What skills do I need to be a chimney sweep?

Dick Van Dyke’s portrayal of chimney sweep Bert may be the most popular depiction of a sweep ever, but the actual representation of the career of an experienced chimney cleaner leaves a bit to be desired. The modern-day chimney sweep earns a solid middle-class wage with average annual income of approximately $50,000 according to salary aggregator Neuvoo. Beyond that, the best chimney sweeps are highly skilled workers. If you are exploring this career path, you may already possess the basic physical characteristics of stamina and strength but could work on adding other skills to maximize your appeal.

Self-starting

Many chimney sweeps work as independent contractors, making the ability to balance the demands of owning your own business with the labor of chimney sweeping key. When you work for yourself, you need to generate your own client base. This could be through door-to-door conversations and local advertising or the use of social media to find leads. You also need to balance out your business finances to ensure you are stashing away cash to see you through leaner months. Because many people delay the first chimney cleaning of the year until cool weather strikes, you can expect spring and summer to be lull periods.

Nimble footing

A chimney sweep may spend time on the roof of homes beyond cleaning. Conducting inspections of chimney and heating systems can also be part of the job, making the ability to handle heights and stay upright key. While you will use required safety equipment, avoiding a fall all together is still best.

Ability to withstand confined spaces

Due to the need for inspections and the various types of heating systems and fireplaces you may encounter, an ability to navigate safely in tighter spaces is also required. You may be thinking that you aren’t claustrophobic and will be fine. However, you may want to make a trip through a crawl space before committing. A closet is one thing. A dark, narrow path with potential insects and cobwebs is another.

Go-getter mindset

If you do go to work for a chimney sweep business, get ready to hustle. Your employer will be slammed with service requests during the peak season, making it essential that you are ready to pull your weight for the enterprise.

Ability to rely information conversationally

Whether you are trying to find new clients for your business or chatting with an established customer, you need to be able to explain the importance of chimney sweeping in an approachable manner. Learn about the risks of chimney fires and get ready to share them with others. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, 22,500 fires in 2014 could be attributed to the fireplace, chimney and chimney connector.

Many homeowners, particularly first-time buyers, do not realize the long-term dangers of creosote build-up in the fireplace and chimney structures. Over time, this build-up becomes extremely flammable. Be prepared to explain this to customers and explain why it’s important to clean the chimney and establish a regular cleaning cycle.

Tech savvy

The modern chimney sweeper generally uses a mixture of up-close inspecting and tech to assess the integrity of a chimney. This may include using smoke-generating machines to check for leaks or the use of remote cameras or drones to navigate into tight spaces a human could not possible enter.

Safety-conscious

It is essential for a chimney sweep to stay focused on safety. It is not an industry to enter if you cannot follow basic safety guidelines. You need to be prepared to use safety equipment while on a roof and to use the best techniques when assessing chimneys and fireplaces for stability or other problems. It is important to not only consider your personal safety but the safety of coworkers on the job with you or a homeowner who may be nearby while you are working.

Safety also extends beyond handling the chimney itself. You may be climbing near power lines, making the use of insulated ladders key if a problem occurs. You will also be out in all kinds of weather and encounter ice both on the way to the job and at the home itself.

Because you are working with harmful, flammable substances to start with, it is a no-brainer they are bad for your health. Don’t try to be a bad guy or gal and go without a respirator to protect your lungs while engaged in a deep cleaning project.

Achievement mindset

Because the chimney sweep profession does not have an overall accrediting body, you need to focus on providing the best possible service for your customers by pursuing independent training. If you are self-employed, this can be a selling point for your business. If you are an employee, your company may help you move through a certification program. If not, obtaining certification independently could lead you to a better job and better pay in the future. A best source for certification is the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

The institute provides the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep credential. It is recognized by industry leaders, insurance professionals and local, state and federal government agencies. For customers who are safety conscious, this certification helps establish you are aware of best practices regarding both chimney care and venting systems.

Pest-friendly approach

You don’t have to become friends with pests to be a chimney sweep, but you do need to be prepared to encounter all types of critters in a chimney — whether it has been dormant for one year or a decade. Creatures from raccoons to birds and bats may create a home in the abandoned chimney, and a variety of insects may be present. Get ready to deal with safe removal of creatures and learn to approach any dormant structures prepared for anything.

Be OK with grime

The career of a chimney sweep is by necessity dirty and grimy. While tools of the trade may help you avoid the full-body filth of yesteryear, you are still going to face days when you are covered with dust and chimney goo and hours away from your next shower. You need to be ready to clean-up after each job as much as possible, particularly cleaning your exposed skin, to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals.

Physical strength

You do not need to meet a specific bench press goal to be a chimney sweep, but you need to be strong. Flexibility is required to navigate in tight areas, and you need to have the strength to actually complete your work orders. This includes being able to transport equipment up and down a ladder or drag it along in a crawlspace. You may be transporting vacuums, ladders, lights, brushes and grinders several times per day. If you’re not in shape, repetitive use injuries can develop. The job can also be physically taxing if you are predisposed to back pain or other repetitive injuries in the shoulders, arms or legs.

It may sound like you need a lot to be a chimney sweep, and it definitely isn’t an easy job. However, many of the best qualities have to do with a basic can-do and ready-to-learn attitude. If you can pick up the basics of the job and commit to continuing education, best safety practices and maintaining a degree of physical conditioning, you will be ready to sweep in no time.