Before enjoying the warmth of a cozy fire this winter, it’s a good idea to have a chimney inspection performed, especially if the chimney hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Creosote is a combustible deposit left behind as wood smoke condenses from a blazing fire. Over time, the creosote build-up can restrict airflow, creating even more deposits. This process can damage the fireplace chimney. Creosote build-up is also a major cause of chimney fires.
Upon requesting an inspection, the chimney inspector comes prepared to visually inspect the inside of the chimney using special lighting. In recent years, higher levels of inspections have included the use of chimney inspection cameras. These systems are called video scanners and are designed to record imagery from inside the chimney, documenting the interior condition and highlighting defects or problem areas. The camera system can also be used after the chimney has been cleaned to ensure there is no residue left behind.
Once the inspector determines the scope of the work, they use rods, wire brushes, and high powered vacuum systems to remove creosote and soot along the walls, from corners, ledges and other hard-to-reach areas.
In cases in which the creosote has hardened and can’t be swept away, a chemical may be applied to the glaze to break it down. After allowing several days for the chemicals to process, the inspector will return to vacuum out the deposits that remain. During the last visit, the inspector will apply a chemical neutralizer and perform a final sweep.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), inspections can fall into one of three categories. A level-one chimney inspection includes a visual check of the fireplace and chimney using extra illumination, but not requiring a trip up to the roof. The inspector will be looking for creosote build-up, soot, chimney damage or obstructions from animal nests or other debris. If the chimney needs cleaning, an inspector can perform the action during the visit for a cost of $100 to $200.
A level-two chimney inspection might be considered in cases of earthquake or other dramatic weather conditions, or if the home has been recently purchased. In these cases, the inspector will include a visit to the roof, attic or crawl space to check conditions, and will utilize scanning equipment and other tools. If feasible, the chimney can be cleaned at the same time, or another visit can be scheduled for additional clean-up. A level-two inspection can range from $200 to $500.
A level-three inspection might be necessary when major damage has been done to a chimney — for example in cases of a chimney fire. It can involve tearing down and replacing parts of the chimney, and may cost from $1000 to $5000.