Chimney work questions

  • Active since 1995, is THE place on the internet for free information and advice about wood stoves, pellet stoves and other energy saving equipment.

    We strive to provide opinions, articles, discussions and history related to Hearth Products and in a more general sense, energy issues.

    We promote the EFFICIENT, RESPONSIBLE, CLEAN and SAFE use of all fuels, whether renewable or fossil.


Minister of Fire
Jan 6, 2020
This forum, by its own name, infers that every home with a fireplace or stove, regardless of fuel burned, has a hearth.

In the old days a fireplace hearth was the center hub of conversation in the home only taking a back seat to the supper table and even then most often the table was placed near the fire.

It is with this gathering place in mind that I offer this thread as a place of conversation. A place where all topics are open and all questions are sincerely pondered and answered with a joyful and welcoming spirit.

Even with that said, I’m a bit reluctant to bring up some questions and concerns considering the topic I’m about to mention, only because I don’t want this thread closed like some others I have seen here. Nothing is learned or gained by censorship. My hope is we all can learn something from discussion.

On to the topic at hand…
Who are the “real” professionals you’re suppose to call when other professionals refuse to even come out and inspect a chimney, let alone refuse to clean a chimney…even one they haven’t laid eyes on?

I’m in the process of getting estimates from 3-4 certified chimney sweeps in the area for 3 masonry chimneys needing minor and major repairs at my widowed aunt’s home. Three of the estimates we’ve received were businesses whose websites I’d researched nearly a decade ago. These same three businesses had, back then, refused to come and look at my own chimney for inspection and cleaning. Ultimately, one business did come out to my home, but when they got there seen the chimney was clean, but refused to further inspect my chimney for me. They did not charge me for coming out. Of course, just showing up didn’t help me any.

Fast forward to these last few weeks getting estimates for my aunt’s home, trying to use the best businesses in my area, the same ones that had refused me service, and once we’re through discussing the work my aunt needs at her house I also take the time to ask these businesses again if they will inspect my chimney, and the answers are the same…by all 3 businesses thus far…they will not. I hate to mention here why they won’t and it is because if one word. Some of you here know that word, and you know what I burn.

As long as I don’t mention what I burn they are willing to come out and inspect my chimney. However, when I mention that one word they all change their minds and refuse to offer their service to me.

I know my chimney needs work. To what extent is the question I’d like answered through a level 2 inspection. The only reason I know this is spending time on forums. If not for forums and burning wood and other fuels as a hobby, enjoying stoves and collecting and repairing stoves, if not for those things I’d be like most people making their first post here, being uninformed and seeking advice. Advice would then be given to call a professional, which I’ve already done…and all refused me service. So, who else do I call for an inspection? Who would I call now even if I told them I wanted it torn down and rebuilt? Clearly, they don’t want anything to do with servicing not just my chimney, but any other chimney in the area using an alternative fuel…which means me and others have no one else to turn to. I’m left scratching my head.
Last edited:
They won't come inspect because the chimneys are used for coal? That's just crazy I would assume there is still a fair amount of coal burnt in Ohio
Thanks for chiming in, Ben. You guessed it.

With Ohio having the largest community of Amish families in the country (so I’ve read) I would assume there are still lots of people using coal as fuel, as you said.

If my chimney was taller than the 5 tiles (chimney approx. 15ft hight total from firebox floor) above the thimble I would really be sweating this if I was someone else using that fuel. Being that my chimney is relatively short I can probably drop a light down my chimney and my Iphone on a pole if I need to. I’ll get by. I just don’t understand how other coal burners are to get any service from these companies.

I realize when people hear the word “coal” they automatically think of it being dirty. I get that. I certainly understand a sweep not wanting to deal with lots of thick black soot. I wouldn’t either. It’s the precise reason I won’t burn bituminous.

The strange thing is all of these folks seem to want to lump all coal into the same category, or better yet, none of them seemed to know any better. I certainly didn’t want to argue with them because of trying to do business with them at my aunt’s place…to the tune of two chimneys getting new concrete caps and a third chimney getting spalling brick fully replaced from the ground up on a home with a walk out basement, a $50k+ estimate on its own not counting two other chimneys and some brick work on a retaining wall.

Without mentioning any names the last person we spoke with has the highest certification you can get within one governing body and when I mentioned anthracite not having black soot like soft coal the answer was a stearn, “doesn’t matter, we still won’t touch it”.

Not wanting to seem argumentative I dropped it because he was there for my aunt’s place, not my own, and I didn’t want to jeopardize losing a prospective contractor. He later admitted to me in front of my dad and my aunt that he didn’t know anything about anthracite and had “zero” experience with it. His words.

The thing is, having the highest certification you can get and not having any knowledge of anthracite, and automatically refusing to work on a chimney using coal, hopefully you can understand my questioning; who else do us coal burners in our area turn to?

Honestly, it makes me hesitant even having any of these same companies give my aunt estimates. I mean, I’m confident they should know what they’re doing, but I should also be able to be confident that they all should be informed that anthracite isn’t at all like bituminous. These companies have good reputations in our area too, that’s why I specifically called them.

I certainly don’t want to harm anyone’s business or reputation and have no intention of causing trouble or suing any of these companies. That’s not who I am. But I think I have the right to service and I don’t think I’d be out of line saying that all these professionals should at least have some knowledge of every solid fuel used for home heating. It’s not so much about the fuel, but rather the chimneys and they’re supposed to be the experts.

I’m pretty sure I’ve called a minimum of 5 companies now and never got further than a phone call with 4 of them. If one of the highest ranking sweeps (in two states) won’t work on my chimney there’s no reason for me to think calling any other lower level sweeps will get me any further.

Like I said, the one company did send a crew out. They didn’t accomplish anything I wanted done. They did spend about 2.5 hours questioning me about my stove and anthracite because they said they’d never seen it or been around it or seen a stove like mine. They were genuinely nice during the entire time they were there. They ultimately chose not to charge me for their time because they thanked me for sharing my time and experience with my stove and anthracite with them. While they were here, and during our discussion, they called their boss and he would not allow them to run a camera down my chimney to check what I wanted checked out, cracked liners. I guess they didn’t want any liability. It’s just a chimney. The odd thing is this, Ben. Those cracks are the precise reason I haven’t been burning wood along with the chimney being in place for nearly 70 years and most likely doesn’t have enough clearance from combustibles.

I knew the coal would give me much cooler exhaust and that would buy me time to save money and have work done on my chimney. It would and has allowed me time to get ahead on a wood supply as well as allow time for thorough drying of my wood supply. All of this working together in case of changing times like we have now with rising coal prices. I first bought it for $250/ton and now with tax it is $500/ton. I’m spending money on coal that could go to fix my chimney to be safer for hotter chimney temperatures while burning my wood supply and be safer over-all.

I guess I’m going to be stuck doing all of my own work. I have no idea what others will do when they need professional service and/or inspections. Lucky for me my chimney is only 5 clay liners above the thimble and I’m fairly certain I can use a scissor jack to remove my tiles and install new ones. At that point I’m probably looking at calling in the pros again, if they will come (I won’t mention coal when new liners are in place). I’ll have them install Heatshield or similar product on the inside to make zero clearance, or maybe even have them put in a poured in place liner (clay liner’s removed). My main goal is wanting to heat with wood and anthracite when markets fluctuate. I would use 316Ti but I’ve got concerns using it with coal after seeing multiple users having it rot (seen the pictures) out in 5-10 years. Wow! That’s expensive to replace so often. I’ve researched it pretty thoroughly. Some 316Ti users haven’t had that issue burning coal, but others have and it’s strange some have had such bad luck. Some even suggest that since anthracite has such low chimney temps to use AL29-4C, even though it’s for gas/oil, since it has the highest corrosion resistance. I’m sure you have experience and suggestions with all of these. If I knew I would never burn coal again I’d just install the best insulated SS and be done. With one income I need to remain flexible to the market with multiple ways to heat my home. Wanting to be flexible with market conditions I’d rather have something more reliable and permanent for both fuels; something like Heatshield installed. I’d rather go that route than a poured-in-place liner simply because if the poured in place failed it would be a major job to remove.

As clean as my chimney is using anthracite all I’d have to do to get service from a professional is to keep my mouth closed and NOT mention using coal at all. I had no idea being honest would cause such a problem getting service.
Last edited:
“Hi, I want to hook a wood stove up to an unused chimney and want to make sure it’s is good shape first. Can you guys come inspect it? Do you guys use a camera?”

It’s summer, the chimney most likely hasn’t been used in months.
  • Like
Reactions: begreen and bholler
“Hi, I want to hook a wood stove up to an unused chimney and want to make sure it’s is good shape first. Can you guys come inspect it? Do you guys use a camera?”

It’s summer, the chimney most likely hasn’t been used in months.
You actually bring up a good point.

That is exactly how I approached these companies several years ago. Each place I called for inspections. Ultimately they ask questions. I answered them truthfully. Some people would lie to them. I won’t. I expect the same from them, honesty and integrity. I would think they too would want to do business with honest people. It’s sort of like respect. Give it and you’ll receive it.

Back then I assumed estimates were free. That was before understanding the levels of inspections and learning the difference between inspections and estimates for known cosmetic work. So really, it’s no different than an HVAC or plumbing service call. No sense in expecting something for free. There’s a problem with that though.

-How does a person know which company is best suited to do the work?
-What if you decide you don’t like the individual who comes out, for whatever reason? It happens.
-What is the difference between an estimate and an inspection? Now we’re getting somewhere.
-Is an inspection needed when a known problem is clearly visible? Not really…especially when I’ve been in building trades all my life.
-Then there’s the issues of cost of fees for “each” company to come out making it hard to get multiple estimates for the job like you would with any other building project, electric work, concrete, etc. So this is one are I think some businesses shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to chimneys.

All of these I encountered when first working with these companies. All of them wanted to charge me an inspection fee, which in a way, I understood, in another way I didn’t.

When you build a house there’s not a single general contractor around me who charges for estimates to build me a house. Been there, done that with general contractors. Same for sub-contractors…even plumbing and HVAC guys. They all give free estimates when building or remodeling a home. Service calls are a little different, even if the only thing done is diagnostic. I get that they charge for that. Actually, we all know nothing is free, so these businesses figure ahead to get their time back for estimates at the end of the job should they be awarded the contract. I don’t necessarily want anything for free, but I want estimates as well and I’m not paying every contractor that comes out. I don’t care if they make up for their time after being awarded a contract. In fact, I encourage them to charge on the back end.

Fast forward to me working with at least three of the same companies I tried to work with before. I was very specific in what I wanted estimates for because I knew what some visible problems were that needed fixed. Estimates, not inspections and that’s what I got.

Two graciously gave those estimates without charging and one did not. My aunt didn’t mind to pay so we went with it. The estimates were for known visible problems. A new concrete crown on each of two chimneys and the third chimney had bad brick spalling above the gutter line as well as some below the gutter line to the deck and some brick spalling below the deck to the ground. Worst of it from the gutter up. All three companies gave estimates tearing down to the gutter line and rebuilding as well as total tear down of cosmetic outer structure and rebricking from the ground up. These estimates aren’t even remotely close to each other, but they are gladly working with us.

They also agreed to estimates rather than total inspections because 3 of 4 flues of the three chimneys have never been used since the home was built.

Another company is wanting to give an estimate as well for another fee. Two other brick masons have also given estimates at no charge. Those two brick mason estimates are totally being scratched off because they’re not doing the same amount of work, they didn’t even get in the roof, both said they’d only remove two courses of brick on the worst chimney when clearly the issue is worse than that and confirmed by me and three chimney companies, and the masons estimates were not thoroughly itemized, and they’re not insured and bonded. They’re out.

The final decision of who does the work for my aunt is not my decision. All my job for her was to help find her some well credentialed and experienced companies who offer a warranty with their work and are known for doing good work.

Normally I would have just contacted local ever day masons to do this work. I still may have to depending on what my aunt decides. That said, from the past previous posts here by @bholler and @webby3650 I’ve been encouraged to seek out certified credentialed contractors because I know these guys here are knowledgeable and helpful on the forum.

So my experience in total has not been so cut and dry as EatenByLimestone mentions with chimney sweeps. Often there are extenuating circumstances. One of which I haven’t mentioned yet…and that is that my aunt made it very clear from the onset that she has zero plans to use any of these chimneys and they’ve never been used. She just needed and wanted visible cosmetic issues corrected so that the chimney’s didn’t get any worse and cause damage inside the home. My overall experience with these companies with her home so far has been a good experience. Better than my own experience at my own home.