What’s the best way to set up a consultation or an appointment with a general contractor during the COVID-19 pandemic?
To set up a consultation or appointment with a general contractor during the COVID-19 pandemic, start by performing an online search for local professionals near you.
Message the contractor, and see if they are willing to set up a video consultation call instead of an in-person site visit. With video chat, the contractor may be able to assess the scale of the project, give you better information on what needs to be done and perhaps provide an estimate. Be sure to discuss virtual payments, as well as general strategies for staying safe.
To find out whether a general contractor is considered essential in your area during the current coronavirus pandemic, visit your city or state’s government website, which will have information on essential services.
Find information on national recommendations by visiting CISA’s Identifying Critical Infrastructure During COVID-19 webpage. However, not all jurisdictions follow CISA’s definitions of critical infrastructure.
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.
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.
Regularly having your chimney cleaned is highly recommended both to improve the chimney’s efficiency as a heat source and to prevent home fires. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends having your chimney inspected at least once a year. You can hire a chimney sweep to clean the chimney while also inspecting it to ensure there is no damage to the lining, firebox or masonry. If you’ve had a new fireplace or wood-burning stove installed, CSIA urges you to have it checked halfway into the first season of use to make sure it’s operating safely. According to industry standards, a chimney sweep is recommended if more than 1/8 of an inch of soot or creosote has built up in the chimney or flue. Some fireplace experts suggest having your chimney cleaned, regardless of buildup, after every 1-2 cords of wood burned. Consult with your chimney sweep about what is best for optimal efficiency and safety with your fireplace.
A typical chimney cleaning takes between 30 and 60 minutes. Wood insert fireplaces may take longer to clean, as can chimneys that contain birds’ nests, excessive debris or wildlife. A chimney sweep will arrive at your location and assess the fireplace to be cleaned, and will set up protective coverings or dropcloths to prevent any ash or soot from escaping into your home during the cleaning. Using high-powered vacuums, they clean out ash and other debris in the firebox. With special, long-reach brushes they brush down the interior walls all the way to the top of the chimney to loosen and remove built-up soot and creosote. Many chimney sweeps also offer inspections in tandem with cleanings to make sure you don’t have any cracks or damage inside the chimney or out. Repair work or additions — such as installing a chimney cap — can increase the cleaning time.
If you decide to hire a general contractor, avoid any physical contact, don’t shake hands, keep 6 feet of distance between you and the pro and sanitize all involved surfaces. Also, use digital platforms to communicate and make payments.
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.
Currently, many general contractors are using common digital payment services like PayPal, Venmo, Square Cash, Zelle, Google Pay and more. And more will likely adopt these and similar platforms as coronavirus continues to force companies to take on digital capabilities.
Contact general contractors beforehand to discuss whether they accept digital payments, and take all necessary measures to meet social distancing recommendations. You can also compare general contractors side-by-side online to see which ones accept digital payments.
Provided the project is located inside your home, completing the job would require a general contractor to enter your home. But if your project is located outdoors, a general contractor will likely not need to enter your home. Discuss your options with general contractors in your area before hiring.