When choosing a chimney sweep to clean your fireplace, a few requirements may cross your mind but the CSIA certification may not be one of them. In order to ensure the job gets done right, you most likely will want your chimney sweep to be experienced. Not only to make sure you get your chimney cleaned correctly, but to make sure he doesn’t cause a soot bomb to explode in your living room. You obviously will want them to be insured, in case something terrible happens but you would assume anyone with a legitimate business would be required to have a contractors license, insurance and bonded. So, you may choose your chimney sweep based on how long they have been in the chimney sweep business, the appeal of their website and finally what price they are offering their service. Unfortunately, as with any other home service or general contractor, not all chimney sweeps are created equal.
What is needed to start a chimney sweep business?
Here in Seattle, and all of Washington state for that matter, the requirements for becoming a chimney sweep and inspector are quite shocking actually. As with any general contractor here in King County, you would think at the bare minimum you would need to have a contractors license issued by the state, and a minimum level of liability insurance, a surety bond, and hopefully some experience. The shocking truth of this matter is that in order to start a chimney sweep and inspection business, neither Seattle or Washington State requires a contractors license, liability insurance, a surety bond, or experience. The only requirement is you file for a city business license which requires an address and $30.00.
This means ANY person with a vacuum, brush, and $30.00 can be called a “licensed chimney inspector” in Washington State.
What about the chimney companies with a license, bond and insurance?
Obtaining a legitimate contractors license, surety bond and liability insurance for your business is a good first step toward becoming a legitimate chimney sweep business. However, it is not a guarantee that the company is the right company for the job. Let’s review what is required to obtain each of these.
- Business License – Jump online, fill out some forms and pay $15-$30 to obtain your Unified Business Identification number (UBI)
- Liability Insurance – Call your insurance agent, hand them your UBI number and pay the quoted price
- Surety Bond – Stay on the line with your insurance agent and pay the quoted fee
- Contractors License – Jump online and visit the Labor and Industries website. Submit your business license, insurance, and surety bond. Pay the fee and select your specialty, or pay some more and become a general contractor.
You’re done! You now are licensed, bonded and insured contractor ready to serve the public! There are absolutely no knowledge or experience tests. As long as you have money and are an American citizen you are eligible to become a licensed chimney inspector. As you can see, this information is no credit to the quality of the professional who may be coming to your residence.
What about positive online reviews? And an A grade on the BBB?
Yes, this is a great place to start as well. However, even though a company may have stellar customer service skills, and don’t make a mess. This doesn’t mean they are educated and experienced in identifying, diagnosing, documenting and repairing fireplace and chimney safety issues and maintenance problems. Showing up on time, not making a mess, and even sweeping a chimney correctly has nothing to do with inspecting a fireplace or hearth appliance according to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) codes or the International Residential Codes for proper construction of your chimney and related appliance.
So how do we know a chimney sweep professional is actually a professional in his industry? Well just like plumbers and electricians, they must have a certification that says:
“I care about my profession, I care to do my job correctly to ensure the safety of my customers, I have taken the proper steps and learned the required material to do so”.
What is required to refer to yourself as a Certified Chimney Sweep?
Unfortunately, there is no law regarding the use of “certified sweep” or “certified master sweep”. Anyone or any company is allowed to use “certified” in any context they choose. While some companies have training programs, track hours, and require test and periodic pop quizzes in order to earn their own “certification”, most companies that are not affiliated with a national organization such as the CSIA certification or the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG).
What is required to have the CSIA Certification?
The Chimney Safety Institute of America is one of the only nationally recognized certification institutes specifically for chimney sweeps and chimney inspectors. They have classroom training requirements and standardized tests with a minimum passing grade requirement. Furthermore, after completion of the test, the CSIA has certain requirements and a code of ethics that the certified chimney sweep (CCS) must abide by in order to remain certified.
In order to obtain the CSIA certification and become a Certified Chimney Sweep, an applicant must:
- Complete a 1 Week Online Review Course covering chimney sweeping, inspection and documenting basics of becoming a chimney sweep
- Pass a timed 100 question exam with an 70% or higher score based on the 2006 International Residential Codebook (standard codebook for homebuilding (proper chimney construction) in the US.
- Pass a timed 100 question exam with a 80% of higher score based on the Successful Chimney Sweeping (2009) trade book as well as the National Fire Protection 211 (2010) codebook
- Sign the Chimney Safety Institute of America Code of Ethics
After certification has been obtained a CSIA certified chimney sweep must:
- Abide by the CSIA Code of Ethics
- Re-certify annually
- Participate in Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) by taking CSIA approved education courses or attending NCSG convention classes
- Submit a minimum requirement of CEU’s every 3 years or retake the certification tests and re-attend the review course
As you can see, to be a chimney sweep in Seattle neither a contractors license, bond, insurance or certification is required to be a chimney sweep professional. This makes it very easy for an individual to “pose” as a chimney professional. It takes a true professional to pass a CSIA certification test and it takes an educated smart homeowner to require nothing but an accredited verified certification badge before scheduling a chimney sweep appointment.
By: Aaron Woodward