If you have an general inspection done on your home or on a home you are thinking of buying and the inspector recommends having the chimney and fireplace checked out, don’t be alarmed. It is common that a general home inspector who sees that there is a working fireplace will suggest that the system be more thoroughly evaluated by a chimney specialist.
That does not necessarily mean that there is a problem – although that is always a possibility – but it does mean you need to heed the advice and have someone qualified take a closer look. After all, your general home inspector probably has no way to tell what is going on up inside the chimney without a more probing and invasive inspection. That’s why they may advise you to make an appointment with someone who is specially qualified and experienced in that area and who has the tools to do this kind of unique inspection.
Schedule an Inspection
First you will need to schedule an appointment with a qualified chimney sweep who can do a thorough inspection of your chimney, clean it if needed, and ensure that it will function safely while also maximizing your energy savings. A chimney that draws smoke properly helps your fireplace burn more efficiently, in other words, and that can cut down on your firewood costs while keeping you warmer this winter.
You may wonder how an inspector can see up the chimney, and that used to be a serious obstacle. But these days they use special tools such as video cameras that can get into all the nooks and crannies. That’s one of the reasons why a conscience general home inspector will recommend the hiring of a chimney specialist who is thoroughly equipped to deal with fireplace systems and has the knowledge and experience required.
What Chimney Sweeps Do
The role of the chimney sweep is to check the chimney for structural integrity and to make sure that the fireplace and chimney are working safely and doing an energy efficient job. They will check the interior surfaces to see if the chimney is clean and free of excess flammable debris such as creosote, which is a chemical byproduct of wood burning that can cake-up along the walls of the chimney. Not only does creosote build-up choke the chimney, making it harder to start and maintain a fire, but it can also burst into flames and cause a catastrophic house fire.
The inspection will also check to see that the chimney was built correctly and that any heated surfaces are safely insulated from contact with the walls of your home or any other surfaces that could catch fire. If there are any cracks or voids in the chimney or if the roof flashing is not up to code, the inspector will also report on those issues. The inspection should also check for chimney or fireplace ventilation problems that could allow accidental seepage of potentially lethal carbon monoxide, since this invisible, odorless chemical is a natural byproduct of fires.
How They Prepare
Many people think of a chimney sweep as a soot-covered fellow in a stove pipe hat, because that is how chimney sweeps have been portrayed for years in movies, plays, and novels. But the modern day chimney sweep is a highly trained professional who will probably arrive at your home in crisp, clean clothing and carrying a toolkit filled with rather cool high-tech equipment. These pros definitely do not want to wind up covered in soot and ashes at the end of the day.
More importantly, they want to make absolutely sure that they do not cause any of that debris to fill the rooms of your home and ruin your carpet, furniture, or drapes. So part of their job will be to cover the area in protective tarps, and most chimney sweeps use high-powered portable vacuums to literally suck the soot and ash out of your fireplace as it falls down the chimney, removing it before it ever has a chance to create a mess. If the chimney sweep you talk to about coming to your home does not, however, offer these kinds of protective measures as part of their standard service then you should probably hire someone else who does.
After the Inspection
Once the chimney sweep has done an inspection you will have to do as you did when you received your original general inspection report. Read over the report and talk to your chimney sweep. Either you will get a clean bill of health and go ahead and proceed with confidence that the fireplace system works as it should, or you will need to address any subsequent issues.
If the flashing is in need of repair, a roofer or other qualified contractor may be needed, for instance, and if the firebox inside the fireplace need work you may need to enlist a brick mason’s help. To be on the safe side you should have your chimney sweep conduct a follow-up inspection after other contractors finish their work, just to make sure everything is complete.