Expand mobile version menu

What They Do

Insider Info

Chimney sweeps do more than clean chimneys. They're chimney safety experts who help prevent fires in fireplaces, wood stoves, and gas, oil and coal heating systems.

Sweeps install, clean and maintain a variety of heating systems and ensure they're functioning properly. Using brushes, vacuums and whirling chains, they remove hazardous creosote produced by burning wood products.

Chimney sweeps also eliminate the buildup of soot in coal and oil heating systems. Bird and animal nests, leaves and other debris must be removed as well. They can block the flow of emissions and cause fires or the buildup of dangerous gases.

It's important for chimney sweeps to keep up with the changing technology of their trade. They have to be aware of National Fire Protection Association standards and the building and fire codes in their area.

Safety is a key issue of chimney sweeping.

"A good respirator is mandatory in the business, as are good protective gloves and clothing," says Thomas Biscoe, a Vermont-based sweep. "You don't ever want to be sticking your face in someplace without a good respirator."

Special protective garments called "soot suits" are the uniforms of the trade. They are made from non-breathable fabric to prevent soot from getting through to the skin. Sweeps also wear arm-length gloves and respirators to protect themselves from breathing in creosote, which contains the carcinogen cadmium.

This job requires physical fitness. Expect to pack a 60-pound bag of mortar up a ladder and balance yourself on an icy roof. You work mostly outdoors, sometimes in very cold weather.

"It's dangerous and it's dirty," Biscoe says. "You can't be afraid of heights. It's often heavy. It often requires very good balance and agility on the rooftops. Balance is of the utmost importance. Agility aids to balance and ease of getting the job done.

"You spend a lot of time walking on sloped surfaces that are quite steep in some cases and you need to be physically fit to do that."

The job is quite physical. Because of that, Biscoe says work as a sweep is limited.

He knows from experience how having an injury can make the work more difficult.

"I shattered my right heel in a fall," he says. "Although I am up and around and so forth, I'm not doing the day-to-day mechanics that I once did with the business."

At a Glance

Clean fireplaces, promote safety

  • Certification is becoming important
  • Many sweeps are small business owners
  • On-the-job training and certification are recommended