Cost: $65 for an inspection; $150 for inspection and cleaning, including removal of creosote buildup, which may lead to a chimney fire.
How often: once a year.
When: before your first fire in winter.
What an inspection might find:
There's no chimney cap. Cost to add: $150. If you let it go, rain water can get into your chimney, damage the chimney liner and damper, and even saturate mortar joints -- causing mold. Potential savings: $2,000-$4,000 to replace the chimney liner.
Other problems may include: a cracked chimney crown, which can be repaired for $300-$500; chimney flashing that needs caulking, which can be done for $80-$100; and waterproofing the exterior brick, $350-$600. All these fixes will prevent rainwater from getting in and mold from forming.
Bottom line: "A simple chimney cleaning can prevent chimney fires and damage to your entire house," says Ray Gessner, a licensed professional engineer and owner of A Step in Time Chimney Sweeps, with offices in the eastern U.S. "Water is the No. 1 problem with chimneys. With water damage, you might need to have your whole chimney rebuilt."