These days, you’re unlikely to see many people burning wood as their primary heating source. Nevertheless, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are still extremely popular and continue to play an important role (although only aesthetically) in many homes. People just love the nostalgia of a real wood burning appliance.
Of course, unlike natural gas, a wood burning fireplace requires annual or semiannual maintenance in order to keep it running efficiently. Even more importantly, this maintenance must be performed in order to ensure your safety.
The biggest concern with any wood-burning appliance is the buildup of creosote in your chimney. Creosote is produced as a byproduct of the burning process and is transferred to the walls of the chimney flue as the smoke rises. This tar like substance is extremely flammable once it reaches the right temperature and, once ignited, is almost impossible to extinguish until it burns itself out. Temperatures during a “chimney fire” can reach 5000F-6000F degrees. This incredibly ferocious fire will pretty much burn anything in its path. In many cases, the heat is so intense that it can easily set the house on fire.
The amount of creosote produced depends on how efficient your wood burns. If you’re using unseasoned wood (still green), or if your fire doesn’t have enough oxygen, there’s going to be a lot of smoke heading up your chimney. In cases like this, it’s necessary to clean your flue at least a few times a season.
Chimney cleaning is a very old trade. Even back in the 17th century, people understood the need to periodically sweep their chimney. Back then, wood and coal were burnt exclusively for heat in the winter. Master chimney sweeps would use the services of young boys to perform much of the work because of their size and the limited space that was available.
These days, there is still a great need for chimney sweeping services. The industry even has a few accreditations you can obtain, plus several top-notch training programs to make sure you’re using the best methods/equipment available. In fact, it would be in your best interest to take such a course if you plan on opening your own chimney sweeping business. Alternatively, you can learn the ropes (apprentice) with a reputable company before going out on your own. In short, though the industry is not licensed and regulated in most districts, it would be in your best interest to make sure you know what you’re doing before selling your chimney sweeping services.
As a chimney sweep, your job is to remove all that dangerous creosote from the flue of the chimney, inspect various components (such as the firebox, damper, and chimney) for defects, blockages, and creosote build up. Chimney cleaning is performed by running a series of different diameter brushes through the flu, thus scrubbing away any creosote buildup. Additionally, you may be required to remove chimney obstructions such as birds nests.
Although the basic idea behind cleaning a chimney is relatively straightforward, there are many other factors that you need to consider when doing a job. The two most significant factors are safety and the potential for property damage.
Chimney cleaning is a dangerous and dirty job. You will be working at heights which will require that you be able to climb onto a customer’s roof to access the chimney from above. Quite often, the roof pitch will be steep and there may be other obstructions which will make accessing the chimney dangerous. In some cases, you will need safety equipment such as a rope and harness and have all the necessary fall protection equipment and training.
The other significant challenge in this business is keeping the customer’s property clean. While this may sound fairly routine and manageable, the reality is that all that soot and creosote is going to fall to the bottom of the chimney. You’ve got to make sure that none of it migrates out into the customer’s living area.
As mentioned, it is in your best interest to take a course or work with a qualified chimney sweep before venturing out on your own. If you fail to do this, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in an impossible situation. Check online under chimney sweeping and chimney sweeping training. Some packages will require that you attend the training course at their facility, and the duration can be several days long. Be prepared to pay a significant amount for this training.
The typical technique for chimney sweeping would be to gain access to the roof and sweep the debris down the chimney. However, some modern techniques allow you to do most jobs from the bottom. Some methods involve using a specially designed, heavy-duty vacuum cleaner to gather every last bit of dust and debris at the bottom while you sweep the chimney from below.
Depending on the methods you use, and the type of training you receive, you will need a chimney sweeping kit consisting of long rods and brushes, an industrial strength vacuum specifically made for chimney sweeping, and a selection of long ladders. You should have at least a 40 foot ladder in order to access most roofs. You’ll need a truck/van to carry these long ladders. You also need a respirator, face shield, goggles, ear protection, and protective clothing (the soot will get everywhere).
Most municipalities don’t require that a chimney sweep be licensed. However, having professional credentials and training just makes sense. You’ll feel more confident performing your work and your customer will feel more relaxed knowing the job is in the hands of a true professional. You may also use these certification logos in your sales material – and that’s always a plus.
The main certification body in the U.S. is CSIA, or the Chimney Safety Institute of America. In Canada, it is WETT, short for Wood Energy Technology Transfer.
Chimney Safety Institute of America Chimney Safety Institute of America The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) Just to make sure that you’re fully complying with local regulations, it’s always a good idea to head down to City Hall and find out exactly what you need to set up your chimney sweeping business.
One of the best ways to kick-start your business is by networking with local wood lots/firewood suppliers, building centers, and real estate agents. When a homeowner is looking to get his/her chimney cleaned, these are the people that are going to be asked if they know anyone that does this work. Believe it or not, chimney sweeps can be hard to find in some locations.
Also, placing a small permanent classified ad in your local paper can work wonders. Even if people don’t need your services right away, they’ll know where to find you when they do.
The Yellow Pages can also be an excellent advertising medium. Though you may not have the funds to pay for this in your first year, the sooner you get in the book, the better off you’re going to be. When looking for a chimney sweep (or any home service business), the average person is likely to look in the phone directory first. You can bet your competition already has a spot there.
Liability/Worker’s Comp Insurance
This is one business where you absolutely must have liability insurance – good liability insurance. Because of the nature of the business, the chance of a mishap occurring and property damage resulting is high. One of the biggest concerns will be contaminating your customer’s interior with soot and debris.
Additionally, you’re going to want to be fully covered in the event that there is any mishap after you’ve done the job (such as a house fire).
Workers compensation insurance is also mandatory due to the inherent danger of climbing on a customer’s roof, using tall ladders, and such – in fact, it’s mandatory in most localities. Be prepared to pay the maximum premium because of the nature of the business. You’ll be categorized along with roofers and demolition workers.
How much can you make?
Chimney cleaning jobs are normally in the $50-$200 range. Simple inspections are usually around $75. You should be able to make at least $30-$40 per hour while on the job. Once you gain experience, a simple chimney cleaning can be done quickly with a helper. If you’ve got great scheduling talents, you can easily make $300 per day in high season.
However, don’t forget that in many parts of the country, chimney cleaning is relatively seasonal. Just before the start of the heating season, you’re going to be run off your feet working seven days a week. After winter sets in, you may get the odd emergency job, but that’s about it.
The good news is that chimney cleaning is not as competitive as many other service-oriented businesses. This allows you to charge market rates without having to worry about lowering your prices due to competition.
Click here to see a few books on chimney cleaning.
Click here for some basic equipment.