The home inspector, being a generalist, provides a basic visual inspection of a chimney and any wood or solid fuel burning device such as a fireplace or a wood stove. We inspectors do not light fires and, even if an inspection takes place in the cold of winter, and there is a blazing fire, the device is so hot that we often actually learn less about the conditions inside the fireplace or the stove.
In the USA, to enhance public safety, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) takes the position that, at the time of a real estate sale or the transfer of a property, a certified chimney sweep should perform a Level 2 Chimney Inspection at any chimney, wood or solid fuel burning appliance.
Needless to say, a client's curiosity is piqued when he or she hears the term "Level 2 Chimney Inspection." A Level 2 Chimney Inspection includes standard protocols. First, a certified chimney sweep will visually inspect inside and outside the chimney and the flue (that's the inside of the chimney) and the fireplace and/or stove. The system, to be considered safe, must be structurally sound and free of creosote or obstructions. The chimney sweep is obligated to enter accessible areas -- attics, basements, crawl spaces -- and check the sufficiency of clearances to flammable materials. That process includes reviewing spacing between the chimney and combustibles, also, assessing the adequacy and placement of mantles and hearths. Often, hearths are short and falling ash might set a combustible floor or nearby carpet on fire.
There are limitations to the Level 2 inspection. The chimney sweep will not disassemble permanently attached parts of the chimney or the dwelling. But, a Level 2 Chimney Inspection should include a high tech scan of the chimney. This is done with a specialized video camera. Of course, when the Level 2 Chimney Inspection is complete, the certified chimney sweep will report deficiencies and suggest remedies for those problems that were discovered.
Wohler, a firm that manufactures cameras, has produced a short, but informative, video that provides insight into what the chimney sweep sees during a Level 2 Chimney Inspection.
Helpful tip: Any chimney, stove or fireplace that is in use on a regular basis should be professionally serviced and inspected, by a certified chimney sweep, on an annual basis. Regularly scheduled service and preventative maintenance is the best way to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning or house fires.