#Westport CT–Every year the Westport Fire Department responds to fires caused by malfunctioning fireplaces and dirty flues.
Also every year as the pumpkins come out, so do a small army of fireplace and chimney flue con artists and scammers. So the homeowner has a double challenge: prepare the fireplace for a winter of use and
don’t get taken in the process.
Here are some important guidelines on preparing your chimney for winter:
1) Schedule a flue cleaning now. Use a local company that has an office base with a local Connecticut street address. Ask them for their state license number and check that number with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (www.ct.gov/dcp) and with the Better Business Bureau (www.ct.bbb.org). Ensure they have liability and Workers Compensation Insurance by asking for a copy of their “Acord” certificate. Check the certificate to make sure the coverages are listed and up to date, and don’t hesitate to ask that you be listed on the form as an additionally insured. If they don’t know what an Acord certificate is, don’t use them.
A new “red flag” to watch out for: the “we’re in the neighborhood” solicitation. This can be in person or by phone. Legitimate firms work by your calling in for service, not by phone bank come-ons. Check out
the work truck. Does it look like a real working vehicle, full of tools and parts? Does it have a professional logo and telephone numbers painted on it? If it is an unmarked van with a mattress in the back, move on! If the worker offers to work for only cash or offers a substantial discount for paying in cash, alarm bells should go off! Legitimate firms report their income legally and take payment by check or credit card without penalty to you. Never pay cash up front.
2) Have the entire chimney (screen, firebox, damper, flue, chimney, chimney cap) inspected by a licensed professional. Have this performed before the cleaning, and accompany the worker as he or she makes the inspection. The red flag here is the “fly-by-nighter” who uses scare tactics or intimidation to up-charge the job. If you hear phrases like, “You could be killed by carbon monoxide” or “I have to report you to the building department” be very wary. These are scams used to perform unnecessary repairs at rip off prices. These scammers could also intentionally damage your property when you’re not looking to “justify” their
3) Tell the workers not to remove or change any fireplace equipment (dampers, flue liners, caps) without your prior approval. Another scam piggybacking on the “you could have died” threat is the unnecessary removal of fireplace parts that are supposedly defective. The scammer then offers to “repair” the “defective” part at an outrageous price. Meanwhile if you fire the guy, your chimney is now in pieces and unusable. You authorize the work you pay for, not the contractor. Tell them that any changes in the scope of the work must be approved before they are done.
4) Ask for a written guarantee of workmanship. Legitimate chimney workers stand behind their craft and should have no problem guaranteeing their work. These four simple steps will ensure you get a good and safe professional chimney cleaning job. Use your common sense too – if your neighbors have a great guy they’ve used for years, use him. You can’t beat a personal reference from a friend. And remember that dishonest scammers rely on your ignorance, on intimidation, and most reprehensibly prey on older homeowners.
The Westport Fire and Building departments strongly support the safe maintenance of all fuel burning appliances. You don’t need a permit to clean chimneys, but you do for re-lining. While we do not perform chimney inspections, if you have any questions on chimney maintenance please call us:
Westport Building Department: 203-341-5025, Westport Fire Marshal’s Office: 203-341-5020.
(Westport Fire Department Press Release)
This press release was made possible by: