Do you think chimney sweeping and inspection is guesswork? Do you wonder what your sweep is looking for when he stares up into your flue? Do you ask what you’re paying for when you ask someone to inspect your chimney? NFPA211 (our standard for fireplaces and flues) outlines three different levels of inspection and what they entail. Below is a brief description of what each inspection involves.

These inspection levels have been classified by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and they are the standard upon which chimney sweeps base their work.

Level 1

A level 1 chimney inspection is the most common type of chimney inspection. If you have used your fireplace regularly in the past without experiencing any problems, a level 1 inspection is appropriate. With a level 1 inspection, the chimney technician will examine the readily accessible portions of your chimney. This means the technician will perform a visual inspection with a flashlight, examining all areas of your chimney and flue that can be viewed without any special tools. Your technician may use common tools such as a screwdriver or pliers to examine any openings, but there should be no damage to any structures or finishes.

Parts of your chimney that should be examined in a level 1 inspection include:

  • Portions of the chimney exterior
  • Portions of the chimney interior
  • Accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection

In short, your chimney technician will be examining the chimney to make sure that the basic structure is in tact and there are no visible signs of damage. In this inspection, your technician should also verify that there are no obstructions or combustible materials in your chimney.

Level 2

If you are making any changes in the way you use your chimney, such as changing the type of fuel used, relining the flue, or if you’ve had any accidents or external events that may have caused damage, a level 2 chimney inspection is needed. If you’ve had a building fire, chimney fire or an earthquake, you will need to have a level 2 inspection preformed. Also, a level 2 inspection of the chimney is required before you sell your property.

As you probably assumed, a level 2 inspection is more detailed than level 1. A level 2 chimney inspection includes all of the visual examination included in a level 1 inspection, plus some additional work including examination of the attic, crawlspace and other accessible areas. In a level 2 inspection, a video camera or other device may be used to examine the flue and check for cracks or damage to the joints in the chimney’s structure. There should be no removal of the structure or permanent damaged caused to your chimney in a level 2 inspection.

Level 3

The level 3 chimney inspection is the most comprehensive type of chimney inspection. In addition to all of the checks preformed in level 1 and level 2 inspections, a level 3 will also examine the concealed areas of the chimney. This inspection may also include the removal of certain parts of the building or chimney structure if necessary. For example, the chimney crown or parts of the interior chimney wall may have to be removed in order to perform the in-depth inspection required for a level 3. This type of inspection is performed when serious damage to the chimney is suspected.

Many sweeps, including myself, will “mix and match” inspection levels according to the circumstance. For instance, I will commonly inspect the crown at the top of the chimney or attic/basement areas even though that would not normally be covered by a Level One inspection. I am also usually using a camera to photograph areas of concern despite not being required to with a Level One inspection. Please let me know if you have any questions about inspections. I’ll be happy to help.

Best of Sweep’s Luck to you,

Dave.