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.
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.
Get an HVAC inspection
This usually costs about $100. Ideally, you’ll have done this already. But if not, it’s not too late to call an HVAC company to give it a change-of-seasons inspection, even if your heater’s already been running this season. Your technician will perform a complete inspection and tune-up of your system that will help keep it operating smoothly. Plus, if you catch developing problems early enough, you can often solve them at a much lower cost than if they trigger a major breakdown.
Don’t forget to replace your filters at regular intervals, either. They play a big role in energy efficiency and operations.
Pay attention to your utility bill
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.
Listen and smell
The first time you start your furnace each season, it’s not uncommon to smell a dusty or musty odor as the system revs up. But if the smell continues, ask a professional to take a look. A burning odor means you should shut it off and call for help immediately. And if you smell gas, leave the home immediately and contact your fire department and gas company.
Furnaces shouldn’t make much noise, either. But, moving parts eventually do wear out. Squealing or screeching sounds usually mean a blower motor is having problems. Grinding noises are signals you need immediate repair.
Pay attention to how it runs
If you have a multi-stage system, your furnace will adjust its power based on need and ensure a consistent temperature. Single-stage systems will turn on and off more often. However, if it turns on and off frequently, you might have a problem. The thermostat might need to be recalibrated, or unseen air loss somewhere in the house is putting heat to waste. Ask a professional for advice if your system turns on and off too often.