Chimney vent caps and other exciting stuff

Okay, vent caps are not exciting. But chimney fires are.

As a home inspector, I feel like the line between telling the customer that something is important and scaring them is a fine one.

It’s not a fine line at all. There’s no reason to be afraid during the inspection. Some issues cost a lot to fix, okay. But most don’t cost a whole lot, and besides, you haven’t bought the house yet. There’s time to work out what your options are.

No, the issue is my delivery. I want so much for the buyer to understand the importance of safety, I get all fired up. My normal speaking voice is loud. When I get animated, my voice gets even louder, and I start swing my arms around. When I start using words like “catastrophe”, “infestation” and “toxic fumes”, the rest of the room gets quiet. Real quiet. The buyers suddenly have eyes as big as saucers, and the realtor is sobbing silently.

Such is the case with chimney vent covers. There might be a more boring subject. Who knows. But I haven’t found it.

But boy, can they change your life! (And no, not in a good way. Nice try.)

I’m sure you’ve seen the square(ish) things coming out of chimneys. Those are clay liners. The bricks make up the chase. The round metal tube in the middle is the vent. There’s also a crown, at the top of the chase. It’s usually concrete and sloped.

At this point, I could get into how chimneys work and what the Bernouli’s principle is all about. But as interesting as those subjects are, let’s pay attention to the cover itself. 

The older covers were better than nothing, and you see both (older and nothing, stay with me here), but animals sometimes get in and get stuck. And rain can cause a lot of damage over time, by letting dirty water into the basement and weakening the insides of the liner. A proper fitting cap can keep you safe from a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide. If you have a wood or pellet burning stove, please have it cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep.

So, what kind of inspection do I need?

There are 3 types of chimney inspections.

Level one is just visual, and not from the roof.

Level two uses special tools. It involves getting on the roof.

Level three is invasive, only used when there’s been a fire or other major damage. It’s really pricey.