Chimney sweeps have only sometimes been the dancing, fun-loving folks you might see in Mary Poppins. Early chimney sweeps were often small boys that climbed hot, narrow flues and brushed out creosote deposits with scrapers. Their lives were harsh, unhealthy, and dangerous. Many children feared climbing into the tight passageways, so master sweeps would light a fire under them or poke pins into their feet to encourage them. The expression “to light a fire under someone” originated in this.
When a chimney is not properly cleaned, it can become clogged with twigs, leaves and animal nests. These obstruct the flow of smoke and harmful carbon monoxide into the house. This gas is odorless and invisible but can cause health problems and even death at high levels. Chimney use specialized brushes and uncommon chemical cleansers to remove these obstructions and clear the chimney of ash and creosote. They also inspect the chimney and repair any tipped or broken parts, including the smoke shelf.
The profession of chimney sweeping is an archaic one, dating back to the 16th century when people began using fireplaces and chimneys to heat their homes and cook food indoors. In England at that time, new laws were passed imposing a hearth tax based on the number of chimneys in the home. Adults were too large to fit into these small flues, so young children, usually boys, were employed as chimney sweeps. These children, often orphans from impoverished families, were known as climbing boys and could be as young as four years old when they started work. Their bodies were still forming and the awkward positions they were forced into caused bone deformations and some children became trapped in the maze-like chimneys and died.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, there were several written works that exposed the brutality of this occupation, helping to put an end to it. It is now known that a sweep’s job is dangerous and can lead to soot inhalation, industrial cancer and other respiratory diseases.
Sweeps are still needed today because, as we all know, chimneys can get clogged with debris from the environment and household trash. Keeping the chimney clear of these obstructions helps keep the air flowing correctly and protects the home from carbon monoxide poisoning, fire hazards, and deterioration of the chimney structure. It is a good idea to have the chimney professionally cleaned on an annual basis to keep it safe and working well.
They Bring Good Luck
While some may find the idea of a chimney sweep to be a bit strange, it’s been long believed that a visit from a sweep is an excellent way to bring good luck to your household. Even Disney’s Mary Poppins sang a song about how lucky chimney sweeps are, saying “good luck will rub off on you when you shake their hand” and “you’ll never be poor as long as you have a chimney sweep nearby.”
The reason behind this superstition may have to do with the grueling jobs they have. Chimney sweeps are known to work long hours in the bitter cold, often carrying around heavy loads of soot. They also often suffer from soot inhalation and other respiratory problems. It is a profession that requires great physical stamina and mental concentration, as they have to trudge through tight spaces to access the flues.
In addition to these physical strains, the mental and emotional stresses of the job can take a toll on their health. The exhausting work can make them depressed and cause them to act irritable, which can affect the household. In addition, the sweeps must endure the sight of smoky chimneys and the dust they create inside homes.
This is why some believe that chimney sweeps should be treated with respect and gratitude, as they have a difficult job that many people don’t appreciate. In fact, one legend says that King William the Conqueror was once walking down a road when a chimney sweep pushed him out of the way of a runaway carriage and saved his life. The king then invited the sweep to his daughter’s wedding and declared that sweeps should always be considered lucky.
There are a number of other legends that surround chimney sweeps and their status as good luck charms. For example, it is said that if you rub a chimney sweep’s jacket buttons you will have luck. This tradition is still practiced in Croatia and Poland, where chimney sweeps wear their uniforms with pride.
Another story involves a sweep who fell off a roof while performing his duties. Instead of falling to the ground and becoming a pauper, he hung upside down from a gutter until a young maiden reached his foot through her window and pulled him to safety. The pair fell in love and married happily ever after.
They Clean Your Chimney
When you hire a chimney sweep, they’ll show up and clean your fireplace flue. This is a messy job and they’ll bring a lot of equipment that might include brushes with bristles, a metal rod with a brush attached to the end, a shop vac for clean up, and other tools. They’ll also lay a drop cloth or plastic on the floor and on the area where they’re cleaning to protect your home from ashes, soot, old logs and other debris that might fall during the process. They’ll also likely have a dual HEPA filter vacuum running the entire time to keep the dust levels low.
They’ll scrape the coating that has accumulated on the chimney lining from numerous fires. The goal is to get it as clean as possible. This will help prevent soot and creosote from clogging the chimney and it will also make it much more difficult for animals to build nests or homes in your chimney.
Besides removing soot, they’ll also be checking the chimney for signs of damage that may need to be repaired. It’s not uncommon for a sweep to find cracks or gaps that need to be repaired. If the sweep sees any damage, they’ll recommend a professional home improvement contractor to fix it.
Chimney sweeps can also help with other repairs that might be needed around your home. They can fix the chimney cap, replace the chimney liner, repair leaks and more. It’s a good idea to talk with your chimney sweep about the other things that are in need of repair around your house before they leave.
Chimney sweeps are a great way to keep your home safe and warm and it’s important to have them come sweeping on a regular basis. If you haven’t had your chimney swept recently, consider scheduling an appointment with one today. Just be sure to do your research before hiring someone and be aware of any attempts to frighten you into buying products and services that you don’t need.
They Save You Money
Unless you have access to professional chimney sweeping equipment, attempting to clean your fireplace yourself is a recipe for disaster. Not only could you get hurt, but you might also damage your chimney and fireplace components or the structure of your home. Professional chimney sweeps have a wide array of specialized tools that can be used to remove creosote build-up safely and efficiently. They also have a high level of insurance that protects them from legal liability should they be injured while working on your property.
A clean and functioning chimney is not only safer for your family, but it’s also more efficient. If left unchecked, a chimney can accumulate soot and tar that will decrease the efficiency of your fireplace and can lead to a chimney fire. A chimney fire is dangerous and expensive to deal with, and can spread to the rest of your house if it is not extinguished quickly enough. A chimney sweep can inspect your chimney and determine if any fire hazards are present and provide you with recommendations for keeping your chimney in top condition.
In the earliest days of chimney sweeping, it was often a dirty and dangerous job. Sweeps would go door to door in tight-knit city streets or travel from rooftop to rooftop in a rickshaw. They would climb sooty chimneys that were often hot and dangerous, and boys as young as four were employed to do the work. These children were not only exposed to soot and smoke, but they also climbed the sooty flues and were prone to chimney sweeps’ carcinoma (a type of skin cancer).
Many modern-day chimney sweeps are CSIA certified and adhere to high ethical standards. They are not only skilled at the technical aspects of chimney sweeping but can also perform basic repairs to your fireplace, stove or chimney. They can repair your chimney crown, reline the chimney, replace damaged bricks or dampers, and repoint and rebuild the chimney masonry.
Chimney sweeps will also examine your flashing, which is an L-shaped piece of metal inserted where the chimney meets the roof to prevent water damage and leaks. A chimney without flashing can allow water to enter the chimney and into your house, causing costly damages. The chimney sweep will identify any issues with your flashing and can make repairs to it.