The Inspector Who™ Recommended an Additional Chimney Inspection and Saved Thousands of Dollars

Home inspectors who recommend an additional chimney inspection by a licensed chimney inspector may well have saved thousands of dollars and many lives by preventing possible fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, or pointing out structural damage to the residence.  During the process of buying a home, most people hire a home inspector to ensure that the major systems in the house are working properly.  Included in most home inspection checklists are the heating and cooling system, the foundation, major appliances, and plumbing.  If the house has a chimney, a visual inspection is probably included.   It is important to keep in mind that a home inspection is not an inspection of every possible system in the home.  The home inspection report is designed to be thorough enough to recommend further inspection by a licensed expert in an individual system, such as a chimney.

Most home inspectors check for exterior cracks in the chimney masonry.  If such a crack exists, it could cause problems, especially if the chimney flue liner is also not fire or gas safe.  Cracks in chimneys could be the result of poor construction. The reason for such scrutiny is that chimneys are critical to the safe operation of woodstove, fireplaces, and other heaters.  If chimneys are not well maintained, or if they sustain damage, either a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning could result.

Home inspectors may also check for defects in the flashing, foundation, crown, visible lining (they don’t normally have the digital camera necessary to check the entire inside of the chimney), creosote deposits, and the damper function of the flu.

With a visible inspection, home inspectors can look at the roof area to check to make sure spark arrestors are present to prevent sparks from landing on the roof, and that the chimney cap or crown mortar is not cracked or deteriorating.   Cracks could result in water damage or could indicate construction problems.   Inspectors can also check the flashing, which is the seal between the roof and the chimney.  The flashing keeps the rain from running down the chimney into the home.  The flashing expands and contracts with the chimney and roof heat and is supposed to keep a waterproof seal.

Home inspectors usually recommend regular chimney maintenance and inspection from a professional chimney sweep.

Recently the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has set down minimum chimney inspection standards, classifying them into three basic levels.  Each level of chimney inspection is recommended based on specific changes to the heating system, and each covers appliances and venting systems.

A “level 1” inspection is recommended for a system that has not changed, and will be used as it has been in the past.  It includes an inspection of the readily accessible parts of the chimney, including the exterior, interior, and connections to the appliance.  The chimney is also checked to ensure that there are no combustible deposits or obstructions.

A “level 2” inspection is recommended when the system has changed, or if the property has been sold, or if there has been damage to the chimney from fire, weather or an earthquake. This inspection is more in-depth and requires special tools to inspect non-visible areas of the chimney or flue.  The professional chimney sweep also checks the attic, crawl space and basement.   This type of inspection should always be done by a licensed professional Chimney Sweep.

A “level 3” inspection is required when it is suspected that hazardous conditions exist.  This inspection includes the removal of the chimney crown and possibly the interior wall of the chimney to determine the condition of the chimney.  This type of inspection should always be done by a licensed professional Chimney Sweep.

Home inspectors may recommend any level of additional inspection (based on NFPA standards) to a homeowner’s chimney, and it behooves the homeowner to heed this recommendation because it can save them thousands of dollars and possibly prevent a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

As added protection for the home inspector in the event of a possible error or omission in their report, it is always a good practice to purchase error & omission insurance from a reputable firm.