HAMPSTEAD, N.H. — Blanketed in nearly a foot of snow, you don't need a thermometer to see just how cold a recent Thursday morning felt in Hampstead, New Hampshire.
But it was the cold inside a 36-year-old home, not outside, that Sam Nieves and his brother, Ivan, were concerned with.
"We're trying to get the heat fixed," Nieves said as he walked into the basement of the house.
Nieves is a chimney sweep, and lately, he has barely been able to keep up with demand.
"For the last 15 years, we’ve done chimneys. We’ve never seen it this busy before," Nieves said.
The home Nieves was called to is owned by Rick Turpin, whose heat hasn't been working correctly recently, so he called in a heating company and eventually, a chimney company to fix the problem.
"I hate to spend the money. I’d like to do it with something fun, but it is what it is," Turpin said.
It's not just heating system problems keeping chimney sweeps busy. Inflation and high energy costs are also playing a role.
Looking to keep their home heating systems running efficiently, many Americans are calling in chimney sweeps. What they’re finding is older chimneys like Rick Turpin's are made of terracotta tile. After three decades, the tiles are no longer sealing properly, letting precious heat and money escape.
"Your house is almost like a lung. It breathes, and if it gets suffocated, something is not gonna work properly," Sam Nieves explained.
To fix the problem, the brothers and their crew installed a new chimney liner made of steel. Relining Rick Turpin's chimney sealed it up tight. Over the next few years, it could save the Turpin family thousands of dollars. It's an installation any homeowner can have done.
For Americans who simply can’t afford to pay their heating bills right now, another unique concept is helping to fill the gap—firewood assistance banks. Think of them like a food bank, only instead of canned soup, people can pick up firewood free of charge, including one in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.
This year, the US Forest Service is helped expand firewood banks, giving out $712,000 in funding. More than 100 firewood assistance programs exist nationwide.