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The Three Levels of Chimney Inspections
If your appliance or your venting system has not changed and you plan to use your system as you have in the past, then a Level 1 inspection is a minimum requirement. A Level 1 inspection is recommended for a chimney under continued service, under the same conditions, and with the continued use of the same appliance. In a Level 1 inspection, your chimney service technician should examine the readily accessible* portions of the chimney exterior, interior and accessible** portions of the appliance and the chimney connection. Your technician will be looking for the basic soundness of the chimney structure and flue as well as the basic appliance installation and connections. The technician will also verify the chimney is free of obstruction and combustible deposits.
A Level 2 inspection is required when any changes are made to the system. Changes can include a change in the fuel type, changes to the shape of, or material in, the flue (i.e. relining), or the replacement or addition of an appliance of a dissimilar type, input rating or efficiency. Additionally, a Level 2 inspection is required upon the sale or transfer of a property or after an operation malfunction or external event that is likely to have caused damage to the chimney. Building fires, chimney fires, seismic events as well as weather events are all indicators that this level of inspection is warranted. There are no specialty tools (i.e. demolition equipment) required to open doors, panels or coverings in performing a Level 2 inspection. A Level 2 inspection shall also include a visual inspection by video scanning or other means in order to examine the internal surfaces and joints of all flue liners incorporated within the chimney. No removal or destruction of permanently attached portions of the chimney or building structure or finish shall be required by a Level 2 inspection. When a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection suggests a hidden hazard and the evaluation cannot be performed without special tools to access concealed areas of the chimney or flue, a Level 3 inspection is recommended. A Level 3 inspection addresses the proper construction and the condition of concealed portions of the chimney structure and the flue. Removal or destruction, as necessary, of permanently attached portions of the chimney or building structure, will be required for the completion of a Level 3 inspection. A Level 2 inspection includes everything in a Level 1 inspection, plus the accessible** portions of the chimney exterior and interior including attics, crawl spaces, and basements. It will address proper clearances from combustibles in accessible locations.
A Level 3 inspection includes all the areas and items checked in a Level 1 and a Level 2 inspection, as well as the removal of certain components of the building or chimney where necessary. Removal of components (i.e., chimney crown, interior chimney wall) shall be required only when necessary to gain access to areas that are the subject of the inspection. When serious hazards are suspected, a Level 3 inspection may well be required to determine the condition of the chimney system.** Accessible: May require the use of commonly available tools to remove doors, panels or coverings, but will not damage the chimney or building structure or finish.* Readily Accessible: Exposed, or capable of being exposed, for operation, inspection, maintenance or repair without the use of tools to open or remove doors, panels or coverings.
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Some Good Reasons To Have Your Chimney Properly Inspected And Cleaned
Having delivered my services, first as a chimney sweep and later performing full-blown masonry repair, I am reasonably certain that I can give some advice that will save you, the homeowner, a decent amount of money in the near term and/or long term. My observation over the last 20 years is that in the Portland, Ore. metro area the chimney trade is divided up into 3 types of technical persons:
- A Chimney Sweep who only performs chimney cleaning and installation of raincaps and dampers. Some may write repair estimates that would be performed by a mason within the company. Hopefully the sweep knew what he was looking at when he wrote the bid (sometimes they do not). Sometimes they do not inspect thoroughly enough. There are some very good sweeps in the Portland area, and some that make me shake my head (Like the one that told one of my customers that she needed a “stainless steel lining system” for her furnace chimney to remedy a carbon monoxide leak in her basement. They based their assessment on the “fact” that they could smell the carbon monoxide leak. Carbon monoxide is odorless).
- Repair Technicians that prefer to do the smaller, less technically involved repairs.
- Masons that perform large jobs and technically difficult jobs.
Of course, there are exceptions, but the 3 descriptions above are what I have observed in the previous 20 years out in the field, and they apply to the big boys on the block. The one or two man operations are a different story.
The point here is that it is critical that whoever is attempting to sell you a repair or service had better know what they are looking at and have the integrity to do a thorough inspection. Your money is wasted if you purchase a repair that you did not need or worse, purchased the wrong repair.
Halfway into this portion of the cleaning, Cliff has his doubts that the insert had been properly cleaned in the previous 5 years. He spent over an hour cleaning out what the other company had not. On an unlined wood stove insert, it is imperative that the insert is pulled out and the overhead smoke chamber is properly cleaned. The smoke shelf (a cavity behind the back wall of the firebox) needs to be vacuumed out, as much soot falls into this cavity during the outside sweep. The smoke shelf is usually vacuumed out by passing a vacuum hose up through the damper and down into the smoke shelf.