Mention a chimney sweep and most of us conjure up the image of Dick Van Dyke gracefully dancing on the rooftops in the beloved Mary Poppins movie. But in real life, chimney sweeping is serious business.
Chimney sweeps date back to the 16th century in England. In those days, chimney sweepers often moved from rooftop to rooftop while risking personal injury or illness due to the dirty nature of the profession.
Things have come a long way. “Most people are surprised to learn that chimney sweeps work from the bottom up, not from the top down,” said Mark Nickerson, operations manager for Hearth & Home. “Using poles that snap together on a rotary wheel or a device that looks similar to a fishing reel, sweepers go slow and sweep up.”
Whether you have a gas or wood-burning fireplace in your home, keeping it operating efficiently and safely should be a priority. The best way to do that is to make a chimney sweep part of your fireplace maintenance plan.
Clean, properly functioning chimneys reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is often caused by improper or broken exhaust systems. A regular inspection and cleaning by a chimney sweep can prevent this from happening as well as remove other harmful byproducts created by gas or wood-burning fires.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) reports there are more than 20,000 chimney fires every year. Dirty chimneys often contain a build-up of creosote, which is a highly combustible byproduct of burning wood. Keeping your chimney clean reduces your risk of fires.
Hiring a chimney sweep can also save you money over time. As little as one tenth of an inch of soot can reduce heat transfer efficiency by up to 50 percent. On top of that, discovering and repairing air leaks can help reduce your overall energy bill.
According to guidelines from The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), chimneys, fireplaces and vents should be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits and correct clearances. This national safety standard considers that even if you rarely use your fireplace, animals may still build nests in the flue, and other types of deterioration can make the chimney unsafe.
Factory-built fireplaces should also be swept when any appreciable buildup occurs, as the acidic deposits can shorten the life of the fireplace by corroding the different components.
At a minimum, a chimney sweeper will inspect and clean your chimney. The process takes one to two hours, depending on the buildup found. If the chimney needs a deeper clean, such as a chemical treatment to get rid of late-stage creosote glaze, the visit may last a few hours.
If minor repairs are required, such as replacing a missing chimney cap or damaged chimney liner, they can be completed the same day, depending on the sweeper’s policies and tools they have on hand.
From a career standpoint, there is a growing need for chimney sweeps. “It is somewhat difficult to find people for chimney sweep jobs because it’s not something that people typically think of while going to school,” said Nickerson, adding that roofers and contractors who spend time climbing on rooftops are more likely to become interested in this type of job.
For those interested in becoming a chimney sweep, Nickerson recommends a course by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “CSIA has created a system for people to enroll, take a class and learn how to sweep effectively,” he explained, adding that the weeklong class includes hands-on training.