Beware of Unncessary Chimney Repairs
LESLIE: Bruce in Pennsylvania listens to The Money Pit on WAMO and you’ve got a fireplace question. How can we help?
BRUCE: I had some people come in, look at a fireplace. Said it needs to be relined. And (INAUDIBLE) with a camera. But one part that they said they had to do is when they go to repair a fireplace, according to the code, that if your fireplace – say you’re coming in to bring it to working order – they have to bring everything up to today’s code. And the area that they’re talking about was the hearth. Because below the hearth is (INAUDIBLE) holding the hearth in place that was up to code when they built it but they said nowadays the hearth – the wood has [to be removed] (ph) from the hearth. And I was just wondering if they’re telling me the truth or …
TOM: Well Bruce, when you say you had some people in that said you needed to reline your fireplace, immediately the hair on the back of my neck stands up and begs me to ask this question. Were these chimney sweeps?
BRUCE: Yes, yes.
TOM: Yeah. I must be psychic, Leslie.
LESLIE: And they would do …
BRUCE: They showed me – they showed me with a camera. I can clearly see the gaps between the flues.
TOM: OK. But you know what? Just about every chimney has gaps in the flues. Is this – how old is this chimney?
BRUCE: It’s 45 years old.
TOM: It’s not that old.
TOM: I tell you what. Before you spend any money on advice that is delivered to you buy a chimney sweep, I would hire an independent inspector to review it. Because I’m sure they’re talking about thousands of dollars here …
TOM: … and in almost case that I know of that chimney sweeps have come in and said that chimneys had to be relined they A – either A, did not have to be relined or weren’t nearly the fire hazard that the chimney sweep was making it out to be to get your business. There’s just too much of a conflict of interest there. And it’s a condition – it’s a scam that we’ve heard about over and over and over again. I cannot tell you how many calls we’ve gotten on this show with this exact situation. You know, there’s different spins on it. Sometimes they’re doing free or low-cost inspection.
You know, in the 20 years I spent as a home inspector, before I got on the air, I often would get a call from somebody who asked me to back up an opinion from a chimney sweep and usually the situation went something like this: “You know, I hired a chimney sweep for a cleaning or inspection” and it was usually something really cheap like a $40 or $50 cleaning “and lo and behold, it turns out we need a …”
LESLIE: A $10,000 improvement.
TOM: Yeah, “We need two, three, four, five, $10,000 in repair.” And so I’d say to the client, “Why do you think that chimney sweep could drive from three counties away to do your $50 cleaning if he wasn’t selling a lot of these repairs?” And many times I didn’t find that the chimney needed that repair. It needed no repair; just a basic cleaning. So, I just don’t think that chimney sweeps are the best people to give you independent advice.
What you might want to do is log onto the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors that is at ASHI.org – A-S-H-I.org. You drop in your zip code and they’ll give you a list of home inspectors in the area and contact the inspectors and ask about a partial inspection. That’s an inspection of just one item. These are guys that are pros that don’t sell any repair services whatsoever. They’re just there to give you their honest, professional opinion about the condition of your home. And this way you’ll know exactly whether or not you have a problem, Bruce, and if you do you can deal with it. But if not, you might have just saved yourself several thousand dollars in repair work.
BRUCE: Oh, OK. Alrighty. Thank you very much.
TOM: Alright, Bruce. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.