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Hiring a chimney sweep a good idea for gas, wood fireplaces
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Hiring a chimney sweep a good idea for gas, wood fireplaces

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Long story short: If you have a gas- or wood-burning fireplace and you plan on using it this winter, then yes, you should hire a professional chimney sweep.

Wood-burning fireplaces add a lot of comfort and appeal to your living space, not to mention lower electric bills, but they also require careful and regular inspection.

Chimney

If you have a gas- or wood-burning fireplace and plan on using it, you should hire a professional chimney sweep.

The average price for a professional yearly chimney cleaning is $250, although this varies greatly depending on the amount of potential work needed to clear it out. If your fireplace already receives regular maintenance, this will cost closer to $100. However, if you haven't cleaned it in some time and have several years of build-up, the price can go as high as $800. You'll pay even more if there is damage that hasn't been corrected.

If you have a gas fireplace, you have much less buildup, but don't overlook the need for an inspection. A clear exhaust path is vital for a gas fire, and it can still deposit corrosive substances in your chimney. Internal damage or exterior blockage, such as bird's nests, can cause further backup and even push dangerous carbon monoxide into your living space. A pro sweep can identify these problems, clear out obstructions, and offer solutions for internal damage.

What a chimney sweep does

A chimney professional will use a wire brush attached to flexible rods that extend into the flue in either a top-down or bottom-up method. This gets rid of debris and the potentially dangerous build-up of combustible creosote.

Chimney cleaning is a serious job best left to trained and experienced professionals. Seek out a chimney sweep with a respected certification, such as from the Chimney Safety Institute of America. It has a higher risk level than other home services because it so often involves getting onto the roof. Protect yourself from liability by verifying anyone you hire is licensed, bonded and insured.

The National Fire Protection Agency identifies three levels of chimney inspection, each more detailed than the other.

Level 1: This is the minimum routine inspection. Technicians will examine the readily accessible portions of the exterior, verify that the flue is structurally sound, and look for obstruction and combustible deposits. If nothing goes wrong, this generally costs between $80 and $200.

Level 2: This is required when any changes are made to the system, such as changing the shape of the flue or replacing an appliance. This is highly recommended when a home is sold or outside events such as weather damage have possibly affected the chimney. It often involves sending a camera down the flue for a detailed assessment and thorough check of surrounding structures. Expect to pay between $100 and $500 for this.

Level 3: This is the most detailed level of inspection, necessary when structural damage is almost certain. Parts of the chimney may need to be deconstructed so the inspector can ascertain damage. You'll pay between $1,000 and $5,000 for this service.

Home heating tips

In many parts of the nation, your heater is one of your home's most important appliances in the winter. Here are some tips to stay warm and toasty.

Make your house a home

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Take a look at your bill each month and make sure the costs are within a normal range. If you’ve been in your home a while, you should have a pretty good idea of what heating will cost each month. Many utility companies also make older bills available online – if you suspect something’s up, compare this year’s bill to previous years. An unexpectedly high gas or electric bill can sometimes indicate a hidden problem.

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Q: Tim, I think I’ve got a good idea. I’m re-roofing two of my barns with metal roofing. I was thinking of extending the roof past the walls 18 inches so dripping water falls farther away from the barn walls. Right now I’ve got gutters and I’m tired of them clogging up with leaves and debris. What is the best practice when it comes to gutters or no gutters? What about sizes for both gutters and downspouts? What would you do if you were me? —Carol K., Mio, Mich.

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