Finding a qualified chimney sweep is not an easy task. There are currently no state licensing requirements in Missouri or Kansas, so anyone can buy a set of brushes and set up a sweeping business, even without any training in identifying potential hazards or repair methods. Since chimney sweeps deal with serious fire and carbon monoxide hazards, there has been ongoing debate about the licensing issue for at least 15 years.
What chimney sweeps do: Chimney sweeps sweep chimneys to remove flammable creosote and other debris such as flammable bird nests, dead birds and animals, leaves, twigs, mortar, bricks, etc. Then they do the most important task – an inspection of the system to make sure that everything is in good working order. Chimneys may have many problems that are potential hazards which can usually only be identified by the trained eye.
Some of the hazards commonly found in chimneys are missing mortar joints due to rain and acidic gases, improperly sized flue liners, unparged smoke chambers, and cracked, broken, or missing flue tiles. These issues can allow heated, toxic gases to enter the living space and allow heat to transfer to nearby hidden combustibles such as framing, which can cause house fires.
Most chimney fires go unnoticed by the homeowner, with damages found later by a professional chimney sweep during a routine inspection.
Currently it is left to the homeowner to find a good chimney sweep on their own. The first thing to look for is a chimney sweep who is Certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Currently, there are only seven out of 40 companies in the greater KC area who have chimney sweeps on staff with this certification. The CSIA provides study materials, and has a chimney sweeping school where participants learn the codes and clearances, proper construction, proper cleaning and inspection methods, and the latest tools and equipment used for the job. They test chimney sweeps, who must maintain continuing education credits by taking approved courses in order to maintain their credential. Sweeps can attend national and regional seminars in the U.S. and Canada for their CEU credits. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council has annual meetings with CEU courses annually in Missouri or neighboring states.
Most chimney sweeps are really chimney “technicians,” who do repair work to chimneys in addition to sweeping and inspections, The most commonly needed repairs are fireplace tuckpointing, smoke chamber parging, damper replacement, crown repair, brick repair or rebuilding, and flue relining, which is usually necessary after a chimney fire or lightning strike, or due to missing mortar joints in the flue liner. Sometimes relining is needed to resize an incorrectly sized liner. Be sure to hire a chimney sweep who can also do any needed repairs. A Class DM Master Mechanical license is required in all major cities in order to do relining and repair work. Any time a chimney is altered in any way, a permit and inspection by the building official is required. Check Johnson County Contractor Licensing for a list of licensed contractors. A permit is also required for this type of work.
To further investigate the company check out the company website – a lot of information about the company can be obtained that way. Look for chimney company owners with other related certifications and degrees, and ask for proof of liability and worker’s comp insurance. Homeowners may be responsible for any accidents on their property if the company does not have adequate insurance.
Many chimney sweeps also sell and/or install hearth appliances such as wood-burning fireplace inserts, freestanding wood stoves, gas stoves, gas inserts, and gas logs. Specialized training is necessary in this area as well and finding an installer who is familiar with the codes is imperative. In most cities in the greater KC area in Kansas and Missouri, a class DM Master Mechanical License is required to do these installations. There are many chimney sweeps and hearth stores who do not have this license. A permit is usually required by the city for hearth installations as well. Check for licensed contractors at Johnson County Contractor Licensing. Also be sure the installer is NFI Certified in Gas, Wood, or Pellet by the National Fireplace Institute of America. Ask to see their badge.
What you can do if there is a problem:
Since the chimney sweeping and hearth trades are largely unregulated, consumers have little or no assurance of competency. Some unfortunate experiences with inadequately trained sweeps/installers in the KC area have occurred. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council has received a number of reports from consumers regarding improper installations that put them at serious risk, and house fires that occurred needlessly. There is a current movement to license chimney sweeps and hearth installers, but it will take a concerned public in order to get this accomplished. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council is looking for consumers who have had serious problems with a chimney sweep, hearth installer, or mason in order to demonstrate that licensing is necessary. Please contact the MCSC at 816-461-3665 to make a report for a house fire, chimney fire, CO poisoning, smoking fireplace, or other issue caused by a sweep or hearth installer. Contact information is confidential.
Other things consumers can do when they have an unresolved problem with a contractor is to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General, and file a claim in small claims court or file a lawsuit for larger projects.