Our company doesn't offer chimney sweeping services any more. Sure, if we're installing an appliance, lining a chimney or doing a restoration job then we clean the chimney if needed, and we clean it exceptionally well. But we don't hire ourselves out as chimney sweeps any more.

For this reason, I feel like it's time to offer some inside secrets that I wouldn't do if we were still in the bidding for your chimney cleaning dollars. I hope I can help you avoid hiring the wrong people to do a job that, done poorly, can cause a big mess in your house at best, and at worst can put you at even greater risk of chimney fires, house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Chimney sweeps and chimney technicians are like any other group of people; there are good ones, great ones and some that are... not. I prefer to think that inexperience or poor training is responsible for most mistakes.

CHIMNEY SWEEPS have provided important services for centuries. At left is an antique trade card for William Woodward of London who was not only a chimney sweep but, as was common, was also a Nightman (the fellow who cleaned out privies, drains and cesspools) "at the Shortest Notice and upon the most Reasonable Terms" and also hauled away rubbish.

Here are my recommendations on how to hire a professional chimney sweep:

* Mostly, you get what you pay for. DO NOT use a chimney sweep that offers free inspections or $39 chimney sweeps - they're really only trying to get in the door in hopes of finding a problem that they can make a lot of money fixing for you. Ask yourself if you'd go get in your truck that gets 8 miles per gallon of gas, spend 1-2 hours with travel time to go to somebody's home and do a thorough inspection for free or a thorough job cleaning the chimney for $39. Where does the money come from to pay for the truck, the proper tools, INSURANCE, training, certifications and the like? It just can't be done. Don't fall for those "special" coupons with bargain-basement prices.

*Ask for references. If any good sweep can't come up with the names of 3 good customers who love them and would be happy to recommend then don't hire them. Follow up and call the referrals, keep the conversation short and courteous.

*Ask if they're insured. If they make a mess, damage something in your home or if the sweep gets hurt while he's on your property, you want to make certain that they're insured before they come to your home.

*Ask for credentials, such as membership in the National Chimney Sweep Guild or in their state or local chimney sweep guild. Ask about their certifications, such as the Certified Chimney Sweep credential from the Chimney Safety Institute of America
Keep in mind that the primary reason a tradesman seeks membership in a professional organization, whether it be a trade association, local chamber of commerce, Better Business Bureau, etc. is to network with other like-minded people. In general, a lot of what membership in an organization does is set standards for business practices and those that don't conform eventually get kicked out or leave. It's all about creating positive peer pressure amongst the members. The organizations often charge hefty dues to belong, encouraging members to act professionally and do good work to remain a member in good standing.

* Ask how long they've been in the chimney service business. In my humble opinion, you're going to need at least 5 years in the trade to see a little bit of every potential problem. Novices are just more likely to miss something important or to make a bad mistake due to simple inexperience. 

George Cordwall, Chimney Sweeper to their Royal Highnesses the Duke of Gloucester and Cumberland, also extinguished chimney fires, cured smoky chimneys and "performs what he undertakes with the utmost care and expedition." 

You're really looking for a guy (or gal) just like George.