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.
Level 1 inspections
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 2 Inspections
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 3 Inspections
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.
Safe Home Heating: Avoiding Carbon
It’s so easy … so automatic … that people just don’t think about
it. Every year, when the weather turns cold, homeowners reach
for household thermostats, flip a switch to turn on the heat and
set the temperature to 68 or 70 degrees. Little thought is given
to whether the furnace exhaust system – the chimney and
connector pipe – is ready to provide safe, effective service.
Consumer confidence in the convenience and safety of today’s
home heating systems is usually well-placed. The oil and gas
heating industries have achieved impressive safety records.
Nonetheless, over 200 people across the nation are known to die
each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by problems in
the venting – out of their homes – of toxic gases produced by
their heating systems. This is according to statistics compiled
by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Other agencies
estimate actual numbers at between 2,000 and 4,000. In addition,
around 10,000 cases of carbon monoxide-related "injuries" are
diagnosed each year. Because the symptoms of prolonged,
low-level carbon monoxide poisoning "mimic" the symptoms of
common winter ailments (headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue,
and even seasonal depression), many cases are not detected until
permanent, subtle damage to the brain, heart and other organs
and tissues has occurred. The difficulty of diagnosis also means
the numbers of people affected may be even higher. Fortunately,
regular chimney system inspection and maintenance can prevent
poisoning incidents like these.
What Carbon Monoxide Does to You
Too much carbon monoxide in your blood will kill you. Most of us
know to try to avoid this. Less well known is the fact that
low-level exposure to this gas also endangers your health. One
of the truths of our human bodies is that, given a choice
between carbon monoxide and oxygen, the protein hemoglobin in
our blood will always latch on to carbon monoxide and ignore the
life-giving oxygen. Because of this natural chemical affinity,
our bodies – in effect – replace oxygen with carbon monoxide in
our bloodstream, causing greater or lesser levels of cell
suffocation depending on the intensity and duration of exposure.
The side-effects that can result from this low-level exposure
include permanent organ and brain damage. Infants and the
elderly are more susceptible than healthy adults, as are those
with anemia or heart disease. The symptoms of low-level carbon
monoxide poisoning are so easily mistaken for those of the
common cold, flu or exhaustion, that proper diagnosis can be
delayed. Because of this, be sure to see you physician about
persistent, flulike symptoms, chronic fatigue or generalized
depression. If blood levels of carbon monoxide are found to be
high, treatment is important. Meanwhile, it makes good sense to
put heating system inspection and maintenance on your annual
get-ready-for winter list. Prevention is the best cure.
Causes of Heating System Problems
Why is poisoning from carbon monoxide on the rise? And why does
it stem primarily from home heating systems that – at first
glance – seem the same as those that have been used safely for
• Today’s houses are more air-tight. Homeowners are aware of
the cost of heating drafty homes and have taken steps to seal up
windows, doors and other areas of air infiltration.
Consequently, there is less fresh air coming into a home and not
as many pathways for stale or polluted air to leave it. And,
when furnaces and boilers are starved of the oxygen needed to
burn fuels completely, carbon monoxide is produced.
• Manufacturers have designed new, high-technology heating
appliances whose greater efficiency helps us save money,
conserve natural resources and decrease environmental pollution.
However, the new breed of high-efficiency gas and oil furnaces –
when hooked up to existing chimney flues – often does not
perform at an optimum level. The differences in performance
create conditions that allow toxic gases to more easily enter
home living spaces.
• The above conditions point out a number of older, ongoing
problems that still require detection and correction in order to
prevent toxic gases from filtering into the house. These include
damaged or deteriorating flue liners, soot build-up, debris
clogging the passageway, and animal or bird nests obstructing
chimney flues. Caring for Your Chimneys & Flues When gas and oil
burn in vented heating systems – in order to produce household
heat – the dangerous fumes that are by-products of combustion
range from soot (particulate matter) to nitrogen dioxide (also
toxic) to acidic water vapors formed when moisture condenses.
None of these pollutants should be allowed to leak from the
chimney into your living space. In addition to carrying off
toxic gases, chimneys also create the draft (flow of air) that
provides the proper air and fuel mixture for efficient operation
of the heating appliance – whether a furnace or boiler.
Unfortunately, many chimneys in daily use in homes throughout
the country either are improperly sized or have conditions that
make them unable to perform their intended function.
Chimney Problems to Avoid
Oil and gas furnaces have distinct burning characteristics and
produce different combustion by-products. However, the chimneys
and connector pipes that serve them share common problems. Both
systems are subject to weathering, animal invasions,
deterioration and rust-out and the accumulation of nest
materials and debris. Both require regular care and maintenance.
Oil flues need to be cleaned and inspected annually because
deposits of soot may build up on the interior wall of the
chimney liner. The amount of soot depends on how well-tuned the
furnace is and whether the house provides sufficient air for
combustion. Excessive soot causes problems that range from
chimney fires … to flue deterioration … to chimney blockages
that direct toxic fumes back into the house and cause
inefficient furnace operation.
Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, but today’s high-efficiency
gas furnaces pose a special problem. The fumes they produce are
cooler and contain high levels of water vapor, which are more
likely to cause condensation than older models. Since these
vapors also contain chlorides picked up from house-supplied
combustion air, the flues are subjected to more corrosive
conditions than before Even worse, many gas appliances today use
chimneys that once served oil furnaces. If the liners of these
chimneys are made of terra cotta (a fired clay commonly used in
chimney construction), bits and pieces of them slowly flake off
under corrosive conditions. The combination of water-laden gas
vapors available to mix with old oil soot deposits speeds this
process, and debris that can block the chimney builds up at the
bottom of the flue. To the extent that problems with either of
these heating systems interfere with the flow of toxic gases and
particles out of the house, they may also force carbon monoxide,
fumes and possibly soot into the living spaces of your home.
They may cause a one-time, high-level exposure situation or
release smaller amounts more regularly over a longer period.
These problems should never be ignored.
In the United States, numerous agencies and organizations now
recognize the importance of annual heating system inspection and
maintenance in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. The U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, the National Fire Protection Association, and
the American Lung Association – are some of the organizations
that now encourage the regular maintenance of home heating
systems and their chimneys in order to keep "the silent killer"
An overlooked heating
system can produce death and heartbreak. Considering the risks
involved when gas or oil systems are neglected - and the
benefits that accrue when they are properly maintained - you
would do well to have your chimneys checked annually by a CSIA
Certified Chimney Sweep® … and cleaned or repaired as needed.
This can keep illness or death from carbon monoxide poisoning
from claiming you or those you love.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is a non-profit
educational foundation that has established the only nationally
recognized certification and accreditation program for chimney
sweeps in the United States. The program was developed in
keeping with the CSIA's commitment to the safety of chimney and
venting systems and to the elimination of residential chimney
fires, carbon monoxide intrusion and other chimney and
vent-related safety hazards. The CSIA devotes its resources to
educating the public, chimney service professionals and other
fire prevention specialists, and the insurance industry about
the prevention and correction of chimney and venting system