Hiring A Chimney Sweep: What To Know Before You Buy

It's incredibly important to keep your chimney in tip-top condition. This plays into the safety of your home, so it's not to be ignored. Whether the urge to do so is for routine maintenance, due to an odor coming from your chimney, the presence of smoke, or another reason, this is an essential part of keeping your home and living area around your fireplace safe.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) does a good job of helping homeowners navigate their questions around this part of their home. However, another wonderful source for helping maintain your chimney is a chimney sweep. This professional knows chimneys inside and out (literally!) and will offer a hands-on approach so that you can rest assured that your chimney is safe and clean. Before you enlist in the help of one, though, there are some things you should know before you hire one for your own home and chimney maintenance.

What is a chimney sweep?

A great place to start is with what a chimney sweep even is. Understanding the purpose of enlisting one will assist you in choosing the right one for you and your home. Chimneys themselves date back as far as the 13th century (as far as we can tell), as reported by Chimney Specialists. However, it would be another three centuries until chimney sweeps began to offer their services in the 16th century in London. But you are probably wondering what it is, exactly, that a chimney sweep does.

As noted by Direct Fireplaces, chimney sweeps are responsible for several things. First, they'll perform visual inspections of your chimney, including the chimney cavity and the flue. They will look for any dangerous blockages such as soot build-up, nests, and creosote build-up. From there, they will clean (or "sweep") your chimney if they deem it necessary.

A chimney sweep may also visit the roof, attic, or crawlspace of your home to get a more thorough look at the chimney and all of its different elements. Finally, if your chimney has recently suffered any damage, a sweep may take apart or demolish part of the structure to get a better look at it to ensure its safety and cleanliness. In short, chimney sweeps serve to thoroughly clean a chimney and ensure that it's safe for regular use.

Why you should hire a chimney sweep

In general, there are a few important reasons to hire a chimney sweep that relate to the overall safety of your home. The CSIA notes that there are several distinct reasons to hire a chimney sweep, in fact. The first is to protect the exterior of your chimney and ensure it can withstand natural elements such as rain and snow. The next is to prevent animals — particularly birds — from nesting in your chimney, which could lead to fire hazards. 

Another reason to hire a chimney sweep is to help manage downdrafts and prevent smokiness. There's nothing worse than lighting a fire, only for a thin layer of smoke to hang over your living room. The organization also notes that chimney sweeps will assist in keeping your fireplace and furnace flue in working order and even helps to increase their efficiency. They can also protect your home against carbon monoxide exposure and help prevent chimney fires. Clearly there's no shortage of reasons to enlist in the help of one of these professionals!

The dangers of cleaning your own chimney

Many homeowners wonder if they can or should clean their own chimney rather than hiring a professional. While there are certain instances when this can be done, there are other times when it's better left to someone more experienced. In a DIY chimney cleaning tutorial outlined by Lowes, they list several components of chimney cleaning that could deem the job of your specific chimney better suited for professionals. The first depends on buildup and creosote. If there is more than ⅛ inch of buildup, the job is better suited for a professional. Additionally, you need to consider your ability to identify issues with your chimney and whether you feel confident doing so.

Vertical Chimney Care explains that it's risky to clean your own chimney as it often requires working on your home's roof. This, of course, poses the risk of a fall. Furthermore, a failure to clean the correct way can result in creosote and soot falling into your home, which is known to make quite a mess. This goes to say that when in doubt, you should definitely hire a professional to do the job!

How much should a chimney sweep cost?

Before you enlist in the services of a particular chimney sweep, you should gain an idea of how much it costs on average to know if the quote you receive is reasonable or way off base. After all, you likely want to know how much this service will run you, right? Home Advisor states that an average chimney sweep bill should clock in at $253. A run-of-the-mill chimney cleaning typically runs you between $129 and $377. Fireplaces that are routinely cleaned will cost between $85 and $100 per cleaning, but those that have not been regularly cared for can cost a pretty penny — up to $800.

Having your chimney inspected typically has its own separate fee that is dependent on how in-depth the task is. If it's a simple visual once over, the cost of this inspection is usually included in the cleaning fee. If you pay for it separately, it could cost between $80 and $100. An assessment that requires more effort, such as going onto your roof or in a crawl space or attic, will be more costly, averaging between $100 to $500. Finally, a thorough inspection where damage is suspected within a chimney will cost between $1,000 and $5,000 since removing pieces of brick or the chimney itself will likely be required.

Issues addressed by a chimney sweep

Chimney sweeps address a host of issues or potential issues within this vital part of your house. As noted by Capital Chimney Corp, chimney sweeps to ensure that chimneys have proper ventilation by cleaning the flues of your heating appliances. This includes fireplaces, wood-burning and gas stoves, oil and gas furnaces, gas and electric water heaters, and gas boilers. Regularly cleaning flues makes sure your fire risk lowers, ensures you won't be breathing in harmful substances while hanging out in your living room, and that your appliances are working at peak energy efficiency.

Furthermore, chimney sweeps work to remove soot buildup called creosote. This buildup is normal in any fireplace after repeated use, and it accumulates inside the flue — which contributes to a lack of ventilation. The problem is that creosote is highly flammable, so ignoring it for too long can be dangerous. This preventative maintenance is crucial in any home.

What are the signs you need a chimney sweeping?

There are some pretty obvious signs that your chimney requires a sweeping that are not to be ignored. Complete Home Concepts does a great job explaining these telltale signs. First, they note that if your fireplace smells like a campfire, it may be time to enlist the help of a chimney sweep. This is especially true if you can smell burned wood even when your fireplace isn't lit. Next, if you notice your fires burn differently — whether they're harder to light, glow dimmer, or dance in unusual ways — this could indicate a clogged chimney. If smoke fills the room even with the flue open, you definitely need to call in a chimney sweep for help.

Oily marks on the walls of your fireplace are a tell-tale sign that there is a creosote buildup and that a sweeping is in order. Finally, evidence of animals in your chimney is a large sign to call in a chimney sweep. You don't want to light any fires when critters are nesting in the cavity, and the best way to remove them is with professional help.

What about insurance?

Since your chimney sweep will be working within your home on a task that could be potentially dangerous, insurance is definitely something to think about. Trusted Choice explains that since a chimney sweep may be on ladders or scaffolding around your home, or even on the roof of your house, it's vital for a chimney sweep to have insurance to protect themselves against accidents.

That's why chimney sweepers typically invest in insurance for their business, ensuring that they and their employees are protected from risk. This is not only in case of a tragic fall or injury, but also in case they inadvertently cause damage to a client's home. Issues like these — while not entirely common — do happen, and they could cost thousands of dollars to repair. To protect against these costly issues, insurance is a must.

As you work to hire a chimney sweep, ensure that their business is equipped with insurance so that this is one less worry as you begin your professional relationship with them. Remember, these issues are not unlikely — but they're certainly possible. That makes this a pertinent matter in your vendor research.

Getting a chimney cleaned that doesn't get much use

Even if your chimney doesn't get a ton of use — for instance, if you live in a warmer climate — you should still consider hiring a chimney sweep on some kind of regular cadence. In fact, Sarasota Magazine reports that even homeowners in the Sunshine State should practice routine chimney maintenance, even though — chances are — they aren't lighting many fires on a yearly basis.

The article states that a former firefighter noted that not cleaning your chimney regularly can result in a hefty creosote buildup, leading to a potential fire. A chimney fire is dangerous, especially since it can lead to flames entering your attic, causing a roof fire or a full-blown house fire. An annual inspection is recommended, even for individuals who don't use their fireplace very often. It's better to be safe than sorry, right?

How often you should utilize a chimney sweep

Not cleaning your chimney often enough could be a fire hazard. With that being said, here's how often you should enlist in the services of a chimney sweep. As mentioned by House Beautiful, your chimney should be cleaned and inspected by a professional once a year at the minimum to ensure that you're keeping yourself, your house, and your family safe.

In addition to a cleaning and inspection at least once a year, there are some things you can do in-between visits from a professional to aid in the health and safety of your chimney. First, make sure you open your damper when burning a fire to ensure the smoke has a place to escape and carbon monoxide won't back into your living room. Keep it open until the fire — including embers — is completely out. To nix any issues with nesting critters, invest in a chimney cap to prevent animals from entering the chimney cavity to escape the elements. Minor adjustments such as these can help keep your chimney in excellent shape. 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that between 2014 and 2018, the leading factor in fireplace fires was a failure to clean chimneys. So don't let this happen to you, and keep up with recommended maintenance for your own safety.

How to prepare for getting your chimney swept

You'll need to prepare your home and chimney a bit before your chimney sweep appointment arrives. Napoleon details what you can expect from the cleaning and how to prepare for it. You should first make sure that your fireplace is easily accessible. If you have mantel or hearth decor, kindly move it out of the way to make a clear path to the fireplace and around it. You will also want to move any chairs or side tables situated nearby. You may also want to consider covering furniture and decor around the area in a sheet to keep it clean from debris or dust that may spill out of the chimney during a cleaning.

Another way to prepare for your chimney sweep's visit is to have a list of any questions you have for them handy. They're there to help you keep your home safe, and they'd be happy to answer your questions. If you've noticed any issues or cause for alarm regarding your chimney, be prepared to talk this through with them during their visit.

What's the chimney sweep process like?

You may be wondering what the chimney sweep process even entails. After all, if you're going to invest in it, you want to gain a solid understanding of what will happen. That's understandable! Vertical Chimney Care gives an overview of the process for further transparency. First, your chimney sweep will survey and prepare the area for a cleaning and sweeping. This will likely entail laying a sheet on the floor or furnishings to protect your home from debris. Chimney sweeps also typically travel with a shop-vac to help clean up any debris that travels down from the chimney and into your home.

To clean the chimney itself, they will use a large, metal-bristle brush to scrub out soot and build-up. Typically, they begin at the flue and work their way upwards. Alternatively, they might start at the roof's chimney access point and work their way down. After the job is finished and they cleaned up the site they were working in, they'll likely present you with a report detailing the condition of your chimney, which is helpful knowledge.

Questions to ask a potential chimney sweep

Make sure you ask the right questions when you set out on your search for a chimney sweep, as you want to ensure that the individual you hire is well-qualified to take care of business. HomeSaver shared some useful questions to ask your chimney sweep. Let's start with some basic questions first. Ask what certifications they have, what insurance they are enrolled in and protected by, and what they charge for a typical chimney sweep. You may also want to inquire about whether they'll go on the roof, if they'll also inspect your chimney (in addition to cleaning it), and how long they expect the process to take. 

Another helpful question is whether they can inspect other flues in your home besides the fireplace, and if that would cost extra. Finally, it's useful to ask how long they've been in business and for any references you want to check out before officially hiring them to do the job. If they're established, they should have reviews online for you to double-check.

Chimney sweep scams to be aware of

Just like with everything else these days, there are some chimney sweep scams to be aware of when shopping around. Angi warns against these scams, and you want to be aware of them to avoid falling victim. One notable scam is that a contractor from a chimney sweep company will reach out — via phone or email — to offer their services at a discount. When you take them up on it, they will either lie that there is damage or claim you're at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Any contractor worth their salt will offer proof and a detailed report, so make sure you don't agree to any extensive work without evidence.

Watch out for warning signs of potential chimney sweep scammers. Make sure that the business you choose has a brick-and-mortar address rather than a P.O. box, that they use a reputable insurance provider, and don't ask for a large deposit or full payment in advance.

Resources for finding a reputable chimney sweep

Now that you know everything you need to hire a chimney sweep, it's time to find the right one in your area. A wonderful resource for doing so is the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). Its website has a search function to find a professional near you, so that is a trusted place to begin looking for the right individual or company to assist you with your chimney sweep needs.

The site further notes that finding a chimney sweep that is CSIA-certified is important because it ensures that this individual will follow local codes and safety standards and that they are fully educated and equipped to do the job well. Since you're inviting this person into your home that has a large effect on its overall safety, you can never be too careful! That CSIA-certified badge carries a lot of weight, and you'll definitely want to see that the professional you work with has earned it for themselves and their business.