September, 2007
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Do Your Homework Before Referring a Chimney Sweep


The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends annual chimney inspections and maintenance by a qualified professional to ensure that home heating systems function properly and as efficiently as possible.

CSIA also recommends that professional home inspectors do their homework before recommending a chimney sweep. “Hiring the right professional to inspect and maintain the chimney and venting system is one of the most important steps that a homeowner can take to ensure safety and efficiency,” states Ashley Eldridge, CSIA director of education. 

While the CSIA recommends that home inspectors consider a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, the organization offers these three straightforward tips to help find a qualified chimney professional:

  1. Verify advertised credentials. Reputable national credentials must be renewed on a regular basis to remain valid. Check with the organization grant-ing the credentials to be sure that the individual you hire holds the credentials he or she advertises.

  2. Ask for and check references. Conscientious companies will have references available from previous clients and are eager to share reports from local consumer advocacy organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List.

  3. Learn the language of chimneys to level the playing field. The interactive fireplace glossary at outlines the thirteen most important terms you need to know to communicate with any professional chimney sweep. The site also offers short presentations on chimney sweeping and inspection processes.

The CSIA is a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety. Learn more online at

For additional information on finding qualified chimney sweeps, visit the Web site of the Fireplace Investigation, Research & Education Services,

Calculate and compare before you buy your next vehicle

There are many cost calculators designed to help you decide how much car or truck you can afford. “AWARE,” or Americans Well-informed on Automobile Retail Economics, sponsors an “Auto Finance Calculator” on its Web site to help consumers make informed car-buying decisions. Kelley Blue Book ( provides tools for comparing car-pricing information, and IntelliChoice ( ranks cars by lowest repair, maintenance and fuel costs.

Consider using the 2/10/60 rule. It assumes a vehicle ownership period of at least five years. Select the top five cars or trucks that fit your needs. For each, double its retail cost, multiply by 10 percent, and divide that figure by 60. The result should give you the monthly cost to own over a 60-month, or five-year period. Check out the monthly listings of the lowest “True Cost to Own” (TCO) comparisons on

Research the estimated miles-per-gallon (MPG) figures for the vehicles that interest you at This year, the EPA is running new road tests that measure gas mileage under a wide variety of weather and traffic conditions. The revised numbers should appear on window stickers for 2008 cars. In the meantime, you can use a calculator devised by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine. With this Kiplinger tool, you can tap into editors’ estimates of the MPG ( for hundreds of 2007 models using the new EPA standards.

Don’t overestimate what you can really afford

Now that you have a broad range for car cost and operating estimates, what can you really afford? How do you protect yourself from taking on too much debt? Experts agree there’s a big difference between qualifying for a loan, and actually repaying it. Calculating your debt-to-income ratio tells you how much debt you’re already carrying. You can compare your numbers to recommended levels to see whether taking on new debt is a wise move. To “qualify” you for a loan, a lender or a bank reviews your credit report to get an idea of your past credit history. The better your credit record, the lower the interest rate for which you’ll qualify, so be sure to get a credit report from at least one of the major credit bureaus. Check to make sure it’s accurate and up-to-date. Remember, you are entitled to one free report yearly from each bureau. Call 877-322-8228, or go to to order yours.

Car dealerships often promote a variety of options like extended warranties and a protective undercoat for the car’s chassis. Avoid being pressured into last-minute, on-the-spot decisions by asking ahead of time about options available. Unless you plan to keep a car at least five years, you probably won’t need an extended warranty.

Source: Federal Citizen Information Center, 888-878-3256 or

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