Unless you are a contractor who installs hearth appliances yourself, then there is a good chance you will want to have a professional do it for you. Purchasing the fireplace is a daunting first step to take, but finding the appropriate contractor to complete the installation is equally important. The perfect contractor is one who will work with your budget, has experience, is up-to-date on all necessary certifications, hires competent help, is willing to work with other companies to get the job done, and will do everything they can to provide you with a professional experience in a timely manner.
When searching for the best company, you will come across ones who do not have the experience to quench your doubt about their abilities. Other contractors will be unprofessional, giving excuses about not having the time or resources to complete the job. You also may find the best companies you come across have a long waiting period before they can even get to you for whatever reason. Be sure to look at the reviews they have online. Use a third-party site like Yelp, or Angie's List to see honest reviews from previous customers. Your point of contact at any company should be willing to sit down with you face-to-face to discuss your needs and if they can meet and exceed those needs.
NFI and WETT Certified Technicians
What is an NFI Certified Tech?
Certifications are extremely important for fireplaces and other hearth appliances because they are potentially dangerous. NFI (National Fireplace Institute) certifications give hearth professionals the knowledge they need to safely install any type of hearth in any place. This credential is recognized by every state government nationwide and is valid for three years before the technician is required to renew via education credits or retest to keep their certification valid. The NFI is a non-profit education system that tests specialists rigorously before handing out NFI Specialist Certifications.
The National Fireplace Institute's goal is to provide hearth installers and other specialists the means to enhance the general safety of owning a fireplace or other hearth appliance. There are four areas in which a technician may be certified in:
Technicians that certify in Hearth Design serve as a bridge between home contractors and the homeowner, ensuring that all materials being used mesh with the design the homeowner would like to achieve. The NFI also has a Master Hearth Professional program, which requires technicians to be certified in all areas categorized by fuel type. A technician with a Master certification from the NFI is considered to have the highest possible education a hearth technician and installer can have.
To find an NFI certified technician, simply go to the NFI website, and input your zip code. This search will provide all NFI certified technicians and companies within your area.
The NFI has about 50 advocates who are associated with the institute in some way. These advocates are large distribution companies, hearth manufacturers, hearth accessory and product dealers, energy conglomerates, etc. Needless to say, an NFI certified installer will be the top choice for your project.
What is a WETT Certified Technician?
WETT stands for the Wood Energy Technology Transfer company. Just like the National Fireplace Institute, WETT provides education to specialists, installers, and technicians. But, WETT is different from the NFI because this certification provides additional training to conduct an inspection on all hearths safely and appropriately and everything in the home that affects the hearth, or vice-versa. These inspections are often required by insurance companies whose clients have some sort of hearth in the building.
A WETT certified technician will inspect the hearth and the surrounding area after it is installed. These well-trained inspection specialists will rigorously go through the installation process with the company, step-by-step, and will physically inspect everything. Every law and code will be tested and given a pass or fail type grade. Usually, there is only one inspection done where the WETT certified technician will inspect the chimney, fireboxes, smoke chambers, dampers, clearances, the hearth, chimney liners, gates, grates, etc.
If an inspection turns out to provide a problem, the WETT certified technician may need a more intensive inspection with the installers to further understand the situation. You must also understand that there are different inspections based on the type of hearth you have installed, so there are many possibilities for problems to occur. But, if you hired NFI certified installers, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.
You can find a WETT certified technician by going to the WETT Inc. website. Simply fill in the required boxes with your information and the site will provide you with all the certified technicians in your area.
Licensed General Contractors
If you find yourself in an area where there are little to no options of NFI and WETT certified technicians and installers, many licensed general contractors are more than capable of getting the job done. As long as you follow your instincts, common sense, and the advice in this guide, you'll find yourself well cared for with a reputable and talented general contractor.
Licensed general contractors are the next best option if NFI and WETT certified technicians aren't available because a company doesn't absolutely need those certifications to install any type of hearth properly and safely. If you have a company in your area that specializes in fireplaces, chances are that they are going to be NFI certified anyway. There aren't many companies around the Unites States that specialize in hearth installations that forego the NFI certification. But, if you find the right company that has the experience, knowledge, and can guarantee their work, you'll find that a licensed general contractor is perfectly fine to hire for the job.
Doing this can even be a first option for people building new homes, or building additional rooms, etc. Your general contractor should specialize in many things, and if they don't, they can find a subcontractor who is and hire them on for the job.
To make absolutely sure that the licensed general contractor you intend to hire meets the requirements to be a good fit for the job, write down some facts from this guide, and simply ask them to explain their expertise to you. You've done your homework. You may not be an expert, but you know exactly who you need to get the job done. So, you can use that knowledge to quiz them on what they know.
The best way to get the information out of a general contractor is to see through their salesmanship. Unfortunately, you will come across those who will say anything they need in order to get you to hire them. If your instincts tell you that they may be shady, unprofessional, or unqualified, then move on to the next company. It is better to trust your intuition than to waste your time, or worse, actually hire them only to have shoddy work done.
A general contractor must also be willing to listen to what you, the homeowner, want. If you want your hearth in a certain place in the house, your contractor must work with you and figure out how to do it correctly, unless there is a very apparent reason to not go with that plan. They should have the knowhow to look at your building plans to see where a fireplace would be best installed. The contractor should also have the confidence to tell you that you aren't making the best decision and always explain themselves if they have a better way of going about the whole project. Honesty in a licensed general contractor is worth it's weight in gold.
Handymen — Why Should they be Considered?
Anyone with good references from past customers can be an installation resource. This includes handymen that have experience with hearth installations. If you can find a handyman to install a simple fireplace, then go for it. It'll save you a bunch of money. As long as they guarantee it will pass a WETT inspection after the installation, and you've done your homework on the handyman, then it can be an excellent choice. It should not be your first choice though. Ever.
Another good reason to have a good handyman around is to help out with the installation, demolition, moving pipes, wires, and other things around for the installation to go smoothly. You can hire a qualified person to do these things before the general contractor or the NFI certified company comes in to install the hearth. But first, you must vet them to see if they can provide what you need.
Besides typical town and state licensing, handymen shouldn't need any type of certifications or licensing to help you with installing a fireplace. Depending on what they do on the job, they may need certifications and licensing to work on anything electrical. Be sure to check the local and state laws regarding the handyman and be sure to ask them if they have everything they need to work on the job legally.
HVAC Tech — How Do they Figure into This Field?
HVAC, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, experts are technicians, builders, and installers who specialize in anything that involves the mentioned terms. A hearth appliance will fall under this umbrella in almost all cases. Because the hearth industry is a separate industry that does not directly align with HVAC installation in all cases, you may need to research a company that is willing to work on hearth appliances. Remember, your home insurance company will likely require a WETT inspection after the installation, so the HVAC technician must be aware of the rules and requirements for your fireplace to pass the inspection.
Again, you'll need to vet anyone who works in your home, so ask them for references. Ask them to provide you with proof of their expertise and experience in installing ventilation systems for hearths. Another important question to ask them is if they worked with a general contractor in the past to finish a job or if they were able to get it done on their own. This gives insight as to the resources they have at their disposal, whether they have experience doing a job on their own, and if they have the right tools and knowledge to even work on your project successfully. Ask them if they do gas and wood installations.
Finding the right contractor to install your fireplace can be quite a headache if you don't organize and prioritize. This guide gives you everything you need to know about hiring the right contractor for your needs. Along with these industry insights into hiring contractors for installing home hearths, use your intuition and common sense to gauge the aptitude of the company itself. Make sure they guarantee their work. Always get the agreed upon work in writing. You don't want to end up in a court battle because you were too trusting. A contract or at least an agreement should be made before any work on the hearth begins. Templates for work agreements and schedules can be found online quite readily and then notarized to make them binding. After you are confident you are protected from fraud or other nefarious schemes, simply do a bit of research in your area, and make some calls. Set up a few appointments for them to come to you, and vet them without delay. You'll find the right contractor quickly using a no-nonsense system that doesn't waste time.