Be Aware of Chimney Sweep Scams
The Wood Stove & Fireplace Center of Monmouth County provides this article to help fight against chimney sweep scams
It's time for a chimney sweep. There are a whole host of issues that chimneys can often face, creosote buildup that results in blockages or chimney fires, cracks in the exterior that let humidity into the home, or even animals nesting inside causing a whole range of issues.
The best way to deal with these problems is to get ahead of them in the first place, that’s why maintenance and inspection from time to time by the homeowner is necessary. Unless the homeowner is familiar with the ins and outs of how a chimney works and have the necessary tools to fix any problems, eventually a professional is going to have to look at it.
Most people aren’t aware of the basics of their chimney and there are many scammers out there that take advantage of that. Knowing how these scammers work is integral but you should also have a 101 on the chimney along with knowing what legitimate chimney sweep looks like.
Chimney Sweep Scam Techniques
Many of the techniques these chimney sweep scam artists employ are often found in other home improvement scams. One of the easiest ways is a door-to-door sales pitch that seems just a little too aggressive as these confrontations often put homeowners at a sense of unease.
This unease is what false chimney sweepers like to prey on because it makes it more likely that the homeowner will buy their pitch. Coupled with this is the offer of too good to be true pricing, listing a series of deals or discounts they can offer but only if the homeowner invests into their service soon.
Littered between this call for action will be little bits to tip your anxiety upwards, phrases that talk about carbon monoxide poisoning, house fires and chimney collapse are all inserted into a scammer’s pitch to provoke some sort of immediate response by the person they’re selling to.
Clever scammers will often use other bits of information that give them a tinge of legitimacy. Knowing the gas or energy company of your neighborhood is a fairly mundane thing to do. Unsolicited calls, while not unheard of, are rarely done in the chimney sweeping business.
Even if a faux-sweeper is willing to look at your chimney directly it doesn’t mean they are legitimate. If there is any issue, they will make it bigger or if there isn’t they will make one up. Using pictures of someone else’s chimney can be an effective way to make homeowner’s give them money for a service they don’t need. Overall the best way to combat the threat of scammers is to know what signs to look out for on your chimney.
Know the Truth on Chimney Sweeps
The reason these scams are so prevalent is that most people who own a chimney don’t actually understand it. Sure you may know that wood is thrown into the fireplace, it burns, and the smoke and other particulates rise up throw the stack and out of the house.
This basic understanding is necessary but is far from the whole truth. Chimneys are composed of the basic exterior, some sort of cap on the top to keep out water, along with a protective shell on the interior called a flue. Different aspects of the chimney can start to fail before others and knowing what tell-tale signs to look out for will help you know if you even need a chimney sweep or not.
Masonry and brick chimneys often show wear and tear earliest – cracking and chipping often being common signs that some sort of basic repair at least needs to be done. Splaying – or a jumbled up or pushed-out aspect of the brick – is probably a symptom of some deep-rooted issue with the chimney interior. Damage to the cap can occur either by animals or bad storms.
Damage on the interior of the home can occur immediately around the fireplace in the form of water damage. While fires can result in an abundance of smoke being found during a fire, a result of some sort of blockage. Having at least a basic understanding of how a chimney functions and what signs point to needed repair or maintenance will give you at least some confidence when facing a potential scammer.
Remember, the longer a scammer has to stick around and talk the greater the chance you won’t give them any money – they excel on preying on the ignorance and anxiety of homeowners.
Hiring a Legitimate Chimney Sweep Technician
Even being able to spot a scammer you’ll still need to have someone look at your chimney eventually. A moderately used chimney should be looked at by a professional at least annually. Thankfully there are many more legitimate chimney technicians than false ones.
Professional chimney sweeps are certified by Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and know all the techniques necessary for inspecting a chimney. State and National certifications are visible online and are usually a good sign that the sweep in questions knows what they’re doing. While you are online trying to look up the company they represent.
Look up to see what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have to say about them along with what reviews like Yelp and social media are saying about them. Aside from preliminary searching, you can often tell a legitimate chimney sweep by sight.
A sweeper worth their merit will dress and act professional, have a company vehicle with an easily visible business name and phone number, along with being able to answer all available questions related to the chimney sweeping business.
They should be willing to take all the necessary safety and cleaning precautions to make sure your home stays as orderly as before. One of the best signs of a professional chimney technician is that they take pictures all the way throughout, allowing you to look at what they look at.
The level of chimney inspection they need to take – starting from a preliminary scan of the basic openings and going has invasive as removing portions of the wall or brickwork – should be explained as needed so the homeowner isn’t caught up in any costs out of left field.
At the end of the day, you’re going to want to listen to your gut on this – a professional should inspire a sense of ease and confidence in a potential client. If you find that the person you’re talking to seems pushy or erratic, then you’re going to want to take a step back and look up to see how legitimate they are.
Chimney sweep scams are fairly straightforward and follow a pattern that is found in other fields related to home improvement. These scammers are most successful against an ignorant person, so one of the best ways you can protect yourself from them is to know a little bit about how a chimney functions along with what an actual professional in this field looks and acts like.
One of the best ways is to use the internet – certifications and reviews are readily found online and are often the strongest indicator on the legitimacy of a potential chimney sweep.