Say “chimney sweep,” and many people think of the sooty crew dancing across the London rooftops in the Disney film “Mary Poppins.” Although it may seem like an occupation of the past, chimney cleaners are still in demand today. The buildup that accumulates in the chimney, a natural by-product of wood-burning, can catch fire, potentially spreading to the rest of the structure. Chimney sweeps are essential for anyone who uses a wood-burning fireplace.
Training and Certification
The National Chimney Sweep Training School (NCSTS) offers training programs that lead to nationally recognized certification. An intensive six-day workshop is offered several times a year at the training center of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) in Plainfield, Indiana, about 30 minutes southwest of Indianapolis. The course cost $2,813 in 2019, not including transportation and lodging expenses. Some scholarships are available. If interested, the CSIA encourages you to apply early.
Certified instructors offer exam prep courses around the country. In 2019, prep sessions were scheduled in Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The CSIA suggests that interested persons check the CSIA website regularly to find out when and where certification prep courses will be offered.
The CSIA has an extensive list of e-course offerings as well. Online courses are designed for people who want to learn the business and for licensed technicians who want to renew certification or increase the depth of their professional knowledge.
Chimney Sweep License and Certification
The chimney cleaning business is largely unregulated. This means that, for the most part, individuals need a general business license (local or state or both), but not a chimney cleaning license. That said, you could be held liable for a fire resulting from a chimney that was not properly cleaned. Getting your chimney cleaning certificate through the CSIA ensures you’re knowledgeable about the practice. The CSIA maintains a database of certified chimney sweeps and master chimney sweeps, so certification is a way to market yourself to prospective customers.
Chimney Sweep Tools
Chimney sweeps use a variety of manual and power brushes in their work. A standard chimney sweep tool kit typically includes a wire brush, a polypropylene brush, smoke chamber brush, an industrial vacuum and chemical cleaners. A full-faced, powered air-purifying respirator (PARR) is essential for the chimney sweep’s safety because of the exposure to carcinogens.
Additional tools and equipment include a canvas dropcloth to contain the mess (a plastic dropcloth causes static electricity) and an inspection camera that allows the chimney sweep to conduct more thorough inspections of the chimney and flue. A camera is expensive, but it also serves as a marketing tool, since the chimney sweep can invite homeowners to look at the “before” and “after” photos of a professional cleaning.
Using specialized chimney sweep tools, a certified chimney sweep should perform the following:
- Check the firebox for damaged brick and missing or crumbling mortar
- Open the damper completely to ensure it moves freely and fits snugly
- Check the damper for cracks, pitting or rusted-out sections
- Check for and remove any debris that restricts air flow
- Check for broken or damaged bricks or flue liners
- Check and remove creosote deposits more than 1/8-inch thick
Starting Your Chimney Sweep Business
Starting a chimney cleaning business is like starting any small business. After obtaining the recommended training and certification, you need to obtain a business license. Regulations vary from state to state and even within a state, so check the rules where you live. Your local branch of the Small Business Administration (SBA) can help you navigate the necessary paperwork.
Incorporate your business as a limited liability company (LLC), since it’s important for income tax purposes as well as for financial liability in case you are ever sued.
Talk with your insurance company about a policy that covers your chimney sweep business. You want to be protected in case of injury on the job or in the event of a customer claim.