I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the chimney industry isn’t very well regulated. At least not federally or by the state. Anyone can buy a truck, business cards, and a few tools and call themselves chimney sweeps. But I’m sure you don’t just want anyone to work on your chimney. You want someone who is certified, licensed, and insured. You want someone ethical, professional, and knowledgeable in the chimney industry, right?
If so, then you should always hire chimney sweeps who have been certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) to work on your chimney. The CSIA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to training and educating chimney professionals.
Another big part of their mission is to advance public awareness about the dangers of chimney fires. There was a “chimney rebirth” in the 1970s caused by the oil embargo crisis of the early to mid-1970s. Many homeowners turned to a more economical way of heating their home: wood fires.
Because of this, there were many home fires due to incorrect installations, improper burning habits, and failure to maintain and have a swept chimney. The National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) was founded in 1977 to help promote better chimney safety. The CSIA was created in 1983 to take control of the educational and certification program of the NCSG.
Since the ‘70s, the chimney industry has made huge strides in reducing the number of destructive fires caused by hazards in the chimney. And a massive part of this is due to the work that the CSIA has put in to educate technicians and promote fire safety among the public.
What Does it Mean to be CSIA Certified?
The CSIA certification is acknowledged by industry professionals, insurance underwriters, local agencies, state agencies, and federal agencies as the measure of a chimney and venting professional’s knowledge about chimney and venting systems.
To become certified, a technician must:
- Attend a certification training course (online or in-person)
- Pass a one-hour exam base on Successful Chimney Sweeping and NFPA 211
- Pass a 90 Minute open book exam based on the International Residential Codes
- Sign the CSIA Code of Ethics
Chimney sweeps that are certified by the CSIA are held to a much higher standard for both performance and professional behavior. In fact, if you hire a CSIA certified technician, you can believe that he or she will be proficient in:
- The best practices and skillful techniques of the trade
- Technicalities related to chimney dynamics and construction
- Wood burning physics and the formation of creosote
- Applicable codes, standards, and clearances
- EPA requirements and solid fuel appliances
Moreover, as I mentioned a few moments ago, CSIA sweeps are held to a higher standard. With that, sweeps are required to sign and comply with the Code of Ethics:
- Learning and Utilizing all CSIA-promoted chimney and venting safety practices and techniques
- Rendering services honestly and fairly and refraining from engaging in deceptive or unfair practices
- Complying with all applicable local codes, with all manufacturers’ installation instructions, and with recognized chimney and venting practices
- Promoting and educating consumers about safe chimney and venting practices
- Continually striving to be updated on current chimney and venting safety practices, techniques, and skills
- Conducting oneself in a decent, respectable, and professional manner while serving as a CSIA-certified technician on the job and while attending any event, conference, or function presented by an organization in the chimney or hearth products industry.
Tips for Choosing a Chimney Company
Taking proper care of your chimneys, woodstoves, and fireplaces can help protect you and your family from unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide poisonings. When hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:
- Can the company provide references?
- Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy?
- 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.
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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!