How to Avoid Chimney Cleaning Scams

Avoid chimney cleaning scams

Tips on How to Avoid Chimney Cleaning Scams

Annual chimney inspections are important whether your chimney is venting a wood-burning or gas fireplace, woodstove, furnace or water heater.  Regular inspections by a trained professional will detect any problems with the soundness of your chimney structure and flues.  The inspection will also verify the chimney is free of dangerous creosote build-up and obstructions such as birds’ nests.

Unfortunately, chimney repair and chimney cleaning scams are on the rise.  Consumers need to be aware of typical scam tactics and take precautions to avoid falling victim to a fraudulent chimney service.


  • Be wary if you receive an unsolicited telephone call, email, or home visit from someone offering to do a free or very low cost chimney inspection or chimney cleaning.
  • Typically, scammers begin with an offer of a low cost inspection or chimney cleaning, only to “discover” upon inspection serious problems that require expensive and immediate repairs.
  • Scammers often focus on concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning.  There are instruments that measure carbon monoxide leakage.  Make sure the inspector can prove carbon monoxide problems to you.
  • Scammers may use “scare tactics” to push you into paying for unnecessary repairs.  If an expensive repair is recommended, obtain quotes from two or three other chimney repair professionals.
  • If you are told your chimney requires a very expensive custom chimney cap, check our off-the shelf chimney caps to see if they will serve your needs.
  • Never pay for repairs before the work is done.

Typical chimney inspection and cleaning costs

A chimney inspection costs in the $75 – $100 range.  In some areas, local fire departments will inspect your chimney for free.   A full chimney inspection and cleaning runs $150 to $300.  However, inspections and cleanings for tall chimneys or for chimneys on homes with very steep roof pitches may be more expensive, as are cleanings in chimneys that have not been cleaned in a very long time.

A basic chimney inspection and cleaning will take 60 to 90 minutes, and a legitimate contractor should also be able to provide photo or video proof if any extensive repairs are needed.

How to hire a legitimate chimney sweep

  • To avoid chimney cleaning scams, check online to see if the sweep is either certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America or is a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild
  • Ask the chimney sweep’s company for references.
  • Ask for a copy of the company’s or individual’s up-to-date business liability insurance.
  • Ask if the company provides a written warranty for its work.  If so, how long is it warranted?
  • Check to make sure the company or individual is licensed — Not all areas require licensure.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Protection Agency to see if complaints have been made against the chimney sweep’s company.



Posted in Fireplace and Chimney Maintenance Tagged with: ,

Before You Light Your First Fireplace Fire

10 Things to Know Before You Light Your First Wood Burning Fireplace Fire

New to the world of wood burning fireplaces?  Is this your first winter with a new fireplace? Or have you recently acquired the role of Chief Fire Builder in your home?

10 things you need to know before you light your first fireplace fire:

1.       Open the damper before lighting a fire.  Close it only when the fire is completely out.
Reach inside the firebox to find the damper handle or cable. (Okay, the firebox is the opening where your fire will be.  Here’s a diagram so you’ll know the names the significant parts of your fireplace.)  Opening the damper lets the smoke escape up the flue.  Closing it when the fire is completely out will lower your energy bill. If you are not sure how to open the damper, click here.

damper handles

What does a damper handle look like? Look for something similar to one of these.

2.       Avoid a smoky fire by using only well-seasoned firewood.

Between the time it is cut and when you use it to light your first fireplace fire, firewood needs to dry (or season) for six months to a year.  Well-seasoned firewood is more energy efficient and gives off less smoke.  You’ll know if the wood is adequately seasoned if it is gray, lighter weight than newly cut firewood, cracked on the ends and shedding bits of its bark.  Also, seasoned firewood makes a hollow clunking sound when two pieces are tapped together.

3.       Pre-heat your chimney to start the upward flow of hot air.

Hot air rises.  If you want those first whiffs of smoke to drift up the chimney instead of into the room, you need to pre-heat the air in the chimney before you light the fireplace fire.  Simply twist together a couple of pieces of newspaper to make a torch, light it, and hold it inside the firebox, up toward the flue.

 Or blow a hairdryer, turned on high, up the flue (not down toward any ashes!)
Preheat a fireplace using a hair dryer.

4.       Using fatwood to start a fire makes you look like a fire-starting wizard.

Fatwood is a natural product, chemical free, and it gets a fire going like nothing else.  When you build your fire (see #5 below) include a stick or two of fatwood.

fatwood fire starters

Never, never use kerosene, gasoline, or BBQ lighter fluid to start your fire.

5.       There are two ways to build a fire, and either one works well.

For either way, use a fireplace grate to provide good airflow to your fire.

The traditional fire-building method starts with sheets of balled up newspaper, small pieces of tender and kindling, and fatwood on the bottom and builds up to larger pieces of firewood.  An upside-down fire reverses the order.

6.       Your fireplace is not the household incinerator.

Yes, it is a handy fire.  But much of household trash releases dangerous fumes if burned in your fireplace.  Stick to burning seasoned hardwoods with uncolored newspaper and fatwood as the only augmentation.

7.       Keep the fire in the fireplace.

Use a fireplace screen or glass doors to keep any stray spark from alighting on your floor or carpet.  The long handles on fireplace tools allow you to reach into the fire without bringing the flame out on your sleeve.

Too many house fires occur when fireplace ashes are dumped into a trash can before they are thoroughly cold.  Use the shovel from your fireplace tool set to place cold ashes into a metal, lidded ash bucket.  Let the ashes sit for at least three days before emptying them into the trash.

8.       If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you have a hole in your roof.

The flue exits your home through the chimney on your roof.  If you do not cover that flue opening, birds, squirrels, raccoon, and a host of other unwanted visitors can enter your house by going down the flue and into your fireplace.  To prevent this, install a chimney cap.

The flue, AKA the hole, allows smoke to exit when you are using your fireplace.  But when you don’t have a fire going, that open hole allows cold air to come down the flue.  A damper that attaches to the very top of your flue and seals with a gasket (such as a Lyemance damper) can prevent significant energy loss through the flue.

 9.       Install not only a smoke alarm but also a carbon monoxide detector.

Any kind of fire gives off carbon monoxide, and if it is not properly vented, it can create health problems and even death.  Combination smoke alarms – CO detectors are the simple solution.

10.       Have a chimney sweep inspect your chimney and fireplace before your first fireplace fire.Have your fireplace cleaned by a certified chimney sweep before you light the first fire.

A chimney sweep removes any creosote build-up that has the potential to start a chimney fire.  He also inspects flue to confirm it is fire-safe.  Many of the other maintenance tasks a chimney sweep might recommend, such as repairing small cracks on the chimney crown or in the mortar or applying water repellent, you can do yourself for a good deal less with our professional grade chimney repair products.

Even if you rarely use your fireplace, have your chimney and fireplace inspected every year and cleaned as needed.

It is much better for your fireplace to burn hardwoods such as oak, beech, maple or ash instead of softwoods such as pine or spruce.  Hardwoods produce much less creosote.


Now you know what you need to know before you light your first fireplace fire.  No instructions are necessary for how to enjoy it once you have that fire going!

Posted in Using Your Fireplace Tagged with:

Safely Replace Smoke Alarm Batteries

Safety Replace Smoke Detector Batteries

Smoke detectors can save lives, but they cannot change their own batteries.

Failure to safely replace and and dispose of 9 volt smoke alarm batteries can result in a house fire.

Having smoke alarms in the house is not enough – they must be functioning smoke alarms to do their job.  Although 95% of Americans report having at least one smoke alarm in their home, two-thirds of home fire deaths happen in homes without a working smoke alarm.  So most home fire deaths occur where no one remembered to replace smoke alarm batteries.

Safely Change Smoke Alarm Batteries

When to Replace the Smoke Alarm Batteries

Twice a year, traditionally when daylight savings begins and ends, replace smoke alarm batteries with new ones. Most hard-wired smoke alarms require batteries, too.  If your smoke alarms have rechargeable batteries, use those “spring forward” and “fall back” clock-changing days to recharge them.

Safely Discard Used Smoke Alarm Batteries

Finished with those old batteries?  Do not just toss the batteries into the trash!  Why?

Tossing used 9 volt batteries into the trash can cause house fires!

BEWARE! Tossing used 9 volt batteries into the trash can cause house fires!

Batteries with any “juice” at all left in them have the capacity to start a fire if both the positive and negative terminals touch a metal conductor.  Since both the positive and negative terminals are on the same end of a 9 volt battery, they are especially prone to starting a trash can fire.

Imagine a piece of foil, a tin can, a paper clip, steel wool, gum wrapper, bit of wire or any other metal item in your trash can.  It’s not hard to visualize both terminals of a discarded 9 volt battery simultaneously coming into contact with such a piece of metal in your trash.

To prevent discarded smoke alarm batteries from inadvertently igniting a home fire (or a fire in the trash truck or landfill), simply prevent the terminals from being able to contact any metal.  Here are three ways:

  • Put electrical tape over the terminals before discarding.
  • Put each battery in a separate plastic baggie before tossing it.
  • Drop each battery into an empty plastic pill bottle, put the lid on, and then discard.

Another Exit Path for used batteries is to be taken to a recycling center.  Great!  But even as they await recycling, store used smoke detector batteries so their terminals cannot come into contact with metal.

It’s not just old batteries, of course, that can start fires.  Keep all new batteries in their original packaging.  When you take out one battery from a multi-battery package, keep the others in the package.  And do not store batteries in that “junk drawer” that every household has.  Loose batteries and anything metal that might be in that drawer (paper clips, hair pins, screws, bottle opener, scissors, you name it!), can make a combustible combination.

So when you change your clocks, replace smoke alarm batteries in your home and office. Then be careful not to start a fire with those batteries you have just removed.




Posted in Safety Tagged with:

How to Remove Chimney Bees and Wasps

remove bee hives and wasp nests

Anyone who has bees or wasps in their chimney knows they are not the best of house guests. One of the ways they can enter your home is through the chimney.

Newly swarming bees looking for a place to call home can be discouraged from relocating to your chimney by your lighting a fire in the fireplace, as the bees will want to avoid any smoke. You may need to keep a small fire burning around the clock for two or three days. But note that this is not the way to get an established hive out of your chimney! Remember, the beeswax of honeybee hives is used for candle-making because it burns easily. Lighting a fire in a chimney with a hive in it is asking for a disaster!

So how do you get an established bee hive out of a chimney? The best solution is to call a chimney sweep who is also experienced in bee rescue. Because bees are so essential to food production both for humans and animals, you do not want a chimney sweep who will kill your bees. Instead, look for a sweep who knows how to relocate the hive.

Alternatively, find a beekeeper or experienced bee rescuer who knows how to free your chimney of bees without harming the bees. Your local agricultural extension agent may know people who will do the bee rescue (but not the subsequent chimney clean-up) for free.

The most successful common method of removing bees from a chimney involves first briefly blocking the fireplace opening inside the house. This keeps the bees from using your home as an escape path.

Then a box hive-like trap with an opening, called a trap out, is firmly affixed to the chimney. An exit-only funnel directs the bees from the chimney and into the trap out. It will likely take a few weeks for all of the bees to relocate out of your chimney and into the trap out.

If you are looking for a quicker solution, you can use a bee vac. Yes, it does just what it sounds like it does.

Finally, when the bees are gone, a chimney sweep will need to clean your chimney, removing all traces of the hive and of the honeycomb and honey if they were honeybees. This is not a task most homeowners are equipped to do.

After you remove bees or wasps, the next step is to keep the bees and other flying insect from returning to the chimney! A top-of-the-flue sealing chimney damper, such as a Lyemance Damper, keeps all flying (as well as creeping and crawling) critters out of your chimney and home. They open when you use your fireplace to let the heat exhaust.

top-mount fireplace damper

Lyemance Damper without Chimney Cap

They are also available with chimney caps that fit over the top-sealing dampers.

Posted in Fireplace and Chimney Maintenance, Safety Tagged with: