Until recently, the scope of work performed in the inspection or evaluation of a fireplace, stove or other venting system was generally up to the discretion of the chimney service technician. Professional service technicians now have an industry standard that removes much of that "discretion." The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has addressed the minimum chimney inspection standards in its latest publication (NFPA 211) concerning home heating appliances.
Inspections are now classified as Level 1 , Level 2 or Level 3 . Each level of inspection covers specific items depending on the individual appliance and venting system. Below is an explanation of the three levels of inspections and what services your chimney service technician should provide for each level.
NFPA divides the inspection procedure into three categories, or levels. The circumstances which give rise to the inspection determine what level of inspection is to be conducted. A Level I inspection is the most basic level of inspection while Level II and Level III inspections are progressively more detailed and comprehensive.
A Level I inspection is completed during each chimney cleaning, or sweeping.
Level I Inspection
A Level I inspection is the recommended level when an evaluation of the chimney system for continued service is needed and the conditions of use are not changing.
This could include:
Routine or annual evaluations of the venting system
An appliance connected to the system is being replaced with a similar appliance
During chimney cleaning or sweeping
A Level I inspection is limited to readily accessible portions of the venting system, and accessible portions of the connected appliance(s) and the chimney connection. The inspector will check the readily accessible portions of the chimney, its enclosing structure, and the flue. A Level I inspection includes verification that the flue is not blocked or significantly restricted.
- If your appliance or your venting system has not changed and you plan to use your system as you have in the past, then a Level 1 inspection is a minimum requirement. A Level 1 inspection is recommended for a chimney under continued service, under the same conditions, and with the continued use of the same appliance. In a Level 1 inspection, your chimney service technician should examine the readily accessible portions of the chimney exterior, interior and accessible portions of the appliance and the chimney connection. Your technician will be looking for the basic soundness of the chimney structure and flue as well as the basic appliance installation and connections. The technician will also verify the chimney is free of obstruction and combustible deposits.
Level II Inspection
A Level 2 inspection is more detailed and thorough than a Level I inspection and is the recommended inspection when conditions of use for the appliance or venting system are changing, or when a Level I inspection reveals the need for a more detailed inspection.
Several instances where a Level II inspection is specifically recommended include:
Replacement of an appliance with one of dissimilar type, input rating or efficiency
Prior to a flue relining
Upon sale or transfer of the property
After an event likely to have caused damage to the chimney, such as a chimney fire or other sudden occurrence event
A Level II inspection includes all of the requirements of a Level I inspection as well as the following:
Inspection of accessible areas of attics, basements, and crawlspaces
Accessible areas of the chimney exterior and interior
Accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection
Video scanning, or other thorough inspection, of the flue interior
Evaluation of the flue lining to determine that its material and sizing is appropriate for the appliances being served
Proper clearance to combustibles in the accessible areas listed above
Proper construction and condition of the chimney system in the accessible areas listed above
While the Level II inspection is a rather thorough inspection and requires access to many areas of the building, it does not require removal of permanent parts of the building, such as siding, chase covers or wall coverings.
– A Level 2 inspection is required when any changes are made to the system. Changes can include a change in the fuel type, changes to the shape of, or material in, the flue (i.e. relining), or the replacement or addition of an appliance of a dissimilar type, input rating or efficiency. Additionally, a Level 2 inspection is required upon the sale or transfer of a property or after an operation malfunction or external event that is likely to have caused damage to the chimney. Building fires, chimney fires, seismic events as well as weather events are all indicators that this level of inspection is warranted. A Level 2 inspection is a more in-depth inspection than a Level 1 inspection.– When a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection suggests a hidden hazard and the evaluation cannot be performed without special tools to access concealed areas of the chimney or flue, a Level 3 inspection is recommended. A Level 3 inspection addresses the proper construction and the condition of concealed portions of the chimney structure and the flue. Removal or destruction, as necessary, of permanently attached portions of the chimney or building structure will be required for the completion of a Level 3 inspection. A Level 2 inspection includes everything in a Level 1 inspection, plus the accessible portions of the chimney exterior and interior including attics, crawl spaces and basements. It will address proper clearances from combustibles in accessible locations.
There are no specialty tools (i.e. demolition equipment) required to open doors, panels or coverings in performing a Level 2 inspection. A Level 2 inspection shall also include a visual inspection by video scanning or other means in order to examine the internal surfaces and joints of all flue liners incorporated within the chimney. No removal or destruction of permanently attached portions of the chimney or building structure or finish shall be required by a Level 2 inspection.
Level III Inspection
A Level III inspection is the most detailed of all of the inspection types and includes inspection of concealed areas of the building. However, examination of concealed areas will be limited to areas reasonably suspected of containing hazards that cannot be evaluated otherwise.
A Level III inspection includes all areas covered in a Level I and Level II inspection, and inspection of concealed areas to investigate known or suspected problems. In as much as certain portions of a Level III inspection require destructive action to the building, the inspector will discuss these areas with the building owner prior to the inspection.
– A Level 3 inspection includes all the areas and items checked in a Level 1 and a Level 2 inspection, as well as the removal of certain components of the building or chimney where necessary. Removal of components (i.e., chimney crown, interior chimney wall) shall be required only when necessary to gain access to areas that are the subject of the inspection. When serious hazards are suspected, a Level 3 inspection may well be required to determine the condition of the chimney system.