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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a visual inspection performed by a trained professional to determine the condition of a home’s main elements. The inspection usually takes several hours, during which the professional takes multiple photos and notes, tracking information for a final report. After the inspection, the pro will create a printed report, complete with photos and detailed information, summarizing the condition of the house. A home inspection is often used by potential home buyers prior to purchase to determine if there are larger issues (such as dry rot or a faulty foundation) that are not immediately visible to the untrained eye but that would cost a lot of money to resolve. Home inspections are also used by real estate agents and home sellers to address any concerns before putting a home on the market. Longtime homeowners can also schedule a home inspection to get a snapshot of their current home condition and identify any issues that need to be addressed. A home inspection is not a legal document that can be used for divorce or estate settlements, nor can it be used to secure loans or mortgages.

How do you find a good home inspector?

A home inspection should tell you the true condition of a home. A competent home inspector closely inspects your home’s structure and foundation, looks for termites and signs of problems like mold, checks the wiring to ensure it’s in good condition, and investigates the HVAC system, among other items. To find a good home inspector, first research whether home inspection is licensed in your area; not all states require licensure.

If there is no regulatory body that licenses home inspection in your state, there are other ways to make sure you are hiring a trustworthy professional. Carefully look into the person’s reviews and ask for references. Ask if they are committed to continuing education, and whether they are active members in any reputable home inspector organizations. Some organizations that recognize and/or certify home inspectors are the American Society of Home Inspectors, National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, and American Home Inspectors Training. Don’t be shy about asking to see credentials and licensing.

How much does it cost to have the chimney swept?

The national average chimney sweep cost is $100 to $130. The National Fire Protection Association recommends having your chimney inspected at least once a year, but daily use and other factors might mean you need more regular service. Here are several reasons your chimney sweep cost may be higher than the national average:

  • Overly dirty chimney: If you haven’t cleaned your chimney in many years, or if you’ve just bought an older home and don’t know how long it has been since the chimney was cleaned, excessive grime could increase the cost of the job.
  • Roof height or chimney height: The chimney sweep may also charge an extra fee if your roof is too high for a ladder to reach or is too steep to safely climb on without a harness.
  • Frequency of use: If your fireplace is your primary heating source, the buildup of soot might be far greater than if you just use your fireplace a few times a winter when company comes over. This may impact cost.
  • Excessive debris: Leaves, twigs, and other debris that’s collected in your chimney is a fire hazard and should be cleaned immediately. An excess of junk may result in higher chimney sweep costs.
  • Live or dead animals: Prepare to pay extra if live or dead animals are in the chimney. Rodents, birds and bats can all set up camp in your chimney. A chimney cap can help prevent them from getting in, but once you hear something scurrying around, or smell the unmistakable scent of dead critter, call a chimney sweep immediately.
  • Geographic location: Chimney sweep costs may be higher in your city due to factors such as a higher cost of living or higher cost do business (insurance, overhead, employee wages, etc.).
  • Chimney repair: Any repairs that are needed internally or externally to your fireplace will increase costs. A thorough cleaning and inspection will reveal whether repairs to masonry, tuck-pointing, the back wall, bricks, the fireplace floor or the crown are needed.
  • Chimney cap installation: A chimney cap prevents debris from collecting in your chimney as well as preventing animals such as birds, mice, or raccoons from taking up residence inside. The cost of the chimney cap plus the labor for installation can increase fees.

Do I need to clean my chimney?

A fireplace makes a home cozy in winter, but it also requires cleaning to keep your family safe. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 28 percent of home heating fires are caused by a failure to clean solid-fueled heating equipment — primarily chimneys. On top of that scary fact, nearly 20 percent of all fire deaths are caused by home heating equipment. At a minimum, the NFPA urges homeowners to have chimneys and fireplaces inspected once a year to ensure there are no obstructions blocking the flow of air or any buildup of dangerous and highly flammable creosote. A certified chimney sweep will know what warning signs to look for and have the proper tools. Besides personal safety, saving money is a great motivation for having a chimney sweep regularly clean your chimney. If your chimney liner is not kept clean and in good working order, replacing it can cost thousands of dollars. A yearly cleaning is the baseline for a safe chimney. If your chimney is your main heating source, ask your chimney sweep whether you should have it cleaned more often. If your chimney is not venting properly and smoke is coming into your house, if you notice that the wood you burn is not burning efficiently (turning completely to ash), or if you have other concerns, call for a chimney cleaning and inspection right away.

How does a chimney get cleaned?

A professional chimney sweep can clean your fireplace and chimney to help prevent chimney fires and keep your fireplace running in peak condition. Regular chimney cleanings are critical for removing the highly flammable creosote that can build up inside the walls of your chimney over time and cause chimney fires. When hiring a cleaning company, ask the chimney sweep if their cleaning fee includes removing soot, creosote and blockages from the chimney flue and liner, cleaning the smoke chamber and shelf, and cleaning the firebox and the damper to ensure that you’re getting a comprehensive cleaning. Expect the chimney sweep to cover the flooring around the fireplace and properly seal off your fireplace opening to catch any soot that comes out during the cleaning.

Look for a chimney sweep who has been certified by a nationally recognized organization such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), Fireplace Investigation Research and Education (FIRE), or the National Fireplace Institute (NFI). This will help ensure that your chimney work will be completed in a professional manner and your home will be safe from a chimney fire.

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