House & Home

How to avoid chimney-cleaning scams

It’s easy to find reputable chimney service companies. But it’s also a job rife with scams.
It’s easy to find reputable chimney service companies. But it’s also a job rife with scams. TNS

Regular chimney maintenance and repairs typically require skills that go beyond the weekend DIY-er.

If you don’t use the right equipment, it can be dangerous and messy, and it could trigger allergies or respiratory problems. Also, it’s a job rife with scams, especially for those unwilling to climb on top of their roof or inside their soot-filled chimney.

▪ Ignore solicitation calls: Many chimney scams start with a solicitation call. If the company calls you, hang up, says Richard St. Marie, owner of Rich and John’s Complete Chimney Service in Woodbury, Conn.

Once you bite on a solicitation, the telemarketer sells the job to the highest bidder, and that person may not have the proper state credentials or training, or they may not carry liability insurance to cover any damage.

“They’re not interested in doing the cleaning, they’re interested in getting as much money as possible when they get there,” St. Marie says.

The cost of a basic chimney sweep ranges from $125 to $250, depending on the type of chimney and its condition.

▪ Beware scare tactics: If a contractor says your chimney is a fire hazard, they may be right, especially if they find glazed creosote, which can ignite. But if they tell you it needs to get fixed immediately and it’ll cost thousands of dollars, get a second opinion. It’s a common scare tactic.

Call your local gas company, which will come free of charge to verify whether the chimney is truly a fire hazard.

▪ Be suspicious of referrals: If someone contacts you claiming your oil or gas company referred your home for chimney work, be suspicious. It’s a cold call. Utility companies don’t make those kinds of referrals.

If a contractor shows you photos of chimney damage or creosote buildup, make sure the pictures truly came from your chimney. Many top pros email service recommendations to customers with time-stamped photos they can easily recognize.

▪ No after-hours visits: Scammers can be bold. Some cruise neighborhoods looking for company yard signs of a legitimate contractor at work. After the contractor leaves a home, the scammer visits a short time later claiming they need to collect an outstanding balance.

Never pay anyone you don’t recognize. Legitimate contractors collect payment before they leave the job or they mail a bill.

▪ Hire qualified providers: It’s easier than you think to find qualified, reputable chimney service companies. Start with the following:

Look for reviews that match the type of service you need and request bids from at least three companies.

Not all states require trade licensing for chimney sweeps, but they should be registered with the secretary of state’s office. Ask to see copies of liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance policies.

Educate yourself about the function and maintenance of chimneys by visiting the Chimney Safety Institute of America website. You can search CSIA for certified sweepers in your area and the courses they’ve completed.