More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.
In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year.
Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently. BBB suggests before hiring a chimney sweep to service your fireplace, be aware of possible chimney cleaning and repair scams.
As with many home improvement services, scam artists will lure homeowners with door-to-door sales pitches, phone solicitations and of most concern, community ads and direct mailers offering extremely low prices for their services.
Once a disreputable "sweep" gets into your home, they may make unnecessary claims for expensive and immediate repairs and create a sense of urgency with threats of house fire or carbon monoxide leaks - threats intended to frighten you into action.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that homeowners take a few steps when evaluating a chimney sweep to perform an annual inspection or related service on their chimney or vent. Proper care and regular service can help protect families from preventable fires and carbon monoxide poisonings. However, it is important to choose the professional wisely.
BBB and the CSIA suggest asking the following questions to ensure the person hired is a credible service technician:
• How long has the chimney sweep company been in business?
• Does the company offer current references?
• What is their BBB rating and does the company have unresolved complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau?
• Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
• Does the company maintain professional credentials? Will a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep be on the job site? You can find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep at http://www.csia.org/search
Avoid chimney repair fraud by considering the following tips when any chimney sweep service is in your home:
1. If repairs are suggested, ask for photo/video proof of the recommended repairs and do not feel pressured into allowing work to begin immediately. Make sure the photo has things in it than you can identify as your house or ask for photos with enough background so that you can clearly tell that is your home.
2. Don't accept broken debris as evidence of a needed repair - that rubble may not be from your chimney. Ask to see what is broken or collapsed and make them show you. If they can see the needed repairs - so can you!
3. Don't fall for "same day installation" of a chimney liner as you may be forfeiting your right to rescind your decision to use this chimney sweep service and permits for any major repairs may not be pulled if required by your local jurisdiction.
4. Do your homework. Educate yourself before the service person arrives about products and repairs specific to fireplaces and chimneys. For example, if the company representative is going to install a double wall liner (which sounds pretty sturdy), the single wall stainless steel liner is actually more durable and corrosion resistant - it just doesn't "sound it"!