Nothing like a nice fire to warm the chill as cold weather descends. And the Connecticut shoreline has no shortage of fireplaces with chimneys in various states of repair. But if you entrust cleaning your chimney to just any guy with a long-handled brush offering to do it on the cheap, your luck may turn bad, indeed. “Never hire a chimney sweep who shows up on your doorstep uninvited,” says the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP). Unsolicited calls from telemarketers also merit caution. It could be from an out-of-state operation that trucks in and out again, not a business with local roots.
Never mind that you could be wasting money if you fall for a scam. You could be risking home and perhaps life. About 25,000 residential chimney fires, with 10 or more deaths, occur annually according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Most of these are from creosote buildup in chimneys—more properly, chimney flues—connected to woodstoves and fireplaces.
Even so, you are not home free with an oil or gas furnace, both of which produce soot. It contains chemicals that when mixed with rainwater acidify and eat away at the chimney, eventually impeding its function. To be really safe, you need somebody who knows the ins and outs of chimneys better than Santa Claus. Like most states, however, Connecticut does not require chimney sweeps to be licensed. As an alternative, says the CPSC, use a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild or a sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, like Jay Hornyak of Killingworth.
Hornyak and his partner, Javier Robayo of Clinton, run Advanced Chimney Service. They install and re pair chimneys, as well as clean them, so understand the dynamics of how these household smokestacks work. Ask ei ther of them and he will passionately tell much more than you ever wanted to know about stuff such as the physics of interaction between roof design and chimney function or the chemistry of smoke condensation. Want more? Their company’s website directs you to a blog entertainingly written by Robayo—he has self-published novels—that contains enough information to make you virtually scamproof.
Scammers have hoodwinked many customers whom Hornyak and Robayo get on the rebound. Almost as bad as a scammer is the well-intentioned handyman who is honest but lacks the knowledge and tools to do the job right. A sweep, for instance, must know when a simple swabbing is not enough. Some chimneys, where creosote forms a glassy glaze, need to be scraped or even chemically treated. A key part of the sweep’s job is to inspect the chimney for existing or potential problems, which means having chimney smarts.
“Go local,” says Robayo, when asked how to choose a sweep. “If you like the work, stay with the sweep because he will become familiar with your chimney. A typical cleaning should take 45 minutes to an hour, says Robayo. Typical prices for a quality job are between about $100 and $200, although the Chimney Safety Institute says some jobs may legitimately cost up to $300. Referrals are essential, says Robayo, advice echoed by the DCP, which also suggests you can find reputable sweeps through the websites of the Safety Institute or the Chimney Sweep Guild.
Image Credits: Illustration courtesy Shutterstock