5 On Your Side

Know who you hire to be certain of safe, clean chimney

Posted February 25, 2015

One of the best parts of winter is spending time in front of a cozy fireplace, especially when there is snow and ice outside.

For many, fireplaces are a source of both comfort and heat, but regular maintenance is key to avoid problems, up to and including fires that spread to the rest of the house.

Diligent homeowners should both plan for chimney maintenance and do their homework on anyone they hire, said Robbie Markey, owner of Raleigh-based Mr. Smokestack.

That was the mistake made by Erica Kim. She used an online deal site to hire a chimney cleaner and ended up with a big mess.

Kim said the man arrived in an unmarked white van.

"If there's no company name, if they do not look professional, the odds are they're not," Markey said.

Once the work began, Kim saw her house fill with a black cloud of smoke.

"I asked him if this was supposed to happen," she said. "He said, 'no,' and that opening the door will fix the problem."

Markey said dust control is key.

"If we do not have dust control as a chimney service industry in general, we do not have a business," he said.

Mr. Smokestack cleans chimneys in intervals and workers use a flashlight, camera and vacuum to monitor and collect dust.

Markey said any chimney cleaning company should be certified through the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). The group sets certain requirements and a code of ethics.

Markey recommends an annual inspection and sweep, if need be, for a wood-burning fireplace. Gas logs, or any gas appliance, should be cleaned every three to five years.

A thorough inspection and cleaning takes place inside the house and out, Markey said. The whole process should take up to two hours.

Kim said her service was over in 30 minutes, yet still left a mess. Afterward, she wondered if her chimney even got clean or whether she was still at risk for a house fire.

Kim is still fighting to get the company involved, duct N dryer, to pay for her house cleaning.


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