What to Know Before Hiring a Chimney Sweep

Two key benefits of hiring a chimney sweep? Safety and savings. We'll walk you through the process.

Gas and wood-burning fireplaces offer picturesque ways to stay warm and cozy in the winter, but they do require upkeep to keep them operating efficiently and safely. Find out why a chimney sweep should be part of your fireplace maintenance plan, what to expect when you hire one, and more.

Why Do You Need a Chimney Sweep?

Hiring a chimney sweep helps protect you from avoidable dangers and saves you money, too.

It will cut down your carbon monoxide risk. A clean, properly functioning chimney effortlessly carries carbon monoxide and other harmful by-products of burning fuel, including gas and wood, up and out of your home. If your chimney isn’t clean or properly vented, the process falters. The majority of chimney-related carbon monoxide problems happen due to improper exhausting, something almost entirely avoidable with regular inspection and cleaning by a chimney sweep.

It will help prevent chimney fires. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), there are more than 20,000 chimney fires every year in the United States alone. A dirty chimney typically contains a build-up of creosote, a highly combustible by-product of burning fuels such as unseasoned wood. This raises the risk of fire, leading to injury or even death.

It can save you money. As little as 1/10-in. of soot can reduce heat transfer efficiency by up to 50 percent. On top of that, discovering and repairing air leaks can help reduce your overall energy bill.

How Often To Hire a Chimney Sweep

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends you have your chimneys, fireplaces, vents and solid fuel-burning appliances (think pellet or wood stoves) inspected at least once a year. This is probably true if you only use your fireplace occasionally, on the coldest winter nights. If you fire it up several times a week, you may want to arrange more frequent inspection and cleaning.

If you see creosote glaze — a thick, inky, almost cake icing-like substance that collects in your chimney and drips down into your fireplace — make that appointment ASAP, according to CSIA.

Why Hire a Service To Do a Chimney Sweep?

Cleaning a chimney is hard, messy work that many homeowners leave to the pros. The benefits of hiring this task out include:

  • Fast and clean;

  • In-depth inspection and identification of potential weak spots in the chimney liner (if used) or the chimney itself;

  • Removal of blockages and debris;

  • Can repair or replace the chimney cap or chimney liner if needed. Some chimney sweeps can make masonry repairs if needed. (Note that some states require state registration and approval before undertaking masonry work.)

If you do choose to clean your chimney yourself, invest in the right tools. These brushes and drop cloths can make the job easier and less messy.

What Will the Chimney Sweep Do?

A chimney sweep will, at minimum, inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney. That will take an hour or two depending on where you live, the condition of your chimney and the speed of the sweep hired.

The inspection and cleaning might begin inside, up on the roof, or both, and may or may not involve a camera. The sweep will remove any buildup on the chimney walls as well as blockages in the chimney itself. Expect them to take proactive measures to minimize mess, inside or out, and to clean up any debris before leaving.

If your chimney needs a deeper clean, such as a chemical treatment to get rid of late-stage creosote glaze, the visit may last a few hours. If the chimney sweep needs to do minor repairs, such as replacing a missing chimney cap or damaged chimney liner, they may complete this the same day, depending on the sweep’s policies and tools they have on hand.

If they suggest masonry or other in-depth repairs, discuss how to proceed. It’s a good idea to request a list of any suggested repairs, including an explanation of why these repairs are necessary, and suggested pros to complete anything outside the chimney sweep’s expertise.

How Much Does a Chimney Sweep Cost?

Standard chimney sweep services, including a general inspection and cleaning, can range from $75 to $250 depending on where you live. That number rises if your chimney hasn’t been serviced for a while, or if the sweep discovers repairs, structural issues or pest infestations that need to be addressed.

You may end up paying upwards of $1,000 for a chimney in poor condition or one that requires significant effort bring it up to code.

Where Can I Find a Chimney Sweep?

The National Fireplace Institute and the Chimney Safety Institute of America certify professional chimney sweeps and host searchable databases. Personal recommendations and paywalled sites such as Angie’s List can be great resources as well.

Ask questions such as:

  • Are they certified? If yes, by whom?
  • Do they give free estimates? If not, how much do they charge? Is this fee deducted from the final invoice if you choose their service?
  • What will a visit involve?
  • How do they minimize debris spilling into your home?
  • How do they clean up after the job is done?
  • What, if any, additional services do they offer?

Interview a few prospective chimney sweeps to find the right match for you and your home.

Ana Chevalier
Ana Chevalier, MBA, is an award-winning writer specializing in engineering, technology, construction and HVAC. Her work has appeared in The Independent (UK), Huffington Post, The Telegraph (UK), The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times and Forbes, among others. Ana has also ghostwritten for Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 technology companies, as well as global leaders in the building engineering and industrial construction sectors. Ana is a self-professed supply-chain geek, a restorer of century homes, a lover of Min Pins, and, in her off-hours, writes award-winning short fiction.