How, Why & When to Hire a Chimney Sweep

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated June 8, 2021
a brick chimney along a yellow house with blue sky in background
© Jason - stock.adobe.com

Hire a chimney sweep for an inspection and cleaning at least once every 12 months, preferably before lighting the first fire of the year

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As temperatures start to dip and leaves begin to change, you know there is nothing better than curling up by the fire on a chilly day or flipping on the heat for the first time that season. But by this time, you should have already arranged to get your annual chimney inspection and cleaning—whether you own a gas or oil-burning appliance or a traditional fireplace. A CSIA-certified chimney sweep is the only professional ready to take on the job and you can get this done even before the first leaves fall.

We’ve outlined some tips for learning how to hire a chimney sweep with confidence.

How to Find a Chimney Sweep

If you're on the hunt for a dependable chimney sweep, you're likely in one of four situations: You are buying a home with a chimney, suspect an issue with the cleanliness or structure of your current chimney, or are getting your chimney ready for the fall and winter seasons. 

A CSIA-certified chimney sweep can also assist if you're installing or inspecting a gas or oil-fired appliance. Because remember, hiring a chimney sweep is not just a necessary step for fireplace owners. Many gas and oil appliances use a masonry chimney to vent fuel. We're talking about everything from a furnace to a boiler and a hot water heater.

Soot can build up inside these chimneys just as much as they can with wood-burning ones, which can cause chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. In order words—set a reminder on your calendar for the end of the summer and don't skip this step.

Start your search by narrowing down the best chimney sweeps in your area. Word of mouth is also a great tool for local experts like these, particularly since many families use the same chimney sweeps for years, if not decades.

Once you have a shortlist of three or four pros, head over to the Chimney Safety Institute of America to double-check that your chimney sweep has proper certification.

Before Hiring a Chimney Sweep

Owning a home with a fireplace, wood-burning stove, and a gas or oil appliance requires extra care. Mark your calendar at the end of the summer to complete your annual inspection. If you curl up by the fire on a nightly basis, you may need a cleaning during the season as well. Let's take a look at some things to prepare before speaking with a chimney sweep.

Prepare for Your Chimney Cleaning

Check a few boxes before speaking with a prospective chimney sweep to help them understand the scope of the work:

  • The last date of your chimney inspection and cleaning

  • Signs of creosote buildup (the tar buildup from burning wood)

  • Major weather events or structural changes in the past year

  • Issues from the past year with your heating or hot water system

We also recommend clearing any important items away from your hearth before the inspection to keep them safe and clean. And while this may sound obvious, avoid cozying up next to a fire the night before the chimney sweep comes. The chimney must be totally cool before work begins.

Check Your Chimney Sweep's Qualifications and References

Unlike other contractors, you don't need to look for a chimney sweep with a license: Licenses are not generally required in the industry. However, your chimney sweep should provide proof of certification and insurance before stepping foot in your home. 

Here's what to look out for:

  • The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers the gold standard of chimney sweep certifications. Professionals must pass a rigorous testing process and update their certification once a year.

  • In addition to the CSIA certification, chimney sweeps may list credentials from Certified Chimney Professionals (CCP) or a National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) membership.

  • Your chimney sweep should provide proof of commercial general liability insurance, which protects against damage to the contractor or your home as they complete work.

We also recommend asking your candidate for references from past clients willing to offer testimonials. Speaking with prior customers allows you to ask more specific questions about the payment and work process than you can find online.

Questions to Ask Your Chimney Sweep

Chat with possible chimney sweeps in person or on the phone to make sure they are a good professional match. Keep these questions handy as you consider signing a contract:

  • Can you provide a detailed estimate of your prices?

  • Have you inspected this type of chimney/appliance in the past?

  • What work will you complete on your initial visit?

  • What work will you perform to ensure my chimney is properly cleaned?

  • How will you communicate if you need to complete additional work?

  • Are you certified?

  • How do you perform safety checks before, during, and after completing the work?

  • Do you guarantee your work?

man sweeping chimney on top of house
© Inga - stock.adobe.com

Hiring Your Chimney Sweep

Once you find your ideal chimney cleaning team, here's what you can expect next.

Get a Contract and Arrange Payments With Your Chimney Sweep

Chimney estimates work a bit differently than other home projects. While you should receive a free estimate for the cost of the chimney sweep's work, a basic inspection often comes with the cleaning price. In other words, you won't likely get a "free" inspection unless you sign on for additional cleaning or repairs.

Inspections themselves are often quite extensive—especially if you need anything past what is known as a Level 1 inspection for a deeper look. However, you should always receive pricing details before the chimney sweep begins.

Be sure your contract includes the following information:

  • Itemized list of predicted work and prices

  • Work schedule

  • Payment schedule

  • Accepted forms of payment

  • Guarantee on work performed

Keep Records of Your Chimney Sweep Project

Keep written documentation of how your chimney, fireplace, and wood-burning stove performs before and after the work. Snap a photo of the inside and outside of the chimney as well as the structural areas surrounding them.

It is perfectly normal to request updates on the chimney sweep progress during each visit. If the sweep replaces any parts such as the chimney liner, damper, or cap, be sure to get paperwork on this hardware.

Most importantly, keep proof of your inspection in a safe place once it is complete.

Know Your Rights and Avoid Chimney Sweep Scams

It's important to double-check your work before letting a pro into your home. Remember, just because the website—or even the name of the company—includes the word "certified," doesn't mean that they necessarily have the credentials. Always ask for proof of updated materials.

All of this should help you avoid any chimney sweeping scams but be sure to stay alert. Never work with a chimney sweep who knocks on your door or calls up unannounced with an abnormally low price.

We recommend comparing at least three chimney sweep estimates. Also, never feel pressured to sign a contract if you still have questions. When a salesperson takes on a pushy tone, move on to the next sweep on your list.

After Your Chimney Sweep Has Finished

A great chimney sweep professional should put you at ease after completing a cleaning or necessary repairs. Many use cameras to snake down the length of the chimney and fully inspect their work. If you suspect any issues in the days after their visit, avoid lighting fires and call them immediately.

Also, be sure to keep all your receipts and paperwork in one spot for your next chimney inspection. Hopefully, you'll like your initial pick so much that you'll bring them back next year, leave a good review, or maybe even offer to be a reference.

Once your chimney sweep gives you the thumbs up, you can rest assured that you can safely switch your heat on for the season. If you're lucky enough to own a fireplace, gather wood, blankets, and hot chocolate for the first fire of the season.

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