It’s a good idea to have wood-burning fireplaces and stove inspected annually if they are used regularly during the winter months. Most companies that offer chimney sweeping services can also inspect a chimney for damage or blockage and to ensure that it’s in safe, working order. It’s also smart to have a qualified chimney inspector take a look at a chimney and the surrounding roof or attic space after a seismic event or extreme weather to ensure that there has not been any damage.
Inspection and cleaning
DNG Complete Home Improvement, SNG Chimney Sweep and Xtreme Chimney Sweeps are three companies that clean and inspect chimneys for $89–$120. Costs vary depending on roof accessibility and the type of chimney to be inspected. Many chimney services offer free inspections if they clean or repair a chimney at the same time. Chimneys can suffer from excessive buildup of creosote, a byproduct of fire—the same black soot found on the sides of a glass votive candleholder when a candle burns too long. Even a gas fireplace chimney, which does not create creosote, can become blocked by leaves, twigs, bird’s nests and other debris. Many chimney services recommend chimney caps, which can be installed for $100 and up, to help prevent buildup of debris. During an inspection, the chimney professional will look for buildup and blockages that could be dangerous or could decrease the chimney’s efficiency at carrying fire smoke up and out the flue.
For $50–$75, some companies offer a camera inspection, not unlike the camera inspection some plumbers offer for clogged pipes.
After a seismic event, it’s a good idea to get a more thorough inspection of the chimney that includes the roof and attic. An inspector may use special video scanning and other equipment to determine the structural soundness of a chimney’s masonry and any connection points to the roof. Inspectors also look for damaged dampers, excessive creosote buildup and missing spark arresters, which can be replaced when installing or replacing a chimney cap. Licensed home inspection services may be able to do a seismic inspection on a chimney for an additional or separate fee, but it makes sense to start with a company that has experience cleaning and repairing chimneys.
If a visual inspection of a chimney reveals that some areas of the masonry are in need of repairs, a professional chimney mason can do tuckpointing, which is a masonry repair process to fix small cracks in the mortar between the bricks in a chimney caused by excessive exposure to moisture. The cost for tuckpointing varies depending on the extent of the damage to the chimney, but this service usually costs $5–$10 per square foot.
After a fire
If a chimney has caused or been damaged in a fire, it will need to be inspected and possibly rebuilt to meet current code and to protect against future fires. Building a new chimney can cost $300–$1,000 on a single-story home and $400–$2,000 for a home with two or more stories. Repairing an existing chimney most likely, but not always, costs a bit less depending on the extent of the damage.
The purpose of a chimney liner is to ensure that heat and flames stay contained in the fireplace and chimney, to protect the masonry from the corrosive byproducts of combustion and to make sure the fireplace or woodstove has the proper size flue for maximum efficiency. Liners are typically made of heat-tolerant materials such as clay, ceramic or metal. Replacing a chimney liner can cost $2,500–$5,000, which is another good reason to keep chimneys clean and have them inspected regularly.