7 Things to Know About Fireplace Inspections—Including Why They’re So Important

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Updated February 11, 2022
large white living room with stone fireplace
Photo: PC Photography/ iStock/ Getty Images

Highlights

  • You need a fireplace inspection at least once a year.

  • Book a fireplace inspection whenever you replace or upgrade your heating system.

  • Book an emergency inspection if you suspect damage to your fireplace or chimney.

  • You should book a chimney sweep to coincide with your fireplace inspection.

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Your fireplace isn't ready to go for the season just because you've added your favorite decor to the mantel. If it's been more than a year since your last professional fireplace inspection, you're (literally) playing with fire every time you get that roar going. Here are seven things to know about fireplace and chimney inspections, including why it’s important to book them regularly.

1. Fireplaces Can Cause House Fires

Regular fireplace inspections can spot problems that could lead to a house fire. Fireplaces and chimneys are responsible for about 30% of fires caused by heating equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Those beautiful orange flames that bring you joy when they’re dancing behind your hearth create a substance called creosote. Creosote is a black-brown combustion residue that layers inside your chimney's flue liner. This ultra-flammable layer will catch on fire if it has the chance to build up. An inspector can determine whether your fireplace and chimney are clogged with this combustible material. 

2. There Are Three Levels of Fireplace Inspections

Make sure you know what to ask for when contacting a local fireplace inspector

Level 1: The first tier is called a Level 1 inspection, and it covers all the visible areas that don't require tools for access. It may be all that's necessary if your fireplace appears to be in good shape without any damage.

Level 2: Changing or upgrading your heating system? You'll probably need a Level 2 inspection, which is also necessary if your fireplace sustains any type of damage. A pro should come equipped with a video-scanning device to look at your joists.

Level 3: This is the most in-depth fireplace inspection you can get. Your fireplace pro will check out hard-to-reach areas. It may be necessary to cut into drywall to reach spots that require a closer glance.

3. You Should Get a Fireplace Inspection Once a Year

The NFPA suggests that fireplaces and chimneys undergo inspections at least once per year. Annual inspections represent the bare minimum. If you suspect that something is damaged or failing within your fireplace structure, it's important to have an inspection done right away to avoid fire dangers.

4. Animals Can Cause Fireplace Damage

squirrel on roof
Photo: leekris/ iStock/ Getty Images

Small animals routinely seek out the warmth and security of chimneys. Squirrels, mice, and birds can all easily access the entry points of chimneys by scaling trees or siding. Unfortunately, they may make nests composed of twigs, leaves, lint, and other combustible materials. In addition, an animal or nest that is blocking airflow can cause carbon monoxide to build up.

5. You Can Replace a Fireplace

If you’re not in love with your fireplace, there’s good news—you can replace it. But if it’s just in need of a few tweaks, there's a good chance that you can repair it as long as it’s structurally sound. An inspector can talk you through your options when it comes to repairing vs. replacing a fireplace. You might also consider upgrading your fireplace if you simply want high-tech options. Some new innovations that may sway you toward a fireplace replacement include:

  • Touch controls

  • Passive heat

  • Heat management systems

  • Aesthetically pleasing logs

  • Black glass

Newer fireplaces can help cut back on your heating bill, especially if you work from home and use it as a primary heating source. A new fireplace can also increase your home's appeal if you're planning to sell in the future.

If you have an outdated fireplace, you may find that getting a new fireplace that looks like it came straight from an Aspen lodge is a better option if the cost to repair a fireplace of your style is high.

6. A Fireplace Inspection Always Goes With a Chimney Inspection

man on roof inspecting chimney
Photo: brizmaker/ Adobe Stock

Make sure the professional you're bringing in can do a full-scale fireplace inspection complete with a thorough chimney inspection that covers all mechanical and structural components. These are the four points that a chimney sweep should be hit:

  • Buildup

  • Obstruction

  • Damage

  • Structural issues

Most fireplace-caused house fires are due to obstructions along with cracks or other underlying structural issues.

7. You Should Do Your Own Fireplace Maintenance Between Inspections

There's no replacement for a professional fireplace inspection. However, you can keep your home even safer by doing these essential fireplace maintenance steps:

  • Dust the inside of your fireplace

  • Look for cracks in your brick

  • Consider having a fireplace damper installed 

  • Use the right wood

  • Store wood properly

  • Replace damaged screens

DIY isn't usually the best path with something as important as a fireplace. Your most important DIY fireplace task is simply to be vigilant about spotting any changes that could require expert guidance.

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