Too many homeowners put chimney maintenance at the bottom of their to-do list. That may be why so many of them fall victim to unscrupulous contractors who use scare tactics and bargain prices to get business, but rarely deliver and sometimes walk away with thousands of dollars.
“Don’t fall for it,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List. “Even if you’re one of the many who’s never gotten your chimney inspected, don’t rush into it. That’s what the scammers want you to do.”
Warning that the season for unsavory chimney sweeps is upon us, Hicks doesn't discount the importance of proper chimney maintenance. “But good contractors don’t use scare tactics,” she said.
Twenty-five percent of the Angie’s List members who have had their chimneys cleaned or inspected have had a bad experience with a chimney contractor, Hicks said, citing to a recent, nationwide survey of subscribers to the nation’s premier provider of consumer reviews
The most common scams are made by phone or door-to-door and offer a low, low price for inspection that’s quickly followed up with a hard sell for more services that could drive the price up by hundreds or thousands of dollars. Often, these companies try to scare homeowners into believing that unless they take quick action, their family will be subject to carbon monoxide poisoning.
“One of our members who has small children used a coupon for a free chimney inspection. She was pressured into spending more than $9,000 for repairs, a chimney liner and an extra chimney vent, most of it unnecessary,” Hicks said. “She said the sales pitch made it seem like she was endangering her family if she didn't make the improvements.”
More than half of the respondents to the nationwide survey admitted they have never hired a chimney service provider to check the condition of their chimney. That’s a problem, too, Hicks said.
“There are lots of great contractors out there with good track records who will help you take care of your chimney,” Hicks said. “Whether it’s a wood-burning or gas fireplace, you should have it inspected every year and cleaned as appropriate.”
Reputable chimney experts will offer insight without the scare tactics or high pressure sales methods of unsavory sweeps, Hicks said. Areas covered beyond the condition of the chimney walls will be the flashing, which seals the chimney around your roof; the cap, which keeps out animals and debris; and your liner, which keeps emissions from the structure of your home.
There are times when chimneys do legitimately need repairs, but you should ask for photo or video proof of the problems before agreeing to having work done. Even then, Hicks says, don’t take the photos at face value.
“Watch your contractor as he or she takes the pictures or video of your chimney,” Hicks said. “A common trick is to use stock photos of other homes with chimney issues, so be sure it’s actually your own home you’re looking at.”
3 Ways to Avoid Chimney Sweep Scams:
- Beware of companies that offer pricing that seems too good to be true or that have high pressure sales pitches for additional service.
- Hire companies with Chimney Safety Institute of America or The National Chimney Sweep Guild credentials. These groups require companies to be trained in proper chimney work and to abide by a code of ethics.
- Never hire on price alone. The average price for an inspection and cleaning should be around $200. Expect to pay more if you have a video inspection done.
National fire safety and industry experts recommend annual chimney inspections for all homes with fireplaces, and cleaning as needed. Cleaning is needed to remove creosote, for wood-burning fireplaces, which can build up inside your chimney, creating a fire hazard. Other issues can include animals – alive or dead – that seek shelter in the chimney, or debris that builds up and can block air flow.
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