Adventure: Chimney sweep before Insert install

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eshwars

New Member
May 22, 2021
22
seattle
Hi all,

Please forgive the long story. Hopefully it'll provide entertainment if nothing else. :)

I have a 2 floor house with a finished attic. I estimate the chimney height is 28/29 feet (ie. from the fireplace to the top). The last time I got the chimney swept was about 15 years ago. We went many years without using it at all. But due to Covid and being at home, last year we used the fireplace 5-10 times, for a few hours mostly just for ambiance (since it doesn't actually heat very much). But once the Insert is installed, I expect to use it for heat more often.

I'm planning to get a Pacific Energy Summit LE insert. Based on reading various posts here, I've surmised that it's a good idea to get the chimney swept once before an liner is installed. I had a couple of chimney sweeps come out.

1. The first guy said that chimney is very tall at 11 ft, (from the roof line) so he didn't have the equipment to clean it from both ends. He said he could do it from the fireplace, but that would only allow him to at most get about 20 ft into it. He offered to do this for a low-low price of $89, but said I may be happier with a different company that can clean it from both ends.

2. The second company that came out, looked at the fireplace then got up to the roof, then told me that the chimney was in really poor shape. Their advertised price was for a full clean was $149. But he declined to do it because he felt it was unsafe -- the chimney was "swinging and unstable". He instead offered to rebuild it for $15k.

I was stunned by the second guy's claim so I called a very reliable and experienced home inspector to get a second opinion. He took me up to the roof and showed me that the chimney was in great shape. No lean or swinging. While we were up there, to show me examples of actual compromised chimneys, he pointed to several homes on the block, where even from a distance, it was easily visible, that the mortar was breaking down and what visible chimney lean looks like.

Just to be absolutely, positively sure, I also called a well known 2nd generation Chimney Expert (who's in his 60s). He walked around the house and concurred that there was no lean whatsoever. The mortar on the outside looked great. But he's going to send out one of his crew later in the week with a 40 ft ladder (he doesn't climb that high anymore given his age) to examine the chimney from the inside to confirm that the mortar looks good on the inside as well.

So my conclusion was that the second Chimney Sweep full of it. He height probably scared him, he hadn't have a 40ft ladder and he didn't want to do the job for the advertised price of $149. So instead he tried to sell me a new chimney to see if I would bite. What an ass!

Now getting to the actual questions for the veterans here:

1. Is it adequate/acceptable to just clean it from the bottom (ie. incomplete sweep) given that I'm putting in a liner?
2. With a 11 ft chimney and given that it's 1909 built, has anyone researched earthquake proofing? If so, any ideas on how I should go about this? I would love to get more knowledgeable about this so that I can have a productive conversation with the Chimney Expert.

Thanks again for your help
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,199
central pa
Hi all,

Please forgive the long story. Hopefully it'll provide entertainment if nothing else. :)

I have a 2 floor house with a finished attic. I estimate the chimney height is 28/29 feet (ie. from the fireplace to the top). The last time I got the chimney swept was about 15 years ago. We went many years without using it at all. But due to Covid and being at home, last year we used the fireplace 5-10 times, for a few hours mostly just for ambiance (since it doesn't actually heat very much). But once the Insert is installed, I expect to use it for heat more often.

I'm planning to get a Pacific Energy Summit LE insert. Based on reading various posts here, I've surmised that it's a good idea to get the chimney swept once before an liner is installed. I had a couple of chimney sweeps come out.

1. The first guy said that chimney is very tall at 11 ft, (from the roof line) so he didn't have the equipment to clean it from both ends. He said he could do it from the fireplace, but that would only allow him to at most get about 20 ft into it. He offered to do this for a low-low price of $89, but said I may be happier with a different company that can clean it from both ends.

2. The second company that came out, looked at the fireplace then got up to the roof, then told me that the chimney was in really poor shape. Their advertised price was for a full clean was $149. But he declined to do it because he felt it was unsafe -- the chimney was "swinging and unstable". He instead offered to rebuild it for $15k.

I was stunned by the second guy's claim so I called a very reliable and experienced home inspector to get a second opinion. He took me up to the roof and showed me that the chimney was in great shape. No lean or swinging. While we were up there, to show me examples of actual compromised chimneys, he pointed to several homes on the block, where even from a distance, it was easily visible, that the mortar was breaking down and what visible chimney lean looks like.

Just to be absolutely, positively sure, I also called a well known 2nd generation Chimney Expert (who's in his 60s). He walked around the house and concurred that there was no lean whatsoever. The mortar on the outside looked great. But he's going to send out one of his crew later in the week with a 40 ft ladder (he doesn't climb that high anymore given his age) to examine the chimney from the inside to confirm that the mortar looks good on the inside as well.

So my conclusion was that the second Chimney Sweep full of it. He height probably scared him, he hadn't have a 40ft ladder and he didn't want to do the job for the advertised price of $149. So instead he tried to sell me a new chimney to see if I would bite. What an ass!

Now getting to the actual questions for the veterans here:

1. Is it adequate/acceptable to just clean it from the bottom (ie. incomplete sweep) given that I'm putting in a liner?
2. With a 11 ft chimney and given that it's 1909 built, has anyone researched earthquake proofing? If so, any ideas on how I should go about this? I would love to get more knowledgeable about this so that I can have a productive conversation with the Chimney Expert.

Thanks again for your help
Can you show us a pic of the chimney?

I really try to avoid leaning a ladder against a chimney at all it simply isn't safe even one that looks good can come down when force is applied to the side.

But yes it is perfectly acceptable to simply clean from the bottom. As far as earthquake proofing that would mean a complete teardown and rebuild.


Btw both prices were pretty low for cleaning.
 

gthomas785

Minister of Fire
Feb 8, 2020
530
Central MA
You can clean from the bottom, but you do need enough rods to get to the top. Just cleaning partway up isn't acceptable. But I find it hard to believe that any reputable chimney sweeping company would have less than 30 feet of brush with them at any given time. That is a tall chimney but not uncommonly tall.
 

Rob_Red

Feeling the Heat
Feb 2, 2021
313
Southern New England
I have also had nothing but negative experiences with 4 different local chimney companies.

Which is is amazing to me because A: I understand what it's like to be a trades person and I have no issue with compensating someone for their expertise and quality of work.

B: Many people burn wood around here, and its so critical for safety that a chimney is properly installed and maintained. If it wasn't for this site I probably would have ended up with a house fire.

I sure wish I had bholler local!
 
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BigJ273

Feeling the Heat
Feb 15, 2015
482
Maryland
Yea. Prices seem great for cleaning. It’s about $230 in my area
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
1,503
SE North Carolina
Yea. Prices seem great for cleaning. It’s about $230 in my area
Last time I paid for a cleaning ten years ago that was the quote over the phone and the bill was 625$. They told me there was some some substantial creosote. I didn’t have any reason not to believe them.
Evan
 

kborndale

Feeling the Heat
Oct 9, 2008
312
LI
I live just outside of NYC and before I started sweeping my own chimney it only cost $100 to have it swept.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,199
central pa
I live just outside of NYC and before I started sweeping my own chimney it only cost $100 to have it swept.
We used to charge that roughly 15 yrs ago. There is no way I could make any money charging that little
 

EatenByLimestone

Minister of Fire
Even if we didn't have employees, I don't think we could clean a chimney for $100 At least not do it at the quality we'd want to do the job at, safely. Our chimney work is more likely to involve bats, squirrels and raccoons than creosote, but there is a bit of overlap. And once you add an employee, hoo boy the costs jump! If I remember correctly, the OP mentioned a 40 foot ladder. That's a guaranteed 2 person crew. Even if my guys could move it around vertically (I haven't seen them do it.), I'd want somebody on the bottom of that ladder.