Chimney Sweep Scams

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ILLUSTRATION: FIEDELS/FOTOLIA
If you heat with wood you'll need a chimney sweep at some point. Beware of chimney sweep scams.

A generation ago, we who heated with wood had to clean our own flues. Then, thanks to a combination of hard-won experience, common sense, and a revival of old-time skills and tools, a forest of native chimney sweeps sprouted up. Many failed when oil prices stopped rising through the ’80s, but the survivors know their trade. Today, for $50 to $100, a sweep will clean your flue. Many also sell and install stoves, and replace, reline, or install ceramic or insulated metal flues. Sweeps must pass certification tests in some states and may be members of The National Chimney Sweep Guild or the Chimney Safety Association of America.

But the chimney sweep business isn’t immune to chimney sweep scams. Beware of a new breed of con man that has been preying on older folks and moms at home. Looking for weathered chimneys with dark creosote seeping out, they relate scare stories of chimney fires. Then, promising to repair and clean the flue, they mount the roof, pump a little caulk into cracks, shove an ineffective brush down the chimney, and drive off with the money. Worse, they leave victims with a false sense of confidence in a flue that may be a fire hazard. Established sweeps will be listed in the yellow pages.