The most important thing when hiring a “professional sweep” is to choose among only certified chimney sweeps. Otherwise, you might as well brush up on “Chim Chim Cher-ee” so you can sing along when your guy shows up. A song-and-dance routine is almost certainly what you will get from any “sweep” that does not bother to obtain certification.
You might also end up recognizing your uncertified “chimney sweep” as the same guy that cleaned your carpets last year. You see, there are plenty of “handymen” that present themselves as all around utility men, but they are most often self educated and not up on the latest standards. The sad truth is that lots of people are passing themselves off as professional sweeps that have little training and no continuing education.
Needless to say, they are not able to perform meaningful inspections after cleanings even if they know enough to clean your chimney. Anyone can get a business license to do a lot of things; fill out some forms, pay some money, make some claims and they get a license. There is a big difference between someone that is actually certified to this specific type of work versus a general contractor.
Body of Proof
All of the sweeps you are choosing among should be able to prove certification by a recognized organization governing professional chimney sweeps. The CSIA – Chimney Safety Institute of America – is probably the biggest and best known, but various guilds exist that perform similar functions. What is important is that a reputable organization is overseeing its members and requiring them to meet high standards, including those of ongoing education.
Once you are choosing among certified sweeps, it is good to ask a few if you can talk to some of their clients. A “real” chimney sweep or sweep company will have no problem supplying a list of references that will verify their work. However, keep this is mind when they ask you to serve as a reference so you can return the same courtesy previous customers extended to you during your search for a “real” chimney sweep.