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BBB offers advice for hiring chimney sweep

Oct 31, 2013 - From staff reports

More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. And, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are a result of creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes.

Proper care and regular service can help protect families from preventable fires and carbon monoxide poisonings. Before hiring a chimney sweep, however, the Better Business Bureau and the Chimney Safety Institute of America 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 either BBB or the Attorney General's Office?

- 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?

Avoid chimney repair fraud by considering the following tips:

- Ask for photo/video proof of the recommended repairs. Do not feel pressured into allowing work to begin immediately. Make sure the photos make it easy to identify that you're looking at your house or ask for photos with enough background so that you can clearly tell it is your home.

- Don't accept broken debris as evidence of a needed repair. Ask to see what is broken or collapsed. If they can see the needed repairs, so can you.

- Do your homework. Before the service person arrives, educate yourself about products and repairs specific to fireplaces and chimneys. For example, the company representative might suggest a double-wall liner (which sounds pretty sturdy) when in fact the single-wall stainless steel liner is more durable and corrosion resistant.

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