With the chilly weather fast approaching, many consumers are yearning for a toasty fire by the fireplace and looking to have their chimneys cleaned in preparation. However, the Better Business Bureau is advising consumers to know which businesses to trust and which to avoid so their hard earned dollars don’t go up in smoke.
To date this year, the BBB System has received around 250 complaints against chimney cleaners, which mirrors the year to date complaint volume received in 2012.
Chimney sweeping is not something that homeowners deal with often, so we may lack knowledge of the cleaning process. Many scammers take full advantage of this and do shoddy work…or no work at all. One case involved a chimney sweep with nothing more than a Shop-Vac.
In other cases, consumers have reported 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 endorse any particular company or inspect chimneys. Many scam artists are targeting the elderly, making vague, unclear phone calls or showing up at their door claiming they have done business in the past and it is time for their annual sweep.
Some less than reputable companies will advertise at a much lower price than legitimate businesses. Typically, a professional chimney sweep will charge between $100 and $200 for the cleaning of one chimney shaft, whereas scam artists are charging as little as $50. The BBB advises that if a price sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Many scam artists 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 more expensive bill. If the price you are quoted 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. The BBB recommends using these helpful tips when hiring a chimney sweep:
Check out a chimney sweeping business at bbb.org. Always check with the BBB for a trusted chimney sweeping business in your area. Are they an Accredited Business? Do they have any outstanding complaints? Have those complaints been resolved? Remember, all companies will eventually get complaints; it is how the company handles those complaints that is most important.
Find out how long they have been in business. How long have they operated in your area? Find out if they offer current references, or if you know anyone who has used their services in the past.
Ask if they have a valid business license and liability insurance. In the event of an accident, their liability insurance keeps your home and belongings safe. Ask to see proof.
Find out if any employees are certified and by whom. Though this is not law, it is recommended by fire departments, and speaks to the qualifications of the individual or business you hire. Certification is required of members of the National Chimney Sweep Guild (www.ncsg.org).
For more tips you can trust, visit bbb.org.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: www.bbb.org or E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org