The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, reports that some 23,600 residential fires in the 50 states were related to solid fuel appliances and equipment in 1996. An additional 5,500 fires were attributed to chimneys and chimney connectors serving heating systems burning liquid and other fuels. As a result of these fires, 130 people died, 230 people were injured, and total property losses were more than $184.4 million. In addition there were a minimum of 119 deaths from carbon monoxide and at least 4,700 "injuries" reported for the same time frame, though most estimates range much higher.
The root cause of most of these losses is that most U.S. homeowners are unaware that chimneys are an integral part of a home heating system and that they require regular evaluation and maintenance. In a great many European countries - including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Germany - chimney fire damage statistics have been reduced to negligible numbers because national coalitions of government, insurance companies, fire and building officials, and chimney sweeps have developed tough regulations mandating regularly scheduled chimney inspections and cleaning.
Most homeowners in the U.S. and Canada, however, seem to have little working knowledge of chimney and venting systems. This situation is complicated by the fact that faults, damage and problems rarely visible to the casual observer. In fact, people who will quickly replace a faulty automobile exhaust system because of the hazard it presents will allow their home's exhaust system the chimney or vent - to go unchecked and unmaintained for years. The threat of chimney fires and unsafe indoor air quality conditions can be greatly reduced, perhaps even eliminated, if homeowners only understood that chimneys are active home operation systems which require regular maintenance.
How to Choose a Chimney Sweep: What a Homeowner Should Know?
The chimney service trade is not regulated, nor are chimney sweeps licensed in most states. Further, opening a chimney service business requires a relatively small capital investment. Thus, virtually anyone - without education, training, experience or even a working knowledge of proper tools or equipment, can become a chimney sweep. As a result, many ill-equipped, ill-prepared individuals are free to offer their "services" to homeowners. In some cases, these individuals will take advantage of learning opportunities and become competent, qualified sweeps. In other cases, they will continue along the same path they started on, offering incompetent service and, in some cases providing trusting homeowners with a false sense of well-being. For this very reason, a number of states are currently considering license requirements for chimney sweeps. As precursors to state licensing, some municipalities currently license chimney sweeps and in most of those, the criteria for professional chimney sweep services are outlined by a program from the Certified Chimney Technician (CCT) program.
The CCT program keeps abreast of the current developments and the technology of their trade. They are knowledgeable about the most recent National Fire Protection Association standards as well as the specifics of state and local codes covering their geographic area.
The certification program is designed to educate and test a chimney sweep's knowledge of:
- Technical issues related to chimney construction and dynamics solid fuel appliances and EPA requirements
the physics of woodburning and creosote formation codes, clearances and standards the practices and techniques of the trade.
If you are planning to hire a chimney sweep to inspect, evaluate or clean your chimney system(s), here is a checklist of the things you should know about the person or company you are about to hire:
- How long has the company been in business?
- Does the company offer current references?
- Does the company have unresolved complaints filed with your city or state consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau?
- Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
- Is he or she a Certified Chimney Technician (CCT)