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What You Need To Know About Chimney Inspections

Andrew Dehan6-minute read
UPDATED: November 09, 2022

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What’s better than curling up by a crackling, wood-burning fire on a cold winter night, snuggled up under a blanket with a warm drink and a good book in hand?

The peace of mind that comes with knowing your fireplace – and your home and family – is safe, that’s what.

As winter draws near, it’s best to be proactive and arrange to have your chimney inspected. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about chimney inspections.

Why You Should Get Your Chimney Inspected

Whether you’re busy, you don’t use it every day or you just aren’t sure what’s necessary, it can be easy to ignore fireplace maintenance. Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous.

Your Fireplace Poses A Safety Issue

"Safety is the most important reason for an annual chimney inspection by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®. You are lighting a fire in your living room and it’s serious business," says Zach Zagar, director of marketing and communications for the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).

Heating equipment like chimneys are the second-most-common cause of home fire fatalities, and failure to clean this equipment is the leading factor contributing to home heating fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Your Fireplace Can Cause Unwanted Fires

Over time, all of the smoke, gases and particles from the fires you’ve burned will create a buildup in your chimney. This residue, called creosote, is extremely flammable and when it’s allowed to build up, it can cause a chimney fire.

“The two biggest risks associated with not having a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® inspect your system are chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning,” Zagar notes.

When creosote first begins to build up, it’s fairly easy for a technician to remove with a brush. However, as the buildup gets worse, it becomes more difficult to remove. Eventually, the only way to effectively remove the creosote may be to replace the chimney liner, which can be expensive.

Your Fireplace Can Cause Indoor Air Pollution

Obstructions in your chimney – which can be caused by leaves, sticks or unwanted animal nesting – can prevent the escape of gases produced by your fireplace. The EPA says the biggest risk to people comes from fine particles, also called fine particulate matter. Microscopic particles from wood smoke can get into your eyes and respiratory system, and can cause burning eyes, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis.

Fine particles can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. For those at risk of heart conditions, these particles can also trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms and heart failure.

Let a pro do it for you.

Keep your chimney clean with a local pro's help.

What You Can Expect From A Chimney Inspection

When you get a chimney inspection done, the inspector will take a look at your chimney for buildup, obstruction, damage or any structural issues. They’ll likely sweep your chimney as part of the inspection to make sure they’re getting an accurate look at your system. Then, if they deem it necessary, they’ll recommend any required work.Level 1 ServiceThis is a basic inspection that involves examining the easily accessible portions of your chimney, checking that the structure is sound and ensuring that all the components are working properly. If your chimney is in good condition and you haven’t had any problems with your fireplace, this will likely be the level of your regular, annual inspections.Level 2 ServiceThis level of inspection will likely involve your chimney sweep using equipment such as a camera to fully inspect the inside of your chimney. They will inspect all parts of your chimney that are accessible without the use of special tools, and may inspect your attic, crawl space or basement. You’ll get this sort of inspection done 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, according to the CSIA.Level 3 ServiceThis is a thorough inspection of all parts of your chimney, including any covered or hidden portions that can only be reached using special tools. This service is only performed on chimneys with a lot of structural damage. This type of inspection may require demolition to assess damage behind walls and other elements of your home’s structure.

Chimney Sweep Or Chimney Inspector: Who Should You Hire?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re different people. A chimney sweep is a technician capable of providing chimney cleaning services, while a chimney inspector must be certified by the CSIA or the National Fireplace Institute (NFI). These advanced inspection credentials are required by lenders and insurers to ensure your chimney’s safety.

CSIA also certifies chimney sweeps to make sure that your annual fireplace cleaning routine meets safety standards.

Cost Of Chimney Inspections By Level Of Service

According to Home Advisor, an inspection by a certified chimney inspector can run anywhere from $100 to $5,000, depending on the level of service.

Level One Service Costs

Expect to pay $100 – $1,000, depending on the size of your chimney, the number of flues and how often you use your fireplace.

Level Two Service Costs

A level two inspection costs around $200 for a single flue chimney and up to $1,000 for chimneys with four flues. This level evaluates chimneys from top to bottom for damage from fires or storms. It also includes the cost of any cleaning services required to get a good look at the chimney’s surface.

Level Three Service Costs

Expect to pay anywhere $500 – $5,000 for a level three inspection. This service is only performed on chimneys with a lot of structural damage, like the type caused by a major earthquake or hurricane.

The price depends on how difficult it is to get a good look at the inner surfaces. In some cases, inspectors might need to remove walls and other surfaces to get to the damaged part of the chimney.

Chimney Inspection And Maintenance FAQs

We’ll try to answer your top questions about chimney inspections and maintenance.

How can I find a good chimney sweep?

In addition to advancing public awareness about chimney safety and the danger of chimney fires, CSIA provides certification for chimney sweeps. If you’re looking for a professional to inspect and clean your chimney, find one who is CSIA certified.

Before hiring a chimney sweep, CSIA recommends asking them to provide references and finding out if they carry a valid business liability insurance policy, in addition to ensuring that they are CSIA certified.

How much does routine maintenance by a chimney sweep cost?

For a basic level one inspection and cleaning, you can expect to pay $79 – $200 on average.

Can I DIY a chimney inspection?

It’s best to leave this one to the professionals.

“An inspection will find internal and external issues with your system that a homeowner is not trained to identify, whether it is a crack in your chimney liner that you can only see from a certain angle or signs of water damage inside or outside of your flue,” says Zagar.

Only a professional chimney sweep is qualified to inspect and clean a chimney so that it remains safe for use. Not only do they know to look for things that a layperson might miss, but the average homeowner probably isn’t properly equipped to thoroughly inspect their chimney in the first place.

“Today’s technicians are often using camera equipment specifically designed for chimney inspections to inspect the inside of your chimney from the bottom to the top,” explains Zagar.

What regular maintenance should I perform on my fireplace and chimney?

Other than getting regular inspections done, there are a few things homeowners can do to keep their fireplaces and chimneys in good condition.

Zagar recommends that all homeowners be familiar with the manufacturer’s instructions on how to operate all their heating equipment, like their system’s damper or gas source.

If you burn wood, make sure you’re only using well-seasoned, dry wood. Cut wood that has been left to dry for at least 6 months in storage will make the best firewood and give you a cleaner burn.

Learn how to properly store your firewood as well. Don’t allow your wood to be ruined by exposure to the elements. The best place is a firewood shed, according to CSIA, with a roof and open sides for air circulation. You can also keep the pile in a sunny location and cover it on rainy or snowy days.

Be careful about inviting insects like termites into your home – never store wood inside, and don’t lean it against your house. Only bring in what you plan on immediately burning.

Keep your fireplace clean and make sure you’re frequently cleaning soot and ash from the hearth.

Do I still need an inspection if I have a gas fireplace?

According to Zagar, it’s a common misconception that only those with wood-burning appliances need regular inspections.

“Gas fireplaces, water heaters, furnaces and boilers that utilize a chimney also need to be inspected annually,” he says.

While gas-heated appliances tend to require less maintenance than their wood-burning counterparts, you should still have them checked out once a year to make sure everything is operating safely and to nip any problems in the bud before they become dangerous or costly.

Let a pro do it for you.

Keep your chimney clean with a local pro's help.

The Bottom Line: Inspect Your Chimney Annually To Keep Your Home And Loved Ones Safe

Your fireplace is a luxury that makes your home feel safe and warm. With regular inspections, your feelings become reality. Learn more tips on how to keep your family safe from common household hazards.

Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.