Probably no other business owners are as eager to warn customers about shysters as those in the chimney sweep field. Because the procedure is less visible than plumbing or carpentry, it’s easy to cheat. Warnings about outright scams are openly discussed by people like Paul Feher, of Paul’s Chimney Cleaning & Restoration in Monroe. He has been in business since 1982 and actually worked his way through college as a chimney sweep. He and every one of his workers are certified by the National Chimney Sweepers Guild. Certification is required every three years. Paul says when discussing having this service done, customers should ask: “Who is going to come to my home?” “How long has the person been certified?” and ask to see the company’s certificate of insurance.

“People often fall  for the $39 special over the phone. Before they know it, they’re told their chimney needs repairs, or a new liner, and they’re handed a bill for over a thousand dollars,” Feher said. “Good companies don’t do telemarketing. They don’t have to.”
Bruce Alkin of All Seasons Chimney, Roofing & Gutters of Darien agrees. He says if the chimney sweeper arrives in a truck that already has new liners in it, you’re probably going to be ripped off.

A clean chimney is important because the build-up of creosote that results from using the fireplace can lead to chimney fires and possible carbon monoxide poisoning. The cleaning procedure is relatively simple, but has to be done expertly.

Kevin Beary of Safeside Chimney & Duct Cleaning in East Hartford explains, “We use wire brushes and flexible extension rods for access to the entire length of the chimney. The dust is cleared away by vacuuming.”

Reputable chimney sweepers may be located at a distance, but work all over Fairfield County. Beary says most people don’t realize that the furnace flue should also be inspected and cleaned. “Most of our emergency furnace shut-out calls are because the furnace flue needs cleaning,” he explains.
Bryan McCulloch of Fairfield County Clean Sweepers in Roxbury says the need for cleaning depends on the usage, the chimney height and the wind direction. Most chimneys should be inspected at least every five years. “One of the reasons smoke comes into the house is because the wood isn’t seasoned and the moisture in the wood causes the smoke.”

There are 14 different locations for August West Chimney Sweeps, founded 40 years ago. The company developed the first dust control chimney vacuum cleaner back in the ‘70s. James Flint of August West in Wilton reminds customers that both the furnace flue and the chimney flue need to be clean. He also mentioned the benefits of installing a chimney cap, which is a wire mesh enclosure that goes on top of the chimney to keep out small animals like squirrels and other airborne debris. Just as every chimney sweep owner in the area has warned, “There are disreputable chimney sweepers out there,” Flint said. “Carbon monoxide fires are extremely rare, but now that the chimney sweep season has begun, consumers should be most concerned about the risks of special bargain prices touted by people who are just in it for the money.”

Flint says that burning the right kind of wood is important.“It should be seasoned hardwood,” he said. “I like maple or oak. Pine is too soft and never use painted, varnished, or pressure treated wood in the fireplace.”

Paul Feher also warns against using wood that’s not well-seasoned. He likes maple for the fireplace and oak for wood stoves. “Use small pieces instead of one huge log,” he said. “If you want to season the wood yourself, pile it up, but only cover the top, not the sides, because you need air to circulate for proper seasoning. It’s OK to start the fire with newspaper, but you don’t want to use a lot of paper and never shiny paper, like magazines.”
Do it right and it all adds up to a great-looking fire in a well groomed fireplace.

Check out these chimney sweepers:

All Seasons Chimney, Roofing & Gutters (203-324-2277)
August West Chimney Sweeps (203-762-7374)
Paul’s Chimney Cleaning & Restoration (203-268-7624)
Safeside Chimney & Duct Cleaning (1-800-707-9337)
Fairfield County Clean Sweepers (203-938-4701)