Why Ethics Matter in the Chimney Service Industry
Beyond steering the ship at Fluesbrothers, I’m also the chair of the Ethics Committee for the Chimney Safety Institute of America, and I’m vice president of the National Chimney Sweep Guild. These titles look pretty sweet on my resume, but that’s not why I’ve invested so much time into these roles.
It’s because most of the time, unless I look really hard, I can’t find many ethical chimney professionals. I hate to say this about my industry, but it’s just the sad truth, and I’m working against it.
Why do ethics matter when it comes to chimney sweeping? There are lots of reasons, but one of the biggest is that because the chimney is largely unseen to the naked eye, homeowners have to simply trust chimney sweeps when they say their chimneys are dangerous, dirty, and/or in need of expensive repairs. I believe strongly that every chimney sweep company should own a closed circuit camera and use it to perform a thorough video scan of the chimney to show homeowners. At Fluesbrothers, we are able to conduct video scans of 99% of the chimneys we inspect, and we take dozens of photos of every single chimney. The camera we use is called a ChimScan. We have one on all five of our trucks.
Every week, we get someone who calls up and says, ‘Yeah, I need an estimate for repairs.’ Our first question is always, ‘What’s wrong?’ And they say, ‘Well, I had another chimney company out, and they said there’s such-and-such problem.’ My question at that point is, ‘Well can you send me pictures of the problem?’ More often than not, the homeowner says, ‘No, they didn’t give me any photos. They just told me the problem exists.’
At this point, I realize that this person isn’t calling me looking for a lower price. They’re looking for reassurance that the problem even exists. That’s when we explain that Fluesbrothers can come out and do a full 80-point visual evaluation that’s very systematic. By systematic, I mean there’s a checklist that all my guys have to fill out, and there’s a minimum of 20 photos they have to take. And when they bring all that information back to me, not only have they reviewed it, but also I re-review everything. I quality check everything to make sure that my employees are doing a good job and didn’t miss anything and that everybody’s being honest and transparent with their work.
I’ve wrapped my whole business model around honesty, integrity, and transparency. Not only do we insist on showing our customers what the inside of their chimney looks like, but we’re very open with our evaluations. We take a lot of pictures and we print those pictures off for the customers so that if there’s any issues they have a photo to go along with our explanation. We like people to see the issues for themselves.
Our compulsive transparency goes beyond our chimney evaluations. I try to be open and fair about every aspect of our company. For example, it’s been really important to me to have flat rate pricing so that everybody’s getting charged the same. We utilize accountants who tell us exactly what we need to be charging so we aren’t just pulling numbers out of thin air. This way we can continue to grow the business without overcharging people.
And of course a big part of ethics in the chimney industry is knowing the facts. Not only do we make sure all of our chimney sweeps are CSIA certified so that they know exactly what they’re doing, but we see to it that they’re properly trained and have the right tools to do the best possible job. And we do background checks on all of our people before we send them out to represent Fluesbrothers.
Ethics speak through your actions on how you handle things and what kind of information you’re sharing with people. I’m calling for more chimney sweeps in Kansas City and beyond to give their customers the proof and fair pricing they deserve and to introduce them to well-educated, well-trained, and ethical sweeps. It will not only ensure that more chimneys and more families stay safe but that the chimney sweeping industry gets more recognition as a viable, valuable, and principled profession.