The 3 Levels of Inspections for fireplaces and chimneys are defined in the National Fire Protection Associations published Standard 211. Generally, you do not know you need a Level 3 Inspection until a Level 2 Inspection reveals conditions that warrant it for your safety. Level 3 Inspections may involve ‘damaging’ the home — to even greater harm to the structure and those living in it. Accordingly, they are not undertaken lightly or without significant cause by certified chimney sweeps.
Certified sweeps do not perform Level 3 inspections without the express prior approval of the homeowner. It is not a bad idea, however, to stay on your roof if your sweep is not certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of American, bearer of the nation’s chimney safety standards. Proper ‘inspection’ of your chimney relies on proper cleaning of your chimney, which begins with informed “inspection”.
The visual “inspection” of the readily accessible areas — which is encompassed by a Level 1 Inspection –is highly informative to a certified chimney sweep. That is why the levels build on each other, when further investigation is needed – the inspector is getting closer with each level of inspection to the area of your fireplace or chimney system that needs attention or correction. This relationship between “fire safety”, “inspections”, and “chimney cleanings by certified sweeps” is too seldom fully understood.
That is in part due to the very serious circle game of inspections and cleanings. In part, it is due to the continued presence of uncertified, fly-by-night chimney sweeps. They do unnecessary cleaning, they damage without prior consent, and they fail to catch what they should have.
They are not the sweeps that fire safety professionals rely on for compliance with their standards. It is also true, however, that most homeowners just do not realize that the part of purpose of every cleaning is the inspection of the chimney. Every time you have a certified chimney sweep come to your house, he does an inspection – a real inspection – to meet Level 1, 2 and 3 standards.