Chimney Inspections

radon illustration

Why are chimney inspections so important? Because most chimney fires are caused by dirty chimneys. Any time you burn wood, byproducts of combustion are formed. The byproduct we are most interested in is creosote – because it’s highly flammable and the cause of most chimney fires.

There are more than 25,000 reported chimney fires in the United States every year – causing an estimated $120 million worth of damage to homes.

(done with home inspection)

Ensuring that there is little to no creosote build-up in the chimney is the best way to reduce the potential for your home becoming a part of the chimney fire statistics. Creosote is formed when you burn wood. As the wood burns, the smoke produced by the fire, containing unburned wood particles cools as it passes through the chimney. As it cools, it leaves condensation on the walls of the flue lining in the form of, you guessed it, creosote.

Creosote is a black or brown residue that can be crusty and flaky, tar-like, drippy and sticky, or shiny and hardened. As it first starts to build up, it might be light and easy to remove; but, each time you have a fire in your fireplace, the creosote can build up, thicken, and glaze. Creosote is corrosive and can, over time, damage the flue liner. But because it is formed from unburned wood particles, the real concern with creosote is that it is highly flammable. If the temperature is right in the flue, the creosote can ignite. And chimneys are designed to contain smoke – not fire.

If you have a fire in your chimney, it can cause the tile liner to expand and crack. And the heat and fire escaping through those cracks into the attic, nearby walls, and other combustibles in the home is what can cause a house fire.

Gas fireplace chimneys also need to be inspected because their liners can deteriorate or develop cracks which cause the chimney to not work the way it’s supposed to. Any crack in a chimney can cause fire to escape into other areas of the home. The cracks can also prevent all the combustion air from going up the chimney – so it goes back into your home and can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide in the home.

EPA map of radon zones
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Another major cause of chimney fires probably won’t be a surprise to you: blockages caused by bird nests and other critters and their nesting materials can cause blockages and lead to chimney fires.

The good news about chimneys is that most chimney fires are preventable! The most important and simple thing you can do to reduce the risks associated with using your fireplace, furnace, or other fuel burning equipment, is to have regular chimney inspections. Simple as can be!

What happens on a chimney inspection? A real estate chimney inspection is a thorough inspection of the chimney system. The purpose is to assess the basic soundness of the chimney structure and to evaluate the accessible internal and external portions of the chimney and fireplace. During the inspection, the chimney sweep will look for flue obstructions, flammable buildup, leaks, and other potential defects with the system. They will also check for proper clearances from combustibles in accessible locations and do a video scan of the entire internal surface of the chimney flue.

When you know the condition of your chimneys and flues, and address them before you light a fire in your fireplace or use the other fuel burning equipment, you reduce the potential risks to your health and home. And you’re able to address any concerns before the damage has time to become so extensive that repairs are expensive and time-consuming to have completed.

When are chimney and flue inspections a good idea? Annually and when you make any changes to your fuel burning systems, you have obvious chimney problems, you have had a chimney fire, severe weather (i.e. an earthquake), and when moving into a new home (unless the seller of the home provides you with a recent chimney inspection report).

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Are you wondering why a home inspector doesn’t just do the chimney inspection as part of a home inspection? Home inspectors DO look at the chimney. However, they are not looking at the interior of the flue beyond what they can see just looking up with a flashlight. Putting a camera inside the flue to look for damage and defects is beyond the scope of a home inspection. Home inspectors are generalists – like primary care physicians – they know a little bit about everything. Most don’t have the intensive, focused training that chimney sweeps have.

Please feel free to give us a call for more information or to schedule a chimney inspection.

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