Better Business Bureau: Don’t get smoked out by chimney sweepWith chilly weather fast approaching, many people are anticipating toasty evenings spent relaxing around their fireplaces, and they’re looking to have their chimneys cleaned in preparation.The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is advising consumers to do their research so they know which businesses to trust and which to avoid to prevent their hard earned dollars from going up in smoke.So far this year, the BBB has received more than 380 complaints against chimney cleaners, up from the 342 complaints received in all of 2010.
“Chimney sweeping is not something that homeowners deal with often, so many of us lack knowledge of how the process works,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. “Scammers take advantage of this and do shoddy work … or no work at all.”
In some cases, consumers have reported receiving calls stating the town fire department recommends the resident’s chimney be cleaned. The calls go on to recommend a particular chimney sweep and endorse their services on behalf of the fire department. Though town fire departments do recommend having chimneys cleaned on an annual basis, they do not inspect chimneys or endorse any particular company. Many scams target the elderly, making vague, unclear phone calls claiming they have done business in the past and it is time for their annual sweep.
Scam artists also sometimes advertise much lower prices than legitimate businesses. Typically, a professional chimney sweep will charge between $150 and $200 for the cleaning of one chimney shaft, whereas scam artists will claim they charge as little as $50. The BBB advises that if a price sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Many scam artists will use a low price tactic to get in your door, at which point they recommend additional work be done immediately, bullying the consumer into a much pricier service call. If the estimate you receive is significantly lower than that of other businesses, it should be viewed as a red flag.
The BBB suggests consumers do their homework before hiring a chimney sweep and inviting them into the home. Additionally, check with your local fire department and with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (csia.org).
Ask if they have a valid business liability insurance policy, and if any employees are certified through CSIA, a national nonprofit agency with a certification program for chimney sweeps.
For more advice from BBB, visit www.bbb.org . The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public.