Chimney Inspections Save You From House Fires and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


Level 1 inspections are visual examinations of all readily accessible areas of the chimney structure and flue. This is the most common type of chimney inspection.

While completely preventing creosote buildup isn’t possible, it can be greatly reduced with proper care and routine cleaning. Creosote is a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of wood or fossil fuels. When a fire doesn’t burn properly, the oils in the wood off-gas as volatiles, which then cool and condense on the walls of the chimney or flue pipe. Over time, this creates a thick and sticky oily residue that is known as creosote. Creosote is extremely flammable, and when enough builds up, it can cause a fire that could easily get out of control.

Having regular chimney inspections and burning clean, seasoned firewood with hot, well-burning fires will reduce the amount of creosote that accumulates in your fireplace and flue. However, no matter how careful you are, some level of creosote will build up over time. There are three stages of creosote, and your chimney inspector will be able to tell you which stage your creosote is in and at what point it becomes dangerous. Stage one creosote is soot-looking and can be easily removed with a basic chimney brush during routine cleaning.

If your chimney reaches the next phase of creosote, it will begin to look more like tar and may even start to crack or crumble. This is not a good thing, as it’s much harder to remove and requires more specialized tools, such as a rotary brush. Eventually, this type of creosote can become so thick that it covers the entire inside of your flue pipe, making it difficult for gases to escape.

The most serious stage of creosote is called Stage 3. This is a hard, black, and gummy substance that looks similar to tar and cannot be removed with a brush. It is also very flammable, and if you see this on the walls of your chimney, it’s time for a professional to come in and do a major chimney cleanup.

It’s important to pay attention to signs that your fireplace and chimney might be reaching this stage. A reduced draft is the most common sign that creosote is building up in your chimney. Other signs include:

Water Damage

Anyone who has ever owned a home knows that there are many ways water damage can affect the structure of the property. Homeowners outfit their basements with waterproofing; gutter systems direct rainfall and runoff away from the foundation; windows are protected with awnings; and walls are sealed to keep water out.

But one place that often gets overlooked is the chimney. Unless the chimney is regularly inspected, moisture can get into the masonry and cause damage. This is why it is important to hire a professional chimney sweep and have your chimney inspected annually.

Moisture in a chimney can lead to deterioration of the flue liner and can also corrode the metal parts of the venting system. Eventually, the flue liner will crack, and creosote will leak into the house. Cracked flue liners are also a fire hazard and must be replaced.

A leaking chimney can also cause water damage to the interior of a home, particularly wallpaper, ceilings, and woodwork. Chimney leaks can even lead to mould and mildew, which is a health hazard for those who live in the home. Water stains on the ceiling are a sure sign of a chimney leak and should be investigated immediately.

When you have a chimney leak, you may be able to file an insurance claim with your homeowners’ insurance company. Most homeowners’ insurance policies cover sudden and unforeseen events, such as rainstorms, but they often exclude damage that results from neglect or regular wear and tear.

Chimney leaks can be expensive to repair, and they can damage the masonry of your chimney. During a chimney inspection, your professional can recommend a course of action to fix the problem and prevent future leaks.

If it has been a while since your chimney was last inspected or you are considering buying a home with an uninspected chimney, ask your local professional about performing a Level 2 inspection. A Level 2 inspection is a more comprehensive review that includes all things covered in a Level 1 inspection and adds a visual examination of the entire chimney, including all accessible areas of the structure and flue, with no special tools or demolition equipment required.

Fire Hazards

When a chimney is in poor condition, it can cause fire hazards. These hazards can range from minor to life-threatening. For example, the flammable deposits of creosote can ignite and erupt into a chimney fire. This fire can destroy the chimney structure and cause damage to combustible materials in the home. Another potential fire hazard is the inability of the chimney to provide proper ventilation. This can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which is extremely dangerous and can be fatal.

Chimneys should be inspected for fire hazards before starting to use them for the season. In fact, if you’re not sure when your chimney was last inspected, spring is the ideal time to get it checked. The heating season is over, and the byproducts of burning fuel have had less time to deteriorate.

There are several indicators that a chimney may need a Level 2 inspection. These include changes to the fuel type, flue size or shape, additions or replacements of appliances with dissimilar input ratings and efficiency, and any other structural or operation-related change that requires a thorough evaluation of the chimney. In addition, a Level 2 inspection is required before selling a home and after any chimney fire or external event that is likely to have damaged the structure or impacted its ability to function.

The chimney should be free of rust, cracks, and other signs of damage that can compromise its structural integrity. In addition, the flue lining should be free of cracks and holes that could potentially allow hazardous gases to leak into the house. The chimney should be well-sealed and able to accommodate the varying temperatures of hot, smoky fires.

A chimney should also be inspected for signs of a previous chimney fire. These can be detected during a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection and include cracked flue tiles, a honeycomb appearance to the creosote, or a deteriorated chimney rain cap.

Finally, a chimney should be inspected for the safety of pets and children. The flammable byproducts of wood-burning fires can pose a danger to young children who might play with or near the fireplace or chimney. In addition, a poorly constructed or unsecured chimney can allow animals to enter the house and make nests.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a dangerous and often fatal condition. It can build up inside your home from a variety of sources, including gas fireplaces and chimneys. A damaged chimney, a leaking chimney, or even a clogged flue can block the flow of CO into and out of your home, causing dangerous CO levels to build up inside. It’s important to have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned regularly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

During a Level 1 inspection, your chimney sweep will check all of the readily accessible parts of your fireplace and chimney structure, including the flue. A Level 2 inspection is typically required if you’re using a different fuel type, changing the shape or material of your flue, or making any other changes to your fireplace or stove. It’s also recommended that you get a Level 2 inspection if it has been more than a year since your last inspection or if you’ve recently experienced an event that could have affected the functioning of your chimney.

Your chimney can be a source of carbon monoxide poisoning if it’s blocked or clogged with soot and creosote. In addition, a damaged chimney liner or a chimney that is too short for proper venting can allow CO to enter your home.

A professional chimney sweep will be able to detect these and other issues that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. You can also protect your family by installing CO detectors and having a professional conduct annual chimney inspections.

If you’re looking for a local CSIA-certified chimney sweep to inspect your chimney, give us a call today! We’re proud to serve homeowners throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond. We offer a wide range of chimney services, from routine chimney cleaning to masonry repair and more. We’re fully licensed and insured, and we hold ourselves to the highest safety standards through our reputable membership with the CSIA. Contact us now to schedule an appointment or to learn more about our chimney and fireplace services! We look forward to hearing from you!

Beatrice Jacobson