Description of Job
• Inspect fireplace chimney, firebox, smoke shelf, and damper for blockages,
cracks, and buildup of hazardous substances.
• Mechanically clean interior of the flue.
• Remove ash, creosote, and other substances dislodged during cleaning.
• Assist the homeowner in obtaining necessary repairs from a qualified mason.
A crackling blaze in a fireplace warms the soul and the body. Yet over time, the
interior of a chimney can become inefficient and dangerous due to the buildup of
creosote and other substances or because of blockages caused by leaves and
nests. Cracks and other damage to the flue can divert carbon monoxide, smoke,
or flames to the house itself.
The less frequently you use your fireplace, or the shorter the period of time a
fire is permitted to burn at full heat, the more often the flue should be inspected
and cleaned. A cold chimney causes more of the smoke to condense on the flue.
People who damp down a fire by closing fireplace doors or shutting off the flow
of oxygen from a vent usually send more partially burnt solids up the chimney,
which results in a more rapid buildup within the flue.
Experts recommend that homeowners who light fires three or more times a
week during the winter season should have a chimney cleaning and inspection
once a year; if homeowners burn unseasoned wood in a fireplace, twice-yearly
cleaning may be necessary.
Some jobs are much more complex than others: exceptionally steep and high
roofs; chimney designs with twists and turns; adverse environmental conditions,
including severe weather, bird and rodent nests, and insect infestations.
You’ll be working at heights and in a dirty environment. You’ll also be entering the clean homes of clients and be responsible for keeping dirt away from carpeting and furniture.
The bulk of work may be seasonal, as homeowners prepare to use fireplaces
in the fall of each year.
Make sure your insurance coverage offers protection against claims for liability in the event of a subsequent fire or structural problem.
Know the Territory
The basic work of the chimney sweep is to clean the flue, but the job also
involves inspection and careful protection of the interior of the home from the
ash and dirt. Here are the steps in a typical job:
• Climb ladders to the roof and gain access to the chimney.
• Inspect the fireplace, firebox, smoke shelf, damper, and flue for blockage,
buildup, cracks, and other damage.
• Seal the front of the fireplace with plastic to prevent soot and dirt from
entering the house. Put protective drop cloths on the floor to prevent damage to carpeting and flooring.
• Brush the interior of the flue and other components from above. After
sweeping, shovel out large debris and then vacuum the firebox, damper,
and smoke shelf.
• Give the homeowner a written report on the condition of the chimney with
recommendations for repair.
How to Get Started
Chimney cleaning is not regulated in most states and localities. In some areas,
though, licensing may be required. Several national groups offer certification to
members who complete specified education and training. A credential from one
of these groups, such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America, may help you
in selling your services and in obtaining insurance.
Place flyers and ads in home supply stores and community centers. Make
your services known to firewood suppliers, contractors, housecleaning companies, and real estate agencies. Ask them to recommend you to their clients; offer
a commission for business they refer to you. Ask satisfied customers to recommend you to friends and acquaintances, and offer a bonus or discount for new
business that results.
Make contact with masons and chimney repair specialists. You should be
able to refer your clients to them for necessary repairs and maintenance; they
may be willing to recommend your services to customers whose chimneys need
You’ll need a basic chimney sweep’s kit, including at least one extension ladder
to reach the roof, a set of chimney rods and brushes, short-handled brushes, a
powerful shop vacuum with crevice tools and extension hoses, and buckets and
cans to haul away ashes and debris. You’ll also need drop cloths to cover carpeting and plastic sheeting to seal the front of fireplaces while the flue is being
You’ll need a station wagon or small van to transport your tools and equipment.
Other expenses include advertising and promotion.
How Much to Charge
Depending on local costs and the difficulty involved in gaining access to the
roof and the interior of the flue, chimney cleaning rates are generally in the
range of about $60 to $150. Inspections are usually billed in the range of $40
Legal and Insurance Issues
Special note: Make sure your insurance coverage offers adequate protection
against liability claims that result from damage that may occur after you have
completed your inspection and cleaning.