Home Inspection, Fireplaces

Do Home Inspectors Check Fireplaces & Chimneys?

Key Takeaways:

  • A standard home inspection includes a visual inspection of the fireplace’s accessible parts.
  • An in-depth analysis of the chimney’s internal structure may require a certified chimney inspector.
  • Homeowners should understand the limitations of a home inspection regarding fireplaces and chimneys.

Home inspectors check fireplaces and chimneys, but the extent and depth of these inspections can vary significantly. The primary role of a home inspector is to identify visible issues and potential safety hazards in various home components, including the fireplace and chimney.

Their inspection is often limited to a visual assessment and does not delve into the more detailed inspection that a certified chimney specialist would conduct.

How Inspectors Check Fireplaces and Chimneys

Home inspectors typically look for obvious signs of problems with fireplaces and chimneys, such as:

  • Visible damage to the fireplace or chimney structure
  • Signs of creosote buildup
  • Obvious blockages or obstructions
  • Damage to the chimney crown, cap, or spark arrestor
  • Cracks in the firebox or loose bricks
  • Rusty chase covers or broken dampers in factory-built units

Home inspectors generally do not have the specialized tools or expertise to thoroughly examine the chimney’s internal workings or identify issues that are not visible. For instance, they can’t assess the integrity of the flue liner or detect hidden combustibles warped from heat exposure.

Related reading: What Do Home Inspectors Look For?

Do Home Inspectors Check Fireplaces

The Need for a Certified Chimney Inspection

A Level 2 inspection performed by a certified chimney specialist is recommended for a more comprehensive evaluation of a fireplace and chimney, especially when buying or selling a home.

This type of inspection includes examining both the external and internal sections of the chimney and fireplace, using video equipment to inspect the inside of the chimney, and accessing areas like the roof, attic, and crawl spaces to assess the condition of the chimney fully.

A certified chimney and fireplace inspection can uncover issues a standard home inspection might miss, such as:

  • The structural integrity of the chimney
  • Excess creosote buildup could lead to a fire
  • Obstructions that could impede airflow
  • The condition of the chimney liner, cap, crown, and damper

These detailed inspections are crucial for ensuring the safety and functionality of the fireplace and chimney, identifying potential problems leading to costly repairs or dangerous situations in the future.

The scope of a standard home inspection covers the general condition of the fireplace, checking for obvious structural issues or safety concerns. However, it does not include thoroughly examining internal flue linings or the potential for hidden damage inside the chimney.

For an exhaustive inspection of the chimney and its internal components, homeowners may need to hire a qualified chimney specialist who can conduct a more detailed analysis using specialized equipment.

Knowing what to expect from your home inspection and the limitations concerning fireplace and chimney assessments can prevent future misunderstandings about the extent of the inspection services provided.

Understanding the Scope of Home Inspections

When considering a home inspection, it’s essential to understand what is typically included.

General Inspection Coverage

Home inspections are thorough visual examinations of a house’s physical structure and systems, from the foundation to the roof. An experienced home inspector is trained to evaluate various components within a property to determine their current condition. Here are the key elements you can expect your inspector to check:

  • Structural Elements: This includes the integrity of the foundation, basement, and crawl space, ensuring the stability of the entire structure.
  • Safety Concerns: A home inspector looks for missing smoke detectors, failed GFCI outlets, asbestos materials, gas leaks, carbon monoxide, and mold, which could pose health risks.
  • Systems and Components: Major aspects like the furnace, electrical panel, plumbing, and electrical systems are reviewed for functionality and code compliance. For example:
    • Electrical System: Includes inspection of wiring, outlets, and the condition of the electrical panel.
    • Plumbing: Reviews visible piping, fixtures, and drains, focusing on the function and flow.

Inspection Standards and Regulations

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) establishes the Standards of Practice that define the scope of a home inspection. These guidelines ensure all inspected elements — from the structure and roof to the interior and insulation — meet a consistent quality standard. Here’s what they entail:

  • Standards of Practice: ASHI’s checklist includes specific items inspectors must examine, such as roofing, exterior, garage door opener, and interior spaces like bathrooms.
  • Regulations: Inspectors often must adhere to local codes regarding permits and repairs, which affect the scope of work and how they report their findings.

Insurance and experience greatly influence the quality and thoroughness of the inspection, as well as the ability to identify signs pointing to bigger issues, ensure your safety, and be informed about potential repairs.

Levels of Fireplace and Chimney Inspections

Fireplace and chimney inspections are categorized into three levels by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Each level of inspection serves a different purpose and is appropriate under different circumstances.

Level 1 Chimney Inspection

A Level 1 inspection is the most basic and is recommended under normal conditions of use when you plan to use your chimney as you have in the past without any changes. This inspection includes:

  • Examining all readily accessible portions of the chimney’s interior and exterior, ensuring the structure’s and flue’s basic soundness
  • Checking for obstructions and verifying the chimney is free of combustible deposits. If necessary, a cleaning service or Level 2 inspection may be recommended.

This basic fireplace inspection is included in a standard home inspection.

Level 2 Chimney Inspection

A Level 2 inspection is more detailed and is required when any changes are made to the system, such as a change in the type of fuel used, changes to the shape or material of the flue, or replacement of an appliance with one of the different specifications.

It is also necessary after damage to the chimney, such as a building fire, chimney fire, earthquake, or severe weather event.

A Level 2 inspection is also required in some states upon the sale or transfer of a property. This inspection includes:

  • Everything in a Level 1 inspection, plus the attic, crawlspaces, and other accessible areas.
  • A video camera or other device may examine the flue and check for cracks or damage.
  • Cleaning to remove soot and creosote buildup in the chimney may be necessary to inspect the chimney flue or lining correctly.

Level 3 Chimney Inspection

A Level 3 inspection is the most comprehensive and is conducted when serious damage to the chimney is suspected. It includes:

  • All the checks were performed in Level 1 and Level 2 inspections, plus an examination of concealed areas of the chimney.
  • It may involve the removal of parts of the building or chimney structure, such as the chimney crown or parts of the interior chimney wall, to gain access to inaccessible areas in a less invasive inspection.

Specifics of Fireplace Inspection

When you schedule a home inspection, it’s crucial to ensure the inspection thoroughly covers the safety and functionality of your fireplace. The following subsections detail what aspects of your fireplace will be assessed.

Structural Integrity of the Fireplace

The foundation and overall structure of your fireplace are critical for safety. Your home inspector will closely examine the fireplace to identify cracks or damage within the walls and structure. This includes assessing the condition of brick or other materials used in the fireplace’s exterior.

Chimney and Flue Examination

A vital part of the inspection involves checking the chimney and flue. The vent system must be clear of any obstruction, such as creosote buildup, which can be a fire hazard. The inspector will look for deterioration or blockage affecting the chimney’s ability to vent smoke correctly out of your home.

Evaluation of Fireplace Accessories

Fireplace accessories such as doors, screens, or coverings are not just for aesthetics; they serve functional roles. The inspection will include reviewing these components to ensure they operate correctly, are properly installed, and do not pose a safety threat. Features like ash dumps, which facilitate heating efficiency and maintenance, were also evaluated.

Fireplace Functionality Tests

During a fireplace inspection, functionality tests are performed to observe operational aspects. For gas fireplaces, this includes checking the condition of pilot lights and confirming there is no risk of carbon monoxide leakage. The inspector will also test for appropriate smoke ventilation and the opening and closing mechanism of the flue.

These focused examinations are essential to a home inspector’s process, ensuring your fireplace operates safely and effectively.

Ancillary Systems Related to Fireplaces

Your home inspector’s evaluation of fireplaces extends beyond the hearth to include essential ancillary systems to ensure safety and functionality. These components, like ventilation and potential fire hazards, play a crucial role in the overall performance of your fireplace.

Ventilation and Air Flow

Proper ventilation is fundamental for the safe operation of your fireplace. Your home inspector will check the chimney and vent systems to ensure they are clear of obstructions and adequately sized to efficiently expel smoke and gases, like carbon monoxide, from your home.

Verifying air conditioning systems or other air flow sources do not adversely impact the fireplace’s ventilation is important.

  • Chimney Inspection: Examining the interior lining for cracks or damage, allowing heat, smoke, or moisture to escape.
  • Vent Efficiency: Ensures vents are drawing air effectively to support combustion and reduce the risk of carbon monoxide buildup.

Combustibles and Fire Hazards

Fireplaces require a careful assessment of nearby combustibles and fire hazards. Your inspector will scrutinize the area around the fireplace for materials such as siding, wiring, and gas lines, which pose a risk if they are too close to the heat source.

  • Clearance: Minimum distance guidelines for combustible materials are established to prevent fire risks.
  • Electrical Safety: Examine nearby electrical systems, including wiring and outlets, to ensure they are up to code and safely installed.

Common Fireplace Defects and Issues

Identifying defects early when dealing with fireplaces is important, as these can lead to significant safety concerns. Home inspectors typically look for various issues, from structural integrity to proper maintenance.

Visible Cracks and Structural Concerns

Cracks in the fireplace can be more than just an eyesore; they can signal serious structural problems. If you notice cracks in the firebox or on the chimney’s exterior, this could indicate the foundations or walls are compromised.

Structural integrity is paramount for safety and efficiency, and such defects often necessitate repairs to prevent further damage and ensure the fireplace functions correctly.

Signs of Improper Maintenance

A well-maintained fireplace has fewer safety risks and operational issues. Look for the accumulation of soot and creosote buildup, which are byproducts of burning wood. Excessive buildup in the flue or chimney can lead to dangerous chimney fires.

These materials suggest regular cleaning by a professional chimney sweep is overdue, essential for removing these flammable substances and minimizing the risk of carbon monoxide leakage.

Operational Failures and Malfunctions

Finally, when inspecting a fireplace, check for any signs of operational failures. If it’s a wood-burning fireplace, be sure the damper opens and closes smoothly, as it’s critical for controlling smoke and ensuring effective heating.

In a gas fireplace, observe the pilot lights to confirm they ignite properly, as malfunctioning pilot lights could lead to gas leaks or failure to detect carbon monoxide. Moreover, an operational check can identify issues with smoke emissions, which should draft upwards through the chimney without entering your living space.

Reading and Understanding the Inspection Report

When you receive an inspection report, it is crucial to understand the assessment details and follow-up actions, particularly concerning your fireplace. This section will guide you through interpreting the fireplace assessment in the report and determining appropriate recommendations and next steps.

Interpreting Fireplace Assessment

You can expect a detailed account of the fireplace’s condition in the inspection report. The home inspector will have evaluated key components such as the firebox’s integrity, the damper’s proper function, and the hearth’s condition.

Proper ventilation and the absence of blockages in the chimney will be addressed to ensure safety. Signs of wear, potential hazards, or deterioration will be noted and often captured visually in the report. Look for terms like “serviceable,” “needs repair,” or “satisfactory,” which can quickly signal the overall status of the fireplace.

  • Firebox Condition: Inspectors check for cracks or damage.
  • Damper Function: Should operate correctly, sealing when closed.
  • Chimney and Vent: Checked for blockages and structural integrity.
  • Hearth Condition: The area should be intact, with no immediate repairs needed.

Recommendations and Next Steps

If repairs are necessary, the report will highlight these, giving you a foundation for future action.

Repair recommendations may range from simple tasks you might address to more complex issues requiring professional attention.

Pay close attention to any mention of safety concerns; these should be prioritized. Consider the potential cost for each repair and seek estimates from qualified professionals if beyond your skill set.

The report might not include pricing, but it will serve as a valuable tool in understanding the scope of the work required.

  • Immediate Action: Address noted safety hazards promptly.
  • Professional Consultation: For serious issues, contact a certified chimney sweep.
  • Cost Estimation: You may need to contact a licensed contractor for detailed pricing on big repairs.
  • Vent Maintenance: Ensure vents are clear; routine maintenance may be advised.

Additional Inspections and Professional Services

Home inspections often cover a visual assessment of fireplaces, but for a more in-depth analysis or when issues are suspected, you might need additional, specialized inspections. Ensuring the safety and integrity of your fireplace may involve professionals beyond a standard home inspector.

When to Hire a Chimney Sweep

If your inspection report suggests the presence of creosote buildup or you have not conducted a cleaning recently, hiring a chimney sweep is crucial for maintaining safety. A professional chimney sweep will:

  • Thoroughly clean the chimney, removing creosote and soot buildup, posing a fire hazard.
  • Inspect for any obstructions in the chimney vent, such as bird nests, which can interfere with proper operation.

A chimney sweep often has specialized tools and techniques to assess the condition of the fireplace and chimney beyond what a home inspector might use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) lists over 2,000 CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweep® contractors.

Seeking a Structural Engineer’s Evaluation

Should your home inspector identify potential concerns with the structure of the fireplace, consulting a structural engineer is a prudent step. This may include situations where:

  • There are visible cracks in the chimney or fireplace, potentially extending to the walls or foundation.
  • The integrity of the chimney structure is questionable due to shifting, settling, or other indicators.

A structural engineer can offer a detailed analysis of the fireplace’s condition and recommend necessary repairs to ensure the structural safety of your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a standard home inspection include regarding fireplaces?

A standard home inspection typically involves visually examining the fireplace’s condition and checking for any obvious signs of damage or hazards. This includes inspecting the firebox, damper, and hearth. Inspectors also look for proper installation and any code violations.

Are chimney sweeps and inspections included during a home inspection?

Chimney sweeps are not included in a standard home inspection. While an inspector may visually examine a chimney for obvious issues, a detailed sweep and in-depth inspection often require a specialist trained in identifying specific chimney problems.

How often should a fireplace be inspected and cleaned?

We recommend a fireplace be inspected at least once a year and cleaned regularly to ensure safe operation. The frequency of cleaning can depend on the amount of fireplace used and the type of fuel burned.

How do I know if my fireplace is safe to use?

Signs a fireplace is unsafe include a buildup of soot or creosote, visible cracks or damage, odd smells when the fireplace is in use, and smoke entering the room instead of going up the chimney.

What can cause a fireplace to fail an inspection?

A fireplace can fail an inspection due to obstructed or damaged flue liners, structural issues, improper combustible clearances, or malfunctioning dampers. Also, lack of maintenance, which leads to excessive creosote buildup, can be a significant factor in failure.

Is a damaged chimney damper door unsafe?

A damaged chimney damper door is unsafe. It also allows an exit for heating and cooling, which can affect the comfort of the room.

Should I have a rain cap on my chimney?

Yes, it is recommended to have a rain cap on your chimney. Rain can enter the chimney flue and rust out the damper door.

Should I have a screen on my chimney?

Yes, you should have a screen on your chimney. The screen prevents birds, bats, and other vermin from nesting inside the chimney flue.

Do I need a cricket on my chimney?

While not universally required by building codes, a chimney cricket, or saddle, is a sloped structure installed behind chimneys wider than 30 inches to divert water and prevent pooling, thus protecting the chimney and roof from water damage and erosion.


Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.