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 Monoxide Hazards
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 years?
• 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" at bay.
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 hazards.
Chimney Safety Institute of America