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Craig McEwen, Published January 20 2009

Scoping out the problem

Tiny camera gives Fargo firm peek up chimneys

Brian Goodman takes pictures with a tiny camera to look inside chimneys for dirt, cracks, birds, even raccoons.

The owner of Fargo-based Dakota Chimney & Gas Fireplace Technicians no longer has to climb atop a roof and shine heavy-duty spotlights down chimneys to see if there are problems.

Goodman has what he believes may be the only mini-camera in the area that can be inserted from inside the home to scope a chimney’s innards.

“It’s a camera with a monitor,” purchased last fall for about $5,200, he said.

The camera, attached to a chimney cleaning brush, snakes its way up a chimney.

It scans 360-degrees and pans 180-degrees. “We can’t miss anything,” Goodman said. “We’re basically looking for missing mortar joints, cracked flue (chimney shaft) tiles, and missing mortar in the smoke chamber.”

The inspection can take from one to 1½ hours and costs $159.

The process requires two people: one to steer the camera up the chimney and the other to watch a monitor to see what it finds, he said.

“Basically what we do is take the camera all the way to the top and slowly bring it down and scan,” Goodman said.

“I’ve been in business for over 20 years. I don’t know why we didn’t have it sooner.”

One of his customers is Brian Lipp, who said he has hired Goodman in the past to clean his chimney.

“He does a fabulous job,” Lipp said.

This trip was more for maintenance, he said.

“He was actually there to remortar my firebox. The bricks were coming loose,” Lipp said.

The camera scan also detected frost buildup.

“That’s basically from air from the house getting up the chimney and freezing,” Goodman said.

He doesn’t limit the camera to scanning chimneys. “We can get into any kind of duct work.”

And the camera finds more than just chimney soot and cracks.

It’s common to find raccoons in north Fargo chimneys, Goodman said. “If they don’t have a cap on it, raccoons can climb up and down the flu tiles.”

Birds are also a problem. “They know where that warmth is coming from. But once they fall in they can’t come back out,” said Kevin Arcand, fireplace technician.

Goodman’s customer base extends to about a 100-mile radius of Fargo-Moorhead, he said.

His busy season begins in August and extends through April.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502