireplace Inspection?
A Chimney and Fireplace Inspection is a thorough evaluation of the current condition of both the fireplace and chimney. This inspection should be done annually as it can help identify potential problems that could become health or safety issues. During this inspection, a highly trained and certified WIN home inspector will look for any visible damage, wear and tear, leaks or blockages. By identifying potential problems early, you can protect your home and family while avoiding unnecessary and costly repairs.
The importance of having a Chimney and Fireplace Inspection
Before using your fireplace during colder months, it’s important to have it inspected to make sure it’s in good working condition. Failing to have this inspection could result in costly repairs and risk your family's safety. Here are just a few reasons why you should never miss this critical inspection:
Prevent chimney fires
One out of every four residential house fires is caused by improper cleaning, making it the primary cause of residential fires in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). When fireplaces and chimneys are not properly cleaned, creosote, a tar-based chemical compound, builds up and poses a high risk for chimney fires. To reduce the risk of house fires, it’s recommended to have your chimney cleaned every year before operating.
Ensure your family’s health and safety
Smoke and carbon monoxide, both of which are produced from fires, are extremely hazardous to your health. A clean fireplace and chimney will reduce the risk of fire and help protect your family’s health.
Avoid toxic gases in your home
Dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide, can enter your home through your chimney and fireplace in a number of ways. For instance, the flue vent could be blocked by leaves, twigs, animal nests, or other debris, causing a backdraft into your home. Backdrafts occur when the gases produced by fire can't be properly released through the chimney, forcing smoke and other pollutants back into your home through the fireplace.
Prevent expensive chimney repairs
Annual fireplace and chimney inspections can save you money by reducing expensive repairs brought on by excessive creosote, masonry damage, missing or broken chimney caps, obstructions in the flue, or wood rot.
When do you need a Chimney and Fireplace Inspection?
Regardless of whether the chimney is regularly used or not, all chimney and venting systems must undergo an annual inspection in accordance with the NFPA 211 Standard. However, there are other times that warrant an inspection including:
- Buying a new home
- Experiencing issues with your chimney and fireplace
- A recent chimney fire
- Installing a new appliance
What’s included in a Chimney and Fireplace Inspection?
A certified inspector will examine your chimney closely to check for accumulation, obstructions, damage, and any structural problems. If necessary, your inspector may suggest any maintenance or repairs that need to be done.
Different types of chimney inspections and costs
Level 1 - This is a basic inspection to look over the areas of your chimney that are easily accessible, make sure the structure is sturdy, and ensure all parts are operating as they should. This level of inspection is typically used for annual maintenance and generally ranges from $75 to $200.
Level 2 - This inspection is more comprehensive, using equipment such as a camera to fully inspect the inside of your chimney. The inspector may also inspect your attic, crawl space, or basement. This level of inspection is typically recommended when any changes are made to your chimney, such as a change in fuel type or getting a new liner, or after any potentially damaging events like a fire or an earthquake. This level of inspection is required when you sell your home and the cost ranges from $100 to $500.
Level 3 - This inspection includes all covered or concealed areas of your chimney that can only be accessed with specialized tools. This service is only offered to chimneys that have sustained significant structural damage. To assess potential damage to other structural components of your home, this type of inspection may call for demolition. This level of inspection costs anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the chimney’s size and location.
Common Chimney and Fireplace Problems
Numerous issues can be found during inspections including:
- Creosote: Excess creosote is a common issue that fireplace inspectors find. As a result of burning wood, this extremely combustible and highly flammable substance collects on chimney walls and other surfaces and could result in a chimney fire.
- Debris: A blocked chimney can put a home at risk for fire and cause serious health problems. Therefore, we recommend having your chimney cleaned when inspected to prevent backdraft.
- Structural problems: Structural problems include fractures in the chimney cap or flue, deteriorated brickwork, damaged mortar, or a smoke chamber with holes or gaps that could result in the chimney collapsing and causing further damage to the home or property.
Chimney and Fireplace Inspection FAQs
How much does the annual Chimney and Fireplace Inspection cost?
There are many different types of chimneys and quantities of flues, so there are several different levels of inspections. The average cost of a chimney inspection and cleaning is $400 to $500.
Can I DIY a Chimney Inspection?
To save money, some homeowners try to perform their own chimney inspections, but this inspection is best left to the experts. Chimney inspectors use instruments like specialized camera equipment and have a trained eye to identify potential chimney issues.
Why is it important for buyers to ask when a chimney or fireplace was last inspected?
Homes are significant investments, and for many people, buying a home will be their most expensive purchase ever. It's crucial to make sure your new house is safe and secure, and that includes the chimney and fireplace. Previous homeowners may not have conducted routine cleaning or maintenance on the chimney, posing health and safety risks for you and your investment. In addition, demonstrating a thorough examination and finished repairs may result in a lower homeowner's insurance premium.
What makes a chimney unsafe?
Several serious problems could develop if your chimney is in poor condition. Here are some signs you should keep an eye out for:
- The brickwork on your chimney is deteriorating. A chimney that has begun to crumble could send down debris and cause structural damage to your house and harm to you, your family members, and pets.
- The mortar joints in your chimney are vulnerable. The mortar joints are extremely important to your chimney’s health. The masonry may become visible if mortar joints start to crack and collapse. Damaged mortar joints need to be fixed immediately because if they are not, your chimney may crumble or collapse.
- The crown of your chimney is damaged. A damaged chimney crown can allow water to leak into your chimney and wreak havoc. It could also be a sign that your chimney may collapse. Additionally, it gives insects, raccoons, bats, and other animals access to your house.
- The flue tiles in your chimney are broken. Cracked flue tiles are a common problem with older chimneys. Flue tiles may become brittle over time due to weather conditions and the build-up of creosote. If left unattended, these broken tiles can cause a variety of problems, including chimney fires, water damage that causes the chimney to erode and crumble, and wildlife invasion. If your chimney hasn't been cleaned or inspected in years, it's time to schedule both.
Should the seller schedule a Chimney and Fireplace Inspection?
A real estate transaction may be terminated because of fireplace damage. Many home sellers list their properties without knowing that they need maintenance. Not all damage is easily visible, and a structural repair could cost $20,000 or more.
If the fireplace is outdated, the seller should get it evaluated before listing the house because some buyers may get deterred if they believe hefty repairs and maintenance are involved.
What do you do if you find damage during a Chimney Inspection?
If you find damage during a chimney inspection, it is important to have the damage repaired as soon as possible. Chimney damage can cause a number of problems, including:
- Fires: Chimney fires can be incredibly dangerous and destructive. A damaged chimney can easily start a fire in your home.
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide can build up in your home if there is a problem with your chimney. This gas can be deadly, and it is important to have any problems with your chimney fixed immediately.
- Poor Functioning: A damaged chimney will not work properly, which can lead to health and safety hazards.
A Chimney and Fireplace Inspection is essential to ensure your home is safe and sound. At WIN, our inspectors are well-trained and certified to check all aspects of your chimney and fireplace to make sure they are functioning properly and safely. If your home has a fireplace and chimney and hasn’t had an annual inspection, call your local WIN home inspector today to schedule this critical service. We look forward to helping keep you and your family safe!