It’s hard to imagine that winter will ever come when it’s ninety degrees outside – but it will be here sooner than you think and now is the time to make arrangements for all those cold-weather repairs and general maintenance!
That means locking down home heating fuel contracts, weatherproofing windows and doors, cleaning chimneys, cleaning gutters and doing last-minute repairs on our homes. Also, make sure to plan ahead, make a budget and do your research on companies and products before you make any major purchases.
If you use heating oil or propane to heat your home, you’ll need to enter into, or renew, your heating fuel contract and at the same time, schedule a yearly tune up to ensure your equipment is working efficiently. Make sure you use a licensed heating fuel dealer. You can learn how to verify a license by visiting www.ct.gov/dcp/verify. Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes start and end dates, the amount of money you’re paying, whether there is a cap on the price, the maximum number of gallons committed to your home, how the price per gallon may vary and whether the dealer has a sufficient amount of fuel that will be available to cover all of their contracts. Many suppliers have budget payment plan offers that allow you to pay a smaller amount each month.
You also may have last-minute home repairs or chimney cleanings. Always make sure that anyone you hire to fix your home is a registered home improvement contractor. Although chimney cleaners don’t need a license, many chimney sweeps apply for certification with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (www.csia.org) and membership in the National Chimney Sweep Guide (www.ncsg.org).
Chimney sweeping itself is not considered home improvement, but nearly all related work, such as installation or repair of a chimney cap, liner repair and even mortar replacement, requires a home improvement registration and if they are installing a liner, they will need a sheet metal license.
Be aware of chimney cleaning companies, or oil companies, who offer a deal to clean, and then tell you that you have serious problems that can be repaired that day. Often, they will offer a “deal” if you have them make the repairs that day. That is probably a scam.
It may also be a scam if:
- You receive an unsolicited call offering services, especially from an 800 number.
- You receive an unsolicited call from “your oil company,” “your electric company” or anyone else who doesn’t specifically identify themselves.
- Someone uses pressure tactics to try and get you to act immediately.
- Someone offers a deal that sounds too good to be true.
- No one presents you with a contract.
- They ask that you pay via cash, wire transfer, prepaid card or any untraceable form of payment.
In general, never hire anyone who comes to your door unannounced, always get quotes from multiple contractors, ask them for references and get recommendations from people you trust. Always make sure you have read and understand everything in a contract before you sign it. Here are a few tips to help you make smart choices:
- Verify that anyone doing work on your home has the proper credential.
- If someone is only doing chimney cleaning, they don’t require a credential.
- Anyone doing chimney repair requires a home improvement contractor registration.
- Anyone installing a chimney liner requires a sheet metal license.
- Ask for recommendations and hire locally. It’s always better to do business with someone you, a friend or a family member has done business with before.
- Check at least three references, as well as reviews. Even if a company is recommended by someone you know and trust, it’s important to do your own research.
- Have a signed contract in writing. Home improvement contractors are required to have a contract with you before starting work.
- Ask any questions you have about your contract before signing it.
Consumers who feel they have fallen victim to a scam or feel their contract hasn’t been honored by someone they hired to clean their chimney, may contact DCP by emailing email@example.com.
As always, pass this information on to family and friends and stay safe.
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.