In my last post, we talked about how to find a good chimney sweep to hire in your area. Now that you’ve found one, what happens when they get to your house? What can you look for when he (or she, although female sweeps are still pretty rare) shows up to work? How can you be sure this fellow knows what he’s doing, or isn’t going to take advantage of you? The following tips should help you determine if the Sweep is right for you.
Appearance. This is trickier than you think. I’m not talking about clean; if a Sweep is too clean, he’s probably not working hard enough (unless it’s his first job of the morning). Cleanliness is not important to most of us; we spend all day getting dirty. But being clean-cut should be important to all. Is he clean shaven—or facial hair neatly trimmed? Is he wearing work-appropriate clothes without rips or tears? Does he have a company shirt or other uniform that identifies him as an employee of the company? This last part is critical. If a company is not willing to get company uniforms or at least shirts, they probably don’t have a good investment in their trade. What about their vehicle? Do they arrive in a truck or van with permanent, eye-catching lettering or signage? That shows a level of pride in their company and investment in their business. Beware of ‘blank’ vans or trucks.
Attitude. Is the Sweep friendly? Does he greet you enthusiastically and with eye contact? Is he respectful of your home (putting down tarps and runners so he doesn’t track in dirt)? Is he well-spoken? I’m not saying he needs to recite Shakespeare, but he should be able to hold an intelligent conversation with you, including respectful language (i.e. no profanity). As he sets up his work area, does he seem well-practiced and confident? Or is he hesitant or confused? If he’s working with an apprentice or helper, is he respectful to them? Attitude should be an easy one for everyone. We all make quick judgments when first meeting new people. Listen to your gut. If something is not sitting right with you after meeting the Sweep, you may want to listen to that feeling.
Ask questions. First off, ask the number one most important question—“How long have you been doing this”. Look for a Sweep that as at least ten years of experience in the industry. Like any trade, it takes many, many years to achieve a level of skill and quality. Then ask questions about what they’re doing. Don’t fear that you’re bothering the Sweep by wanting to know what the process is and what they’ll be doing. If a Sweep is professional, he should happily tell you exactly what’s going on. If the worker seems annoyed or frustrated by your questions, that should be a red flag. Of course, I should say that you must be reasonable and allow the Sweep time to do his job, too.
Expect questions. Trying to fix chimney problems can involve a certain level of diagnosis. A good Sweep will likely ask you many questions in an effort to pin down the problems. After arriving at a solution, there may options for repair that the Sweep will discuss with you. Be cautious of anyone who says there’s only one solution (which is conveniently their solution) to chimney issues.
After the sweep. This is the most important part. Don’t ever fall for a Sweep who tries to bully you into on-the-spot repairs. Ever. Also, don’t sign anything that commits you to future repairs without having time to consider it. In my area, even legitimate companies with many years in business will push fear on their customers, telling them their house will burn down or they’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning if they don’t do the work. A good Sweep will allow you time to review proposals, ask questions, and even get second or third opinions. In my own business, I encourage my customers to get second opinions, that’s how confident I am in the quality of my work. Other sweep companies should be, too. Make sure they can explain why the repairs are necessary and ask them to document the areas of concern with photos. In this day and age, there is simply no reason a company shouldn’t be giving you photos of everything they see.
There’s so much more I could add here. Perhaps there needs to be a Part Three to this series. But those tips should help you make sure the Sweep you invited into your home is doing a good job. If you have questions, ask. And if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Best of Sweep’s Luck to You,