Chimney Sweeping: Making Cinderella Proud
An age old profession, the purpose of a chimney sweep is a vital job required to keep a fireplace useable and safe. A clean chimney prevents fires, keeps smoke from feeding back into the home, and keeps the fire hot. Professional cleaning is an annual maintenance project for every home with a chimney.
The chimney sweep profession has been around for centuries. Long before modern heating systems, homes were kept warm with a raging fire. A fireplace was used to keep warm, cook food, and heat water for bathing. During the 1800’s, a chimney sweep used climbing boys to shimmy up the chute and use brushes to clean off soot. These youth apprentices were usually orphans or church wards, or even children sold into the profession by their families as young as seven years of age. The work was hard and dangerous as the boys did not have protective clothing and inhaled all the soot. Many also fell or actually got stuck in the chute.
The cruelness ended in 1864 with the enactment of the Act of the Regulation of the Chimney Sweepers which outlawed the use of climbing boys. Even before the use of climbing boys was outlawed, alternative cleaning methods were being developed. Joseph Glass, an engineer from Bristol, is considered the inventor of chimney cleaning equipment. He introduced the use of canes and brushes that could be pushed up from the fireplace and down from the chimney to remove soot. These methods are the same methods used today to keep fireplaces and chimneys clean, but today vacuums are used to remove and contain the soot from the chimney.
Today’s professional chimney sweepers employ high-tech equipment that allows an inside view of your chute and chimney. Cameras are dropped down the chimney projecting a picture of the inside and allowing the professional to see where and how much buildup your chimney has, as well as any weak points in the mortar and bricks. Plumbers also use cameras in the pipes to locate problems within such as tree roots that penetrate pipes underground.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has classified three levels of chimney inspection standards. Level one is a minimum inspection for chimneys that have not changed and has been used recently, within a year or two. A level two inspection is for chimneys that have had any changes to the system. A level three inspection includes everything completed in the first two levels as well as removal of any areas needed to allow access when hazards are suspected.
While you should often clean and sweep out the fireplace during the winter months, professional cleaning is recommended by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. How often the chimney requires professional cleaning will certainly depend on how often you light a fire. But preparing for the upcoming winter annually is a safe practice that will ensure the fireplace is ready for use whenever a cold evening warrants a warm fire. Consider having the fireplace and chimney cleaned at the same time you have the furnace checked and cleaned. Heating systems operate optimally and efficiently when they are clean. Just as you prepare for warm days by spring cleaning, prepare for spending more time indoors by ensuring a clean heating system.
Cold weather is inevitable, be ready to cozy up in front of a warm fire. Call for a professional inspection and cleaning of your chimney today!
By Eugenia Orr