Things to know about Chimneys and Contracting work to help you avoid being scammed.
- If the price for the service seems too good to be true, it very probably is.
- It really can be a matter of "you get what you pay for." When it comes to paying for service, a little common sense goes a long way.
- When you see an ad or get a call for a service to be provided, ask yourself, "Could I stay in business working for this price?" If not, know that the chimney man is likely to recommend additional work -- needed or not. -- before completing your job, so as not take a loss.
- In Connecticut, there is no such thing as a chimney license.
- If someone represents themselves as a licensed chimney professional, they are misleading you. In the state of Connecticut, chimney professionals work under a home improvement registration, which is a fee paid to the state to register their business. No test is given and it is not an indicator of competence. Some companies may have a Heating or Heating and Cooling license, both of which do require apprenticeship time and testing. Make sure if someone is giving you a "license number" as a credential, that they identify the type of license. Once they do, you can look up the number on the Connecticut Department of Consumer protection website, verify that it's real and see if they have complaints against them.
- Be careful when someone uses photos to show you a problem.
- It is very common for a scammer to show you a picture of a broken chimney top to sell a repair. Often the picture is not of your chimney. Photos are a great way for service people to let you see a problem that you would not otherwise have access to; but make sure the photo has things in it that you can identify as your house. If photos are only very close with no view of the surroundings, make the contractor take pictures that have enough background so that you can clearly tell that is your home.
Don't accept broken debris as evidence of a needed repair.
- Scammers will often show a person some rubble and say that they need extensive work. Not only could that rubble not even be from your chimney, even if it is it could be there from the original construction. If you are being told something is broken or collapsed, make them show you. If they can see it, so can you.
- Beware of scary language.
- Contractors will often use language that is intended to scare you into having work done right away, giving you a sense that it is an Emergency that they must fix right now because you are in danger. As good contractors we do have a responsibility to inform you of what we find and tell you the possible consequences of leaving something improperly vented. However if someone continues to use phrases like "carbon monoxide poisoning" or "house fire" in a manner that seems intended to frighten you into action, you should certainly get a second opinion before having work done. Remember…you can shut the unit off if you are getting CO and not use the fireplace or stove until you have another qualified opinion. If it is your heating equipment you are being told is putting CO in the house, call your heating contractor immediately and have the system checked. Again it is your Heating contractor who is licensed — not the chimney man.
- Chimney liners and woodstove installations require a permit from your town.
- Acquiring the proper permit for this type of job is very important and serves one purpose— protecting the homeowner. Liner permits are permits taken out by the contractor. They are essentially what we call a promise to meet code. When your contractor takes out the permit for the job, he is promising that his entire installation will conform to the rules of the town and the codes of the state.
This not only identifies that the contactor knows that someone will be checking on his work, but protects you from having him come to you for more money to complete the job, because the job he sells you must already include all the thing required to pass inspection, such as proper allowances for distance to combustibles and sizing requirements.
The permit provision will be in the contract, if it does not say they are taking a permit have them put it in the contract. Also do not assume that because a company is large or old that they are doing what is needed. ASK
Avoid any contractor that tells you a permit is not needed or that it is taken by the homeowner…The purpose of the permit is the contractor's promise to do the job correctly. That is not a promise made by the homeowner.
We cannot stress strongly enough that as the consumer, there is no reason for you not to want the contractor to have a liner permit.
- Require an Insurance certificate.
- Be sure to get a copy of the contractor's insurance certificate before letting him start a repair. Insurance is one of contactors largest costs of doing business. Therefore it is often allowed to lapse or not carried at all by unsavory contractors. There are two basics types of insurance you would look to make sure they have: Contactor Liability is insurance that would cover any damage done to your property during the work; for example a picture window broken by a worker with a ladder. Workers Compensation covers a worker who gets hurt on your job, for example if someone fell off your roof.
Do not accept a certificate from the contactors truck. Require the certificate come from the insurance carrier, with your name and be dated appropriately. This helps assure that you are not getting a copy of an old policy that was let lapse.
Avoid any contactor who acts like giving you a certificate is a big deal. It is a simple call and the certificate can be mailed or faxed. Additionally I have never heard of an insurance carrier charging a contractor for the certificates.
- Chimney liners are almost NEVER installed the same day.
- You as a chimney service consumer are entitled to all of your rights under Connecticut Home Improvement law… One of those rights is a three day right of rescission on contracts. When you need a chimney liner a contractor must give you 3 days to change your mind before installation as well as have time to pull the permit to do the work. That makes same day installation a violation of CT law. Not to mention that a proper liner is sized specifically for the equipment it is connected to. The chances of someone just happening to have the right size and length with them are slim. What you will likely wind up with is a bunch of improperly sized pieces screwed together and stuffed in the flue.
There are some RARE extreme cases of emergency where you could waive that right and the permit would need to be pulled after the install in the interest of getting heat to your home. But since chimney techs are not licensed, it would have to be your heating contractor making that call, not the chimney guy. Most of the time even if a flue is completely broken or plugged, temporary measures can be taken and a reline properly scheduled. In our 23 years I do not think I have needed to do 2 such "Emergency Installations".
- Utilize referrals from people you trust.
- If you do not know anyone that has someone good to refer and you are utilizing ads, you can check with the Department of Consumer Protection or BBB for complaints before making an appointment. Also you can ask your local building department; while they probably will not recommend someone…they will tell you if they have had issues with a contactor in the past.
Asking a contractor for references is not a great help. They certainly will not give you names of people who were dissatisfied and in reality the names they provide could be relatives or even employees.
- Beware of the "Emergency discount".
- In every other part of our life Emergencies cost more than something scheduled. Which costs more…a scheduled physical or a trip to the Emergency room?
This phrase is often utilized to rush a customer to do work right now…rushed decisions are not always the best. Remember the house is the same as before he got there. If you are told you have an Emergency situation contact your heating contractor and have them check your system for draft. Take your time and make the RIGHT decision for an appropriate repair.
- Make them show you what they are using.
- Anything can be sold with a lifetime warrantee if no one plans to honor that warrantee. Also things tend to be named in a way that makes the inferior product sound better than the genuinely better thing. An example would be that triple wall chimney pipe sounds like it should be better that double wall pipe, but its not. The triple wall uses air as the insulation and is usually made of galvanized steel. The good double wall pipe is used a pack insulation and is made of stainless steel.
The same goes for chimney liners, the best quality liners are a single wall stainless steel that is incredibly durable and corrosion resistant and now days usually contains some titanium. But companies will use terms like double wall liner to sound better. In reality the double wall liner can be crushed and torn like a soda can. They also tend to rot through in 3 to 6 years. Liners will look very similar at arms length, but are very easy to tell apart as soon as you put it in your hands.
- Educate yourself before the serviceman arrives.
- If you have someone coming out to do a job, do a little research on the subject so that you know what to expect. This is especially helpful in determining if a person is a trustworthy source of information. If you ask a person a couple of questions that you know the answer to and they answer competently and honestly, you stand a much better chance that you will get a knowledgeable and honest answer to the questions you do not already know. Remember the service man does not know how much or what you know.