Imagine watching the local evening news that shows a story of a hapless victim of a chimney fire, resulting in a house burned to the ground. It makes you realize that it’s been far too long since you had your own chimney looked at, and you make a mental note to call a chimney sweep to set up an appointment. The next morning, you get on the internet to search for a chimney sweep and you realize that you don’t even know what to look for.
Many people aren’t aware that in most of the United States, there are absolutely no regulations on the chimney sweeping trade. This means that anybody can go out and claim they’re a chimney sweep and start a business. They may know little or nothing about chimneys, so it’s imperative to hire a chimney sweep company that has been specifically trained and is experienced with chimneys and fireplaces. Your family’s lives, pets and belongings may depend on hiring a qualified chimney sweep.
So what do you consider when hiring a chimney sweep? Certainly not someone dressed like Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins!
What to consider in finding a qualified Chimney Sweep
There are a number of chimney sweep certifications in the U.S. but by far the most mainstream is the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). To become certified, an individual is required to take a test every three years based on the International Residential Code, the National Fire Protection Association 211 Manual, the Successful Chimney Sweeping Manual, and then sign a strict code of ethics. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the CSIA website at www.csia.org and put in your zip code in the upper left corner. It will then provide you with a comprehensive list of all the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps within a 50-mile radius.
General Liability Insurance
Whether it’s a tree removal company, a plumber or a chimney sweep, make sure that any contractor working on your property always carries general liability insurance. Ask to see the proof of insurance. This is for your protection as a homeowner. As an example, if a tree removal company chops down a tree and it lands on your neighbor’s roof, if that contractor doesn’t have insurance, guess who pays for the damage to your neighbor’s roof? YOU!
State Contractor’s License
In California, any work that amounts to $500 or more (labor and materials) requires a contractor’s license. This protects the homeowner. Find out the status of a contractor’s license by going to the California State Licensing Board website at www.cslb.ca.gov. You can check the license by license number, contractor’s name or name of the business. An average chimney sweeping service falls well short of the $500 limit, but if the chimney sweep performs any repairs, it could exceed that limit and it’s best to know in advance. The contractor’s license also adds to the legitimacy of the business.
References by friends, family, or co-workers
One of the best ways to find a reputable chimney sweep company is word of mouth. Find out from your friends, family or co-workers if they were happy with the chimney sweep they’ve used, but be sure to follow up by checking the status of their certification, insurance, and contractor’s license.
Reviews and Reports about the Company
Check out the company’s reputation on Yelp at www.yelp.com, Angie’s List at www.angieslist.com or Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org. If you see a lot of bad reviews, it’s best to go to the next company on the list.
Caveat Emptor – Phone Scams
This is Latin for “Let the Buyer Beware” and this is especially true for any homebuyer who receives a phone call from someone, anyone, who calls you on the phone to solicit your business. You have absolutely no way of knowing who is actually calling you. Even though you are on the Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov, that won’t stop an unscrupulous company from lying to you and convincing you that they are your chimney sweep company and it’s time for a chimney sweep. We’ve even had these unscrupulous companies call our loyal customers. Our customers have even responded by saying that they use our company and these unscrupulous companies have said that we were no longer in business. Remember: NEVER do business with anybody who calls you on the phone! And this rule of thumb doesn’t just apply to a chimney sweep service.
Spending a few minutes of extra effort will ensure that you find the right chimney sweep company and that your house won’t end up on the local evening news!