Chimney Inspection

Your fireplace and chimney may work perfectly fine and appear okay when you are having a fire. But there could be hidden dangers or structural issues that may exist that could only be identified by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep during a thorough Level 1 chimney inspection.

When Rick from Swede Chimney Sweep comes to inspect and your chimney and fireplace condition, what are some of the things that he is looking for?

Video from CSIA regarding what to expect from a chimney inspection

What are some of the things I check for during a chimney inspection?

How much creosote buildup is in the chimney?

Creosote is flammable and can put you at great risk of a chimney fire. If the chimney cap is plugged with creosote, you’ll have smoking problems.

  • Plugged up chimney cap
  • Creosote build-up in chimney
  • creosote build-up in chimney

What’s the condition of the firebox? Are there cracks or deterioration in the mortar and brick that could transfer heat to combustibles?

Many times the area behind the firebox backwall and sidewalls is somewhat open and if there are gaps between the bricks in the firebox, the heat from a fire can radiate to drywall, wood beams, etc.

There can also be gaps between the fireplace facade and the firebox sidewalls. I’ve seen daylight or the wall next to the fireplace through some of those gaps on several occasions!

  • Cracked backwall of fireplace

When the fireplace facade was changed, were proper noncombustible materials used? Are the clearances compliant with the building code?

The middle photo shows the wooden pillars actually going into the fireplace opening. The last picture shows drywall behind the tile directly above the fireplace opening. These dangerous remodels were done by a contractor!

  • pillars too close to firebox opening
  • pillars too close to firebox opening
  • wood too close to firebox opening

Is there a proper flue lining in the chimney?

In most cases, the chimneys of homes built prior to 1940 in San Diego weren’t built with flue linings.  Instead the chimney masons used a material called parging (similar to stucco) and hand-coated this parging in the chimney structure. But with time, age and usage, this parging material has worn away and you have what is called an “unlined chimney.”  According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America:

“In the 1940’s and again in the 1980’s, masonry chimneys were tested by the National Bureau or Standards for durability due to rising concerns about their performance and safety. The tests revealed that unlined chimneys were so unsafe that researchers characterized building a chimney without a liner as ‘little less than criminal.'”


  • Unlined chimney

The chimney’s exterior may not look too bad, but when inspecting the chimney flue, it’s not unusual to find gaps, cracked or broken flue tiles that if not repaired can cause heat to transfer to combustibles and result in materials catching fire in the house itself.

  • Cracked flue lining in chimney
  • Cracked flue lining in chimney

What is the condition of the chimney crown?

If the crown has cracks, rain water and weather will penetrate the structure and severely damage the chimney over time.

Please visit our Chimney Crown Resurfacing Page for more information on possible repairs.

  • Cracked chimney crown

Sometimes the structural damage to the chimney exterior can be quite severe. Cracks and gaps in the chimney’s exterior will only lead to more structural issues as weather and moisture cause more deterioration.

Better to be aware of problems ahead of time and proactive about making repairs before it reaches the level that these pictures show.

  • Cracks in chimney
  • Cracks in chimney

Are your gas logs set up properly and venting up the chimney?

Many times I have to reposition the gas logs and will then test them with detector to make sure that they are venting properly.

In this photo, the grate is upside down, the logs are too close together and too far forward, and as a result gas was venting into the room when the gas logs were on.

  • Gas logs in fireplace

Below is an example of a disconnected flue pipe in a prefab chimney, and another with rust around the damper area.

These prefab systems consist of metal pipe sections that, if rusted out or not properly connected, can put you at great risk of a potential fire hazard.

  • Rusted fireplace
  • Disconnected pipe in fireplace

Yes, that’s a bird’s nest.

The fireplace hadn’t been used for a while, and fortunately the homeowner had called us out for a chimney inspection before having a fire.

This would have caused immediate smoking problems since it’s blocking most of the chimney flue opening.

  • Birds nest in chimney

Other items checked during the chimney inspection…

  • Does the fireplace have the proper clearances to combustible materials? Is the extended hearth long enough? Is that wooden mantel high enough from the fireplace opening?
  • A combustible gas detector is used to check the gas valve by the fireplace. We have found 20-25% of these valves leak.
  • Condition of log lighter, fire screen, damper, ash dump plate & ash clean-out door.
  • Are there gaps inside the chimney at the lowest chimney flue tile or in the smoke chamber above the damper? As heat rises, it can possibly reach combustibles through open voids in the chimney system.
  • How close are tree branches and bushes to the top of the chimney? These are flammable and can be a hazard.
  • Many other aspects of your chimney system are inspected as well. This is just intended to highlight some of the more commonly seen issues that we come across.

Get to Know Your Chimney

  • masonry chimney and fireplace system
  • Prefab fireplace and chimney system

Notes for the Home Buyer

Always have a chimney inspection performed by a Certified Chimney Sweep from one of the qualified chimney-related organizations such as: CSIA, HPBA, and/or F.I.R.E.

You cannot make the assumption that your home inspector has any training with chimneys.

I inspected a chimney just days ago where the bricks were loose in the firebox, the flue lining was cracked, and the red brick at the bottom of the chimney was so badly deteriorated that it is likely the entire chimney will need to be torn down and rebuilt by a chimney mason. Sadly, it was with the new owner who was in the process of moving in. The home inspector had said that the chimney was in fine working order and usable, and the new owners had signed off on the inspection.

There have also been countless times that a seller who has been obligated to have a chimney swept will tell us “just sweep it, don’t write down any problems.” I not only consider this unethical but we could be liable if we didn’t report about a hazard. I have repacked my drop cloths and vacuums and left with a polite goodbye on several occasions when a seller insists upon it being done that way. Certified Chimney Sweeps sign strict ethics clauses which reinforces our high level of integrity in our work.