LACKAWANNA COUNTY -- The recent spell of frigid temperatures and high winds left many homeowners worried about damage to their chimneys, but experts advise being careful about the company you hire to repair your chimney.
One local chimney repair business has left a trail of legal judgments and angry customers.
Former customers of Irish Sweeps of Scranton took the company and its owner to court for what they call shoddy and dangerous work on their chimneys.
The customers we talked with wish they checked out the company before hiring its workers.
Winter days and nights can be frigid, then balmy, then cold again within a week. The contraction and expansion that leads to cracked roads and potholes can also lead to cracked chimneys.
Joe Yasinskas' chimney needed repairs in 2012. He hired Irish Sweeps to install a liner that now snakes across his backyard in Olyphant.
"My chimney is 26 and a half feet," Yasinskas said. "This one is only 25 feet."
His chimney has now a new different liner. He says the foot and a half shortfall on this old one led to a blockage.
"It could have filled my house completely with smoke and with carbon monoxide," he said.
In Edwardsville, Sean Wolfe has to seal off the chimney atop his home. Smoke from his furnace now leaves a vent on the side of his home. He says he made the change after workers from Irish Sweeps only put four feet of liner in his 30-foot chimney resulting in a chimney clogged with ash build up.
"Carbon monoxide was going into the basement and into my attic. And that had been going on for months," said Wolfe.
These two homeowners in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties are among six who took Irish Sweeps and owner Daniel Brennan to court over the past five years. In every single case, customers won.
"Still can't collect," Wolfe said.
"I would love to have the money back that I believe is owed to me," said Yasinskas.
Yasinskas even called the Better Business Bureau because his bill indicates Irish Sweeps is a member, but the BBB's website gives Irish Sweeps an "F" rating.
"I don't have an 'F' rating, no," owner Daniel Brennan said. "It's not an 'F' rating. I can call them up right now."
We called the BBB confirming his "F" rating. We also found out Brennan has never been a BBB member.
We asked Brennan why he's not paying court-ordered judgments to customers like Joe Yaskinskas.
"I asked him for an apology and he said, 'no,'" Brennan said. "Absolutely, I will pay Mr. Yasinskas."
Brennan's business card and his truck claim Irish Sweeps is licensed.
"Licensed and insured. I am licensed and insured," Brennan insisted.
"Your license expired with the state in 2014."
"I'm not doing no more work. My business is closed," he responded.
"When did you go out of business?"
"A year and a half ago," said Brennan.
Maureen Chell of Clarks Summit told Newswatch 16 she paid Brennan $1,400 last spring to fix the chimney on her home in Clarks Summit.
"When he first came over, I had a feeling he was a wheeler-dealer, but I didn't think he was dishonest," Chell said.
She says Brennan took her money and never showed up to fix her chimney.
Prosecutors charged Brennan with felony fraud but dismissed the case in June when Brennan paid Maureen Chell a refund.
Sean Wolfe wishes his case against Irish Sweeps was a criminal and not a civil matter. He says Brennan's work was so bad, tests show high levels of carbon monoxide in his home.
"It could have killed me. I find that indifference to life," said Wolfe.
Wolfe won a court judgment of $7,600.
In Olyphant, Joe Yasinskas says he spent about $1,100 to hire another company to fix Irish Sweeps' mistakes.
"And I'd also hope that no one else out there falls victim the way that I did to him," Yasinskas said.
The home contractor rating website Angie's List warns that homeowners know very little about chimneys and chimney repair, another reason to research these businesses.
Like the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List customers give Irish Sweeps an "F" rating. The website tells Newswatch 16 less than 10 percent of chimney repair businesses in northeastern and central Pennsylvania have "F" ratings.