Advice On Choosing A Chimney Sweep

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January 23, 2020

Cleaning your chimney is about the safety of your home. This is why it is vitally important that you choose the right chimney sweep. Here we will objectively walk you through what to look for in a good chimney sweep, starting with doing your homework prior to making a call and ending with what to do if any additional services are needed.

Search Within 60 Miles

Start by learning about the different chimney sweeps serving your city and the surrounding area. Many search engines on the internet can provide this information. We suggest not only searching the immediate area you live in, but also the surrounding areas.

Don’t Worry About Distance

Many chimney sweeps are more than willing to travel over an hour to sweep your chimney. Even with higher gas prices, chimney sweeps will typically charge the same rate to inspect and clean your chimney whether you are 10 miles away or 40 miles away. Take time to review the chimney sweeps in Cincinnati that show up on the other side of the map as well as the ones close to home. You wouldn’t choose a surgeon just because he or she is closer, would you? It should be the same with choosing a chimney sweep.

Reviews/BBB

Reviews for chimney sweeps are readily available online from a variety of providers. Google may be the most prominent provider of ratings, but you can also check other search engines, the BBBsocial media or even apps like Yelp. Some chimney sweeps may have joined services like Angie’s List that help customers choose the right company for them. These services typically rely on customer reviews as well.

Avoid “Top 10 Chimney Sweeps In Cincinnati” type articles – because if a chimney sweep is not aligned with that particular publisher (i.e. the company doesn’t pay a yearly fee to the publisher) they may not be considered for that article at all.
Take time to read a companies reviews, both the positive and the negative reviews and you will quickly get a feel for what a company does well, and where it needs improvement. If you encounter a negative review, take a moment to think about what the complaint the customer has. Is it a valid complaint, or was the chimney sweep just trying to ensure the safety of the customer’s home?

Years In Business

Not every chimney sweep has been around for 35 years, but how many years a company has been in business is a good indicator of their business practices. Companies with high customer satisfaction rates tend to stay in business longer. Select a company that has demonstrated they can provide quality service year after year. If you want to give a newer company a shot, make sure you take a look at their reviews before calling.

Certified

There are a couple of governing bodies that oversee the chimney sweeping industry. The most prominent being the CSIA. They offer training that helps chimney sweeps stay up to date on proper chimney function and safety. Each chimney service technician should be certified and listed on the CSIA website. Choosing companies with certified technicians will ensure that your chimney sweep is a qualified professional who knows what to look for when inspecting and cleaning a chimney.

Now that your homework is done and you have selected a chimney sweep, let’s cover what you should expect when they arrive to perform the chimney cleaning service.

Arrive On Time/Call Ahead

Your time is important. Your chimney sweep should call ahead before they arrive. Sometimes, a previous job may have taken longer than expected. While it may be an inconvenience, it shows that the sweep was taking time to fix or discuss a problem on the last job. You’ll want the same for your chimney inspection and cleaning from your service. Any change in the schedule should result in a phone call to let you know the updated arrival time.

Addresses Questions/Concerns

Your chimney sweep should take time to listen and address any concerns or questions you may have prior to cleaning. Reports of changes in the behavior of your fireplace or chimney, new sounds you noticed during an especially hot burn or any other change may help your sweep when doing an inspection. If you have a pushy sweep who just wants to get in and get out, it is a sign you may have gone with the wrong company.

Is Clean/Respects Your Home

Chimney sweeps deal in soot, which means they have the potential to make a big mess during cleaning. Soot is particularly hard on the carpet near the hearth and is easily tracked onto nearby floors via shoes. Here the sweep should respect your home, and if necessary, use shoe covers, and lay down tarps and rug-runners to protect your flooring. A high-speed vacuum with a special filter should be used to ensure that none of the soot that is sucked up escapes into the room. In sum, the chimney sweep should take every reasonable precaution to ensure nothing in your home gets blackened during the chimney sweeping process.

Explains The Process

While your sweep is working, they should be explaining what they are doing and what they are noticing. An experienced chimney sweep can tell what kind of wood (seasoned or unseasoned) you have been burning just by knowing your service history and the condition of your chimney. Any findings should be summarized in some type of report for you later.

Your Sweep Should Be An Inspection

The CSIA recommends an inspection be done every year. Sweeping should be done if necessary, as should any necessary repairs. Anytime a sweep comes in and hurries off without taking a good look at your chimney, they are actually doing the exact opposite of what the CSIA recommends. Every time you call a sweep out, they should be inspecting your chimney for any defects that might be a safety issue. This is another reason why its important for a chimney sweep to take time and to go through the details of your chimney and keep an eye out for safety issues.

Uses Modern Equipment

Modern equipment provides an extra level of assurance that your chimney sweep has a thorough inspection of your chimney. A chimney sweep should be using a high-speed vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove any debris and soot from your fireplace area. Also, and most importantly, the sweep should use (if possible) an HD video recorder which can be lowered down your chimney to check for defects. Not every chimney is large enough to accept the specialized video camera, in which case a manual inspection with a flashlight will do. The modern equipment allows the sweep to perform and even more thorough job.

Clearly Explains The Findings

Once the chimney sweep has finished the inspection and cleaning, they should take a moment to go over any findings with you. While going over the findings the sweep should answer any questions you may have. Make sure you ask questions about the safety of the chimney. Sometimes, chimney sweeps have to deliver bad news if a repair is necessary, but that’s OK because the sweep should document their findings, which will help you make a decision.

Documents Findings

Your chimney sweep should leave you with either a written or electronic report that documents their findings. Often, a sweep will leave you photos that document damage they have found. If you feel like you need a second opinion, that’s fine, make sure you share the findings with the next sweep. It’s rare, but sometimes a second opinion will lead to a disagreement. Keep in mind that a sweep’s responsibility is to inform you of any potential danger. Sweeps should default on the side of safety, but never try to sell you something you do not need. Have a second sweep deliver different but more palatable news may put you at risk for more damage or even a chimney fire.

No Pressure

If you find that your sweep recommends a liner, a relining, or masonry repairs on your chimney, you should not feel pressured into making a decision on the spot. A sweep should leave the decision with you if necessary and may recommend that you not use your fireplace or stove while you decide. You can take all the time you need to decide, but please remember if a no burn suggestion is made, its sound advice to follow it since a resulting fire could be life-threatening and certainly more expensive than the recommended repair.

Summary

Don’t call out a sweep without doing your homework first. Consider sweeps that are up to an hour away. A good chimney sweep should call ahead, be on time, be friendly, and answer your questions during all phases of the cleaning. They should ensure they make no mess in your home and explain what they are doing at each step. You should be getting an inspection from a certified sweep along with the cleaning, and any findings should be documented. The documentation may include pictures of the inside or outside of your chimney. A sweep should never pressure you into making a decision, and the sweep should always default to the safety of you and your family.

Final Thoughts On Chimney Inspections

Even a certified technician with the latest in technology may not be able to spot all potential problems with your chimney as there are parts of your chimney that are concealed due to the construction of your home.  Be sure that any chimney sweep you call out is certified and is performing an inspection, not just running a brush up your chimney. If issues with your chimney are found during an inspection, make sure they can show you the problem with a video or an image, if possible. Also, make sure that the proper level of follow up inspection was done based on the findings during the initial level I inspection. Finally, we can not stress enough how important it is for homeowners to have a conversation with their chimney technicians about their concerns and to ask any questions that come to mind. No one knows your home better than you, and our friendly and knowledgeable technicians want to make sure you are safe and you have peace of mind when using your heating appliance.

Written By Steve May

Steve May founded Chimney Works And Rocky Mountain Stoves in October of 2001. Steve is an entrepreneur at heart, and avid outdoorsman, and a proud father of 5.

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