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What is the Difference Between Chimney Inspections and Chimney Sweepings?

Sometimes there’s a big difference between the two, and sometimes there’s not. Inspections alone are evaluations of the fireplace/chimney structure (if its masonry built), fireplace/chimney installation (if its prefab manufactured) and the overall condition of either system. Sweeping removes any creosote deposits that have built up from use. Many chimney sweep professionals include a basic Level 1 inspection as part of the chimney sweep service. Chimney inspections and chimney sweeping each have their purpose and are both important to managing the risk of building a fire in the middle of your home.

How Often Should I Schedule a Chimney Inspection or Sweeping?

According to the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 (NFPA211), all fireplaces, chimneys, and vents should be “inspected annually and cleaned as needed” to monitor their condition in regards to operation, efficiency and safety factors. Inspectors are looking for cracks, leaks, creosote deposits, or any other potentially hazardous development since the last inspection. If the attached appliance (fireplace/stove/gas logs/dryer) has been heavily used, it should be monitored regularly. Heavy use is generally going to create more buildup of soot and/or creosote.

OK…so What Happens with Inspections and/or Sweepings?

Most professionals will protect your home with drop cloths in their work area and document what they find. After the inspection/sweeping, the homeowner should be provided with a condition report outlining any issues and recommendations for resolution of said issues. In addition, they will receive estimates for any recommended work that the service provider themselves can provide.

Inspections

According to NFPA 211 Standard, there are 3 different levels of chimney inspection:

  • Level 1 Inspections verify structural soundness and basic usability of the chimney. Many companies include a full Level 1 inspection as a courtesy when performing a sweeping. This inspection will identify any issues related to safety, usability, functionality and maintenance.
  • Level 2 Inspections include everything that is part of a Level 1 and more. It is more in-depth and includes a video scan, attic and foundation inspection, if those areas are accessible. NFPA says it must be part of a real estate transaction, whenever changing fuel types, installing a new appliance, or after a major weather event. Most home inspectors do not have the skills, tools, training or inclination to thoroughly inspect a chimney and fireplace. As a result, a buyer will want to hire a CSIA Certified chimney professional to check the chimney.
  • Level 3 Inspections are usually recommended after observing something “unexplained.” Therefore, there is a need to go into concealed areas to get an “explanation”. It may require removing chase covers or opening walls adjacent to the chimney. We also check for improper installation, structural defects or damage contributing to potentially hazardous conditions. We recommend this inspection if there are serious safety concerns.

Sweepings

  • Our considerate and efficient team will use drop cloths in the work area and traffic area to protect your home.
  • During the sweeping, our commercial, industry-specific, and professional vacuum system controls all of the dust.
  • We remove creosote deposits and debris from the flue system and fireplace with special tools.
  • Completion of a level 1 inspection.
  • If minor repairs are recommended and can be done at the time of sweeping, they will be done on the same visit – only with your authorization. Sometimes this can even provide savings. Otherwise, we leave an estimate for any recommended repairs with you on the spot or via email or post.
  • Our well-trained, professional chimney sweeps should leave your home looking and feeling like they haven’t even been there, except for the fact that the chimney is now swept and ready for use.

How Do I Know if I Need a Simple Inspection, Sweeping, or Both?

Well, the “experts” at the National Fire Protection Association and the Chimney Institute of America, both recommend an annual inspection of your chimney and appliances (fireplace, gas logs, wood stoves, furnaces, etc). After two to three years of annual inspections, we can recommend how often your system will need full service. We base this on your historical usage and the resulting condition of your chimney. Following the advice of your experienced CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep/technician is probably a good way to go. Annual inspections and regular sweepings as directed can help prevent costly repairs.

Let our trained professionals here at Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps | Bless Your Hearth help determine overall condition, need for maintenance, issues with functionality, and even project solutions for long-term issues. Regular inspections/maintenance guarantee your family’s enjoyment of your fireplace!

WAIT…WAIT…THERE’S LOOSE BRICK IN MY FIREPLACE!

You are cleaning out the fireplace after a long winter of burning fires in your fireplace.  You see that the mortar is loose or cracked and the back wall of the fireplace looks deteriorated.   The firebox, where you build your fires, is the part of your chimney system that gets the most use. However, it probably gets little attention except to remove ashes and sweep it out occasionally.  

Did you know that that dirty fireplace is probably one of the most important things about your fireplace system that keeps your house from burning down?  Think about it. How safe is it really to build a fire smack dab in the middle of a pile of sticks (2 x 4’s). That firebox keeps the fire you build in the middle of the house securely in its place.  If it fails, the result can be disastrous. 

The Design…

Design has a lot to do with many firebox problems.  If a firebox is built with inferior or incorrect materials or even shaped incorrectly, it won’t be able to perform its intended purpose.  

  • It may not keep the fire securely;
  • It may not vent the smoke efficiently;
  • It may not radiate heat into the room;
  • It may transfer too much heat to nearby combustible building materials.

When built correctly, the firebox should prevent heat transfer to the building materials, draft the exhaust up and out of the chimney, and radiate heat into your living area.

What to expect…

Over time, even if built properly, the firebox will deteriorate.  The brick can weaken or loosen with repeated heating and cooling, or if overfired on a regular basis.  If the chimney experiences a lot of water intrusion, water can weaken the refractory mortar between the firebrick.   Firebox damage can be minimized when you schedule annual chimney inspections.  During inspections, your technician will document any deterioration and monitor it annually.   Regular maintenance can interrupt serious issues and help you get as many years as possible from your fireplace before a rebuild will be necessary.

Schedule Spring Services Now…

If your fireplace’s time has come, Spring is a great time to have your firebox rebuilt.   Consider it an investment in the future and securing the value of your home. Rebuilding a deteriorated or badly designed firebox will keep your chimney system working efficiently, help to keep your family safe, and ensure many warm fuzzy winter evenings with loved ones.  

Spring scheduling will also allow you plenty of time if you’d like a fireplace upgrade.  Perhaps you’ve been considering completely new, efficient (heat producing) fireplace design.  Do it now and still be ready for next burning season. Schedule in Spring to avoid the Fall crunch, allow time for the rebuild, an inspection, and any necessary repairs to the rest of your system.

We are experienced.  At Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps|Bless Your Hearth, our lead masons have over 30 years of experience.  Not only are we determined to give you a finished product you’ll love, but we are determined to work to a standard that would make our Granddaddies proud.  

Call Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps|Bless Your Hearth today to have your fireplace system inspected and readied for next year’s cozy hearth experiences.