Posts tagged with "Inspection"

The Three Levels of Chimney Inspections

Chimney Inspection

source: CSIA

Article contributed by Ashbusters Chimney Service, fellow chimney experts whose knowledge in this topic comes from several years of chimney inspections performed in Charleston, SC.

When we think of a fire in the fireplace, it brings to mind images of comfort, warmth and safety. There is little that compares to the relaxing feeling of sitting by a warm fire in the comfort of your home on a cold night. But, as responsible homeowners, we must never take fire safety for granted. Before you use your fireplace, it is critical that you have a chimney inspection so that you can be sure that your chimney is not a fire hazard.

These inspection levels have been classified by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and they are the standard upon which certified chimney sweeps base their work.

Level 1
A level 1 chimney inspection is the most common type of chimney inspection. If you have used your fireplace regularly in the past without experiencing any problems, a level 1 inspection is appropriate. With a level 1 inspection, the chimney technician will examine the readily accessible portions of your chimney. This means the technician will perform a visual inspection with a flashlight, examining all areas of your chimney and flue that can be viewed without any special tools. Your technician may use common tools such as a screwdriver or pliers to examine any openings, but there should be no damage to any structures or finishes.

Parts of your chimney that should be examined in a level 1 inspection include:

  • Portions of the chimney exterior
  • Portions of the chimney interior
  • Accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection

In short, your chimney technician will be examining the chimney to make sure that the basic structure is intact and there are no visible signs of damage. In this inspection, your technician should also verify that there are no obstructions or combustible materials in your chimney.

Level 2
If you are making any changes in the way you use your chimney, such as changing the type of fuel used, relining the flue, or if you’ve had any accidents or external events that may have caused damage, a level 2 chimney inspection is needed. If you’ve had a building fire, chimney fire or an earthquake, you will need to have a level 2 inspection preformed. Also, a level 2 inspection of the chimney is required before you sell your property.

As you probably assumed, a level 2 inspection is more detailed than level 1. A level 2 chimney inspection includes all of the visual examination included in a level 1 inspection, plus some additional work including examination of the attic, crawlspace and other accessible areas. In a level 2 inspection, a video camera or other device may be used to examine the flue and check for cracks or damage to the joints in the chimney’s structure. There should be no removal of the structure or permanent damaged caused to your chimney in a level 2 inspection.

Level 3
The level 3 chimney inspection is the most comprehensive type of chimney inspection. In addition to all of the checks preformed in level 1 and level 2 inspections, a level 3 will also examine the concealed areas of the chimney. This inspection may also include the removal of certain parts of the building or chimney structure if necessary. For example, the chimney crown or parts of the interior chimney wall may have to be removed in order to perform the in-depth inspection required for a level 3. This type of inspection is performed when serious damage to the chimney is suspected.

For more information about chimney inspections and safety standards, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Get additional information at ashbusterscharleston.com.

Chimney Caps and Chimney Crowns: Chimney Masonry Maintenance 101

Chimney Caps & Chimney Crowns: Essential to Masonry Chimney Maintenance

Proper maintenance of masonry chimneys extends past the brick work. Chimney caps and chimney crowns are both important for the longevity of your masonry and the safety of your home. Both caps and crowns help protect your masonry chimney interior and flue from precipitation, and the damage freeze and thaw cycles cause.

Chimney Crown with Flue Caps

Chimney with crown and 2 capped flues

Chimney Crowns

The chimney crown is placed atop the masonry chimney as a form of protection against the weather. As crowns withstand a lot of abuse, they need to be made out of a solid material; most commonly, chimney crowns are made of poured concrete and free from cracks and crumbling.

As its primary purpose is to protect your chimney, it should overhang the masonry by at least 2 inches. The top should gently slope away from the chimney opening, encouraging precipitation to run away from the chimney interior. The overhang prevents this water from running down the masonry, and a slight ridge build into the underside of the masonry further encourages the water to drip onto the roof rather than reach the masonry.

Chimney Caps

Copper Chimney Cap

Jim and a shiny new copper chimney cap

Chimney crowns do not cover the chimney interior. Chimney caps serve this purpose. Generally made of metal, they are installed just inside the chimney opening and extend well above the chimney to allow proper venting and draft. They prevent water from falling directly into your chimney, and also help keep out birds and small animals attracted to the warmth.

While most chimney caps are relatively simple, they are not always interchangeable. Chimney caps can affect your chimneys draft and certain styles work better than others with different vent sources.

For example, wood burning fireplaces or fireplace inserts produce creosote and other combustible solids. Not only will these accumulate in your flue, they will also build up your chimney cap. This is specifically a problem if your chimney cap has a protective mesh. As it accumulates, it causes draft problems that can make your fireplace unpleasant and unsafe.

Top Sealing Dampers

Top Sealing Damper

Up close and personal with a top sealing damper

In addition to simple cap styles, you have the option of added functionality. Top sealing dampers, otherwise known as “Top Dampers”, serve the function of both cap and damper. They affix to the top of your chimney much like any other cap, but can be opened and closed to allow venting. These easy to use top sealing dampers are connected to a switch near the fireplace, and with a quick pull of a lever the damper opens and closes. They’re constructed to prevent small animals from entering the chimney when open while shedding most rain, and to seal tight against water and air when closed.

While these top sealing dampers are of particular interest in older homes where the original damper is missing or broken, they can be of great benefit to most homes. They increase energy efficiency by preventing heat loss and down drafts. Relatively simple to install, most homeowners are surprised by how much top sealing dampers can save them in energy costs.

Chimney caps and crowns are an important component of masonry chimney maintenance. If you have any questions about chimney caps, crowns, or top sealing dampers, contact a trusted chimney professional. And of course, if you’re in the market for a trusty chimney professional in the Washington D.C. area, we’d love to work with you to ensure your chimney is safe and functional.

Chimney Inspections | Self Inspection

Chimney Inspection: Midyear Self Inspection

An annual chimney inspection is important to ensure proper safety. While these inspections will highlight your biggest problems areas, damage and fire hazards can show up throughout the year. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on these important problem areas throughout the year. If any signs of damage appear, contact your chimney professional for a midyear inspection.

Masonry

The masonry should be free of excessive cracks and should look sturdy. Cracks and improper sealing can allow for water and ice damage, which will ruin the structural integrity of your chimney.

Flue

Poured-in-place or clay tile flues should be free of cracks, chips and improper sealing. A metal liner should be free of rust spots. Even small cracks or patches of rust should be looked at by a professional. These problems can allow combustive gases and sparks into your home.

Creosote and soot deposits should be monitored, as an accumulation of these can lead to chimney fires. Additionally, if you have an old home, inspect how such things as your dryer are vented. If dryers are vented into the bottom of the flue, it is easy for the vent to be blocked by falling debris. Blocked vents are a huge fire hazard.

Hardware

Missing or damaged chimney caps will need replaced or repaired by a licensed professional. Chimney caps protect your flue from water damage while preventing sparks from landing on your roof or yard. A missing chimney cap is a significant fire hazard.

Metal flashing around your chimney should not be loose or covered in excessive tar or caulking. Loose flashing allows for water damage, whereas an excessive amount of tar or caulking could be a sign of previous water damage. If you notice either of these problems midyear, but haven’t talked to your chimney inspector about it, give them a call and see if they investigated it during their annual inspection. Water damage to your chimney is costly, and can be a fire hazard.

Ensure that cleanout doors are present and working properly. They should easily open and close. Missing or malfunctioning cleanout doors need replaced. Dampers should be free of rust damage, and easily moved.
Vents from previously used equipment such as woodstoves should be securely blocked off if no longer in use.

Draft

While looking over your chimney, there are some aspects that will be difficult for you to fully gauge. One of the most important aspects of a properly functioning chimney is the draft. With a weak draft, the combustible gases, creosote, soot and smoke do not leave the chimney easily. Sometimes, these fire byproducts are pushed back into the home. When your chimney is full of smoke and creosote, this might be unpleasant, but if you have an accumulation of carbon monoxide in your home, this problem could be deadly.

If smoke downdrafts into your home, ensure your chimney and fireplace have no missing pieces and that the chimney is not blocked by debris or creosote. If no cause of the downdraft can be found, contact a professional to inspect your chimney’s draft. If problems are present, they will be able to suggest ways to increase the draft.

This basic overview of problem areas in your chimney is meant to help you maintain a safe fireplace and chimney in between annual inspections. It is not exhaustive enough to cover all the potential problems that could occur throughout the year. If you find any of the above problems, or come across something not mentioned here, please contact a trusted professional to ensure your home is a safe, healthy place for you and your family.

Why Your Annual Chimney Maintenance Includes Exterior Inspection

Your annual chimney maintenance is an important part of upkeep in your home. And this visit by a qualified technician should always include an exterior inspection. The condition of your chimney will determine the overall efficiency of your fireplace or wood stove and should be closely monitored in case repairs are needed.

Annual Chimney Maintenance: What Could Be Wrong With The Chimney Exterior?

Over time the mortar used on the exterior of your chimney will break down and wear away. This is especially true for the area around the chimney caps. Because this surface is flat, water can collect without running away and gravity and force make short work of any weak or deteriorating mortar joints.

When this occurs – even one small crack – the entire chimney may be at risk. Water will enter the chimney, and possibly your attic, damaging the materials and presenting a risk of mold and mildew growth.

Vertical Problems Need To Be Fixed As Well

Crumbling brick and mortar on the vertical part of your chimney should also be repaired right away. An experienced chimney sweep will be able to climb up onto the roof and have a good look at the exterior. Repairs may be small and quick or extensive and expensive, but in any case they should be done without delay.

Letting your chimney deteriorate will result in less efficiency, more smoke and more hassle when lighting and maintaining your fire. It will also result in an unattractive view that could age your home prematurely.

Always be sure that your annual chimney maintenance includes a thorough inspection of the chimney’s exterior. Plan to tackle any necessary repairs right away and keep a record of the condition to monitor overall wear and tear. These steps will ensure the optimal performance of your entire hearth.