If you are buying or already own property with a fireplace, this article is for you! You will learn the codes and regulations governing real estate chimney inspections. Let’s begin with a brief overview of the fireplace itself.
Every fireplace manufacturer has a different expectations for safe distance between combustibles and their fireplace or wood stove. This makes the rules different for every installation of either product. But some rules apply to all types of fireplaces and wood stoves. These are national codes of clearance that must be met or exceeded by any listed product. Hang on. There’s more!
National standards do not apply in most circumstances these days because the manufacturer of the stove or fireplace has done its own private testing to surpass national minimum standards. Private testing is performed by a UL Certified laboratory, and provides the manufacturer of the fireplace or wood stove or gas stove or pellet stove with a UL Listing. This UL Listing is extremely important. You should know if your home heating appliance is UL Listed or not. This listing may be found on a sheet metal plate riveted to the body of the listed appliance. Try looking on the back or base pedastal or near the fireplace opening on the left or right side near the fire screen. If you have this plate, it is probably a listed appliance. Our Certified technicians must abide by the clearances indicated on the plate. We cannot reduce those minimum laboratory tested numbers by using national codes, because the listing process is what got these numbers reduced in the first place.
The Fire Department’s code book for wood stoves and fireplaces has a name, the NFPA 211. This is the National minimum standard. It indicates that there are 3 different levels of inspections that may be done for a fireplace or wood stove. You can go to the code book source website here, NFPA 211. We use this as our controlling document at Midtown Chimney Sweeps. The three levels are not surprisingly labeled Level I, Level II, and Level III, and increase in their invasiveness. Below is a disclaimer for our company and then a brief description of the 3 Levels of Inspections recognized by the NFPA 211.
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Hidden construction defects of many types may exist, and may not be discovered using only a Level I or Level II Inspection. These inspections are not intended as a guarantee of safety or the absence of hazards of use, and no guarantee is implied. There have been times when even a Level III inspection was not thorough enough. Needless to say, caution and common sense must be used when both performing inspections and when burning a solid-fuel burning appliance in a modern real estate holding such as a single family residence.
is our base level annual chimney sweep and is the least expensive level. We typically do not inspect fireplaces unless we sweep it first, even if it seems clean at a glance. Level I inspections should be done annually according to our certification body (Certified Chimney Professionals organization) and the Fire Department, and consists of physical brushing of the flue, and a visual inspection of the easily accessible portion of the chimney, and requires no tools, no cameras, and no roof inspection is required.
is our next most popular service, and is slightly more expensive than the Level I, and for good reason. This is known commonly as the Real Estate Chimney Inspection. First we do everything listed in the Level I sweep and inspection above plus the following: roof inspection, live scan video inspection inside the flue, and accessible portions of the chimney. This Level II sweep and inspection is recommended by the NFPA 211 every time the property changes owners, when the fuel type changes, and after every chimney fire. This is a common sense recommendation based on industry research finding ways to reduce structure fires in America. Basically, this is the “better safe than sorry” approach for new owners or occupants of a residence, either commercial or residential.
is the most invasive type of fireplace or chimney inspection. It consists of the logical and progressively more detailed inspections of Level I, Level II, and finally Level III. We don’t typically perform this level of sweep and inspection on a regular basis so we don’t have readily available pricing on this. The technician will be explaining all his findings to you on site as you move down this path.
This would include the inheritance of real estate or a traditional sale process (such as contract, escrow, closing, real estate agents and brokers, and loan officers). When you engage in a home transaction, be sure to have the building’s chimney inspected. Just like the septic system or electrical system is inspected upon sale or transfer of a property, so also the chimney should be inspected upon the sale or transfer of a property. After all, the fire in chimneys and fireplaces can be either pleasant or dangerous. It’s your choice!
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