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12 Things to Look at When Hiring & Contracting Chimney Pros

Introduction

Hiring a chimney company can be a daunting task. It may seem easy to just Google “Chimney Companies Near Me” and pick the first one that pops up.

But you need to make sure you’re picking the right company.

And picking the right company can be a pretty serious task all on its own. So I created this guide to help you navigate through contractor hiring.

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Tip 1 – Prices are Too Good

There are plenty of things that are too good to be true. And that’s the case for chimney work too.

Prices that seem too good to be true usually are too good to be true. Many of our customers tell us that they have regretted their decision to act on a “great deal.”

And those “great deals” were actually horrible deals.

Some of these “horrible deal” companies provided low-quality work or used substandard materials, while others engaged in questionable business practices like tax dodging, working without insurance, or using illegal workers.

Some of the companies raised the price or added items that were not included in the original price after the homeowner was committed.

Tip 2 – Don’t Compare Apples to Oranges

Only compare apples to apples.

Some companies deliver low quality at a low price. However, in sales calls these companies do not stress the low quality as much as the low price.

If you are a bargain hunter who will not take the time to educate yourself about what you are buying, you may well overpay by taking the lowest price. Always get the details in writing when comparing companies.

Tip 3 – Thoroughly Check the Reputation

Before hiring a company for a project, compare reputations and overall company grades with Google, Yelp, Porch, Angies List and many others. 

Also be sure to check if they are CSIA Certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America

These institutions will give you insight into company & employee qualification, quality, schedule adherence, cleanup, communication, etc. 

When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:

  1. Can the company provide references? 
  2. Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy? 
  3. Does the company ensure that a certified chimney technician will be on the job? 

If they guarantee all three of those, then you are in a good spot. The technicians don’t necessarily need to be certified by the CSIA, but I do recommend putting in a bit more due diligence before accepting a certification that’s not by the CSIA. 

This is because certifications are a tricky thing, especially in an unlicensed industry like ours. Any company can craft a list of job-related questions and sell them as an exam and certify those who pass. 

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Certifications

I recommend you take a few extra minutes in your research before making your hiring decision to learn more about the certification the company has. Here are a few tips to make sure the certification is reputable: 

  • Is the word “certified” just part of the business name or is it an earned designation? 
  • Is the certifying body a for-profit business or non-profit? 
  • Does the certification need to be maintained and renewed through continuing education as the industry evolves, or is it well enough to be certified through a one-time exam? 
  • Is the certifying body well-established or are they relatively new to the scene? New doesn’t mean “bad” but you should make sure the requirements for certification are more or at least equally stringent as those of more established certifications
  • Is the mission statement of the certifying body focused on educating and protecting homeowners or is it more focused on making it easier to earn a certification? 
  • Does holding the certification require following a code of ethics? 

If you can answer all of these questions, then I think it will be safe to allow the company in your home to work on your chimney.

Tip 4 – Be Patient in the Burn Season

Many home service industries are seasonal like chimney companies.

During the busy season, the better companies get backed up. Instead of waiting for a reputable company, unsuspecting homeowners sometimes take a chance with any company that can start work right away. 

There may be some very good reasons why a company in a cyclical business has very few customers during the busiest time of the year. 

But before taking a chance, ask yourself, “If I were in an unfamiliar city on a Saturday night, would I eat at an empty restaurant that could serve me right away, or would I eat at a restaurant with some customers?” 

In the long run, the hassle and cost associated with repairing poor work may make you wish you had waited for a reputable, high-quality, insured company in the first place.

Tip 5 – Avoid Handshake Deals

We’ve all done it before: you get a quote, you like what you hear and you shake on the terms.

Sure, it might help get the job done more quickly, and more often than not you’ll get exactly what you agreed to.

But every now and then an unexpected issue can rear its ugly head.

Bad weather might kick in, targets might fall short of what was promised, or perhaps a quote balloons out to triple what you budgeted.

Handshake agreements can also lead to a ‘he said, she said’ debate that racks up quite the legal bill. The biggest problem with oral contracts can be proving the terms of the contract if a dispute arises.

If a company representative or contractor claims his or her handshake is as good as a contract, it probably is not. Reputable companies insist on contracts.

Tip 6 – Avoid Large, Up-front Payments.

The typical service industry norm is a 30-50% deposit. At Patriot Chimney, we usually charge a 33% deposit, but sometimes, we require a larger deposit for jobs that require us to lease special equipment.

Beware of scams and always assume the worst.

If you make a large, up-front payment to a company that promptly goes out of business or skips town, you are out the money. If an up-front payment is unavoidable, consider charging the payment to a credit card.

Tip 7 – Avoid Demand for Cash Payments

A few contractors and service providers demand cash payments or offer substantial discounts for cash payments to avoid bounced checks, garnished wages, and Uncle Sam.

Additionally, some companies may in-turn pay their employees in cash, thereby allowing employees to escape taxes and government regulations.

Additionally, checks and other non-cash payment forms leave a paper trail, while hard cash has a way of disappearing. If you ever need to prove you actually paid a bill, a check is very useful. As well as your bank statement to prove your card was charged.

Tip 8 – Write the Check to the Company, not the Employee

Some unethical employees and/or unethical subcontractors steal from homeowners by convincing them to write checks directly to them, or to a different company from the one the homeowner hired.

After the money is stolen, the company that performed the work is still owed its fees and can rightfully put a lien against the homeowner’s house.

Tip 9 – Compare prices

Since prices for the same work can vary, we strongly recommend that you get multiple estimates.

This can be tricky in some service industries, like the chimney industry, since there’s a cost associated with giving proper quotes.

Tip 10 – Never Open an Account for a Contractor

Specifically, never open an account at a local store in your name for a contractor.

Some individuals or contractors request an account at a local store in the homeowner’s name to allow the contractor to charge the homeowner’s materials directly to this account.

However, after opening an account, some homeowners later found that tools and other unknown items, as well as materials for other jobs, had been charged to the account.

If a contractor’s credit is not good enough to warrant an open account at the local store, the underlying reason for the poor credit is probably a good reason to stay away.

Tip 11 – Do not lend tools to the people you hire.

Many homeowners have reported contractors and technicians who failed to bring the required tools with them.

Unfortunately, many of the homeowners who lent their tools to the contractor or technician later found that the tools were not returned.

Additionally, if you lend a tool to a contractor and that tool injures the contractor, the contractor may be able to make a legal tort claim against you.

Tip 12 – Do not help contractors

If you help a contractor and the contractor gets injured, the contractor may be able to make a legal tort claim against you.

Besides, you hired the contractor to do the job for you. Not with you.

Final Thoughts

The chimney industry isn’t regulated very well.

So that means you’ll end up with some dishonest people passing themselves off as chimney sweeps. Being a Certified Chimney Sweep actually takes time, education, studying, and a pretty serious test, and it’s something our industry takes seriously.

Being a certified chimney sweep means that we’ve put in the work to understand how a chimney operates so that we can keep you safe and warm.

It doesn’t matter if you are in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, or some other city anywhere in the USA — if you have any questions about the safety of hiring a chimney company, please don’t hesitate to email me at mitchell@patriotchimney.net or call me at 540-225-2626.

I’m happy to help!

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