Every year around this time Boston homeowners get unsolicited calls offering a free chimney inspection. Sounds too good to be true! What these unsuspecting homeowners do not know is that nine times out of ten the same company that does the inspection also does the repairs. Obviously it is to the company’s fiscal benefit to find or report issues that need immediate repair. These repairs typically cost thousands. Sometimes up to $10,000.

No licensing required for chimney sweeps

Unfortunately, there is no universal licensing for chimney sweeps and inspectors in Boston. Some sweeps do belong to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). However, inspections are not held to any state-wide or national guidelines, they are purely subjective. Even when a camera is run down the chimney the cracks and mortar loss are not definitive and do not always mean that a chimney is unsafe.

Of course, not all chimney sweeps or inspectors are out to cheat homeowners. Unfortunately, those who do create a bad name and reputation for those who are honest. Things you can look for to protect yourself and your pocketbook include whether the call was solicited or not and whether there is a charge for the inspection or not. Unsolicited calls for free inspections are typically two red flags. Stories of homeowners being scammed and of ABC’s Good Morning America sting operation were recounted in a column by two Maryland real estate agents in a May 2016 Capital Gazette story.

What to look for in a chimney sweep or inspection company

If you are a homeowner who wants to ensure your chimney is safe, it’s best to seek out a qualified local company. Read the reviews and make sure the company:

  • Is insured
  • Pulls permits when work is necessary
  • Has the required credentials and licenses to do masonry or venting work
  • Has many positive current references and reviews

Always get any bids and work done in writing. Always. It is recommended that those who use their fireplaces get them inspected regularly, every year or so.

Timing is also crucial. It is better to get your chimney inspected when it is not on the market or going on the market. Too often homeowners or buyers are talked into getting repairs that may not be necessary when a sale is at stake. Channel 10 ran a story about chimney sweep scams and one woman’s cautionary tale in 2018.

The rule of thumb with chimney repair is if it sounds too good to be true (free inspection), it most likely isn’t true. If it sounds too bad to be true ($10,000 worth of repairs needed immediately), it also most likely isn’t true.