Industry Articles & News

Are You Missing Information On Your Chimney Fire Inspections?

Chimney fires cause $246 million in property damage every year, but how can you be sure that the problems aren’t caused by maintenance issues or normal wear and tear? Unless Santa left you pictures from his trip down the chimney you’ll want to make sure that someone has actually looked on the inside of the chimney. 

Chimney sweeps or other professionals may claim that they can tell if a chimney fire has occurred just from looking at the outside of the chimney. However, an illustration at one of our lab workshops showed just how much can be missed when you rely exclusively on this type of visual observation. Participants at the workshop were invited to use a flashlight to inspect a 12 foot mock-up of a chimney that our expert created. Despite some careful inspections, no one reported seeing any cracks. After the visual examination we used our ChimScan equipment to show live video of the “chimney,” where you could easily see a simulated tear just two feet from the opening!

Of course there are other external indicators professionals use to confirm a chimney fire. The problem with relying solely on these is that many of the external signs of a chimney fire can also be caused by other factors.

Common external signs of a chimney fire include the following:
1) “Puffy” creosote that has expanded beyond creosote’s normal form. This is usually a clear sign of a chimney fire but it is not always visible from the outside of a chimney.
2) Warped metal smoke chamber connector pipe or factory-built metal chimney. Excessive heat from normal use is also a possible cause for this damage.
3) Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing. This could also be caused by a lack of maintenance or normal wear and tear.
4) Distorted rain cap. Storm damage could also be responsible for this.
5) Heat-damaged TV antenna attached to the chimney. The problem with this indicator is making sure the individual did not mistake damage from the elements or normal wear as heat damage. 
6) Creosote found on the roof. If the individual was actually on the roof this is usually a clear sign of a chimney fire.
7) Cracks in exterior masonry. This could also be caused by a lack of maintenance or normal wear and tear.
8) Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry chimney. This could also be caused by a lack of maintenance or normal wear and tear.

These indicators certainly point toward a possible chimney fire, but the definitive signs of a chimney fire are elevated levels of creosote and/or longitudinal cracks inside the chimney. Of course, you need to actually look at the inside of the chimney to see these signs. Our experts rely on ChimScan equipment and their expertise for accurate evaluations. 

A ChimScan is a miniature camera that lets us view the interior of a chimney. Attachments allow the equipment to safely maneuver through twists and turns and to take pictures at 90 degree angles. This means we have a real-time view of the mortar joints, alignment of clay tile, and any deficiency within the chimney. Video and photographs from this equipment give our experts the evidence they need to confirm or deny a chimney fire.

Since these photographs show close-up views of the interior of the chimney, this information also helps determine the extent of damage, something that is usually impossible to do from an exterior examination only. In certain situations it can even help determine when a chimney fire occurred, since older damage will have additional soot, creosote or other debris located in the cracks. All of this information can help determine if any repairs are needed or the most efficient way to repair the chimney.

In the end these examinations are no different than all the others we perform, where we inspect and document the loss location in question to make our determinations. Having that loss location inside a chimney just means we need to use different tools for our inspection.

If you still have questions on chimney fires, our engineers and mechanical experts would be happy to discuss the specifics of your situation with you and, when necessary, perform an inspection of the chimney.