Chimney Sweep

The Job and What's Involved

Chimney sweeps clean, service and maintain the flues and chimneys of open fires and heating and cooking appliances. Their work reduces the risk of chimney fires and dangerous fumes.

The chimney is swept by inserting a suitable brush attached to extending rods until all of the soot and debris has been removed. An industrial vacuum cleaner is used to remove debris from within and around the fireplace. Similar techniques are used in cleaning the flue pipes of appliances that are used for heating and cooking.

Chimney sweeps often provide a brief report for their customers, advising of problems and suggesting when future inspections and cleaning may be required.

It is vital that the chimney sweep leaves the property clean and tidy after each job.

Chimney sweeps may advise on health and safety matters and suggest necessary repairs. They also re-line chimneys, fit caps, cowls and bird guards and remove bird nests.

They use a comprehensive range of conventional and modern equipment, including:

  • A variety of brushes and tools to tackle different types of chimneys.
  • Brushes with mechanical heads for power sweeping.
  • Smoke generator machines and CCTV cameras for testing and surveying chimneys and diagnosing faults on flue installations.

Some act as 'lucky sweeps' at weddings. This is a tradition that goes back to King George III. The king proclaimed that all chimney sweeps are good luck bearers and should be treated with respect. The folklore was established and chimney sweeps are still invited to attend weddings and kiss the bride for good luck.

Chimney sweeps generally work from 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. During busy periods, such as autumn and spring, they may have to work longer hours.

Self-employed chimney sweeps usually have an office base at home or in a workshop from where they arrange their appointments and run their business.

Although the majority of work is residential, chimney sweeps can work anywhere that has heating systems, including industrial and commercial premises.

Despite the introduction of modern appliances and improvements in working conditions, the work can still be hazardous. Overalls and respirators help to protect against the effects of soot. Chimney sweeps spend a lot of time standing, kneeling, bending and lifting equipment.

A lot of chimney sweeps are self-employed, so they set their own fees for cleaning chimneys. Skilled and efficient chimney sweeps may be able to complete a single job in around an hour.

A full chimney sweep can cost around £35 to £55. Bird or squirrel nest removal costs around £75.

Charges can increase for large chimneys, smoke tests and chimney repair work or for fitting bird guards and other devices.

Income will depend on the demand for services and their speed and efficiency. The seasonal demand in chimney sweeping often means that chimney sweeps earn less money at certain times of the year and may take on other work such as general building and roof and chimney repairs to make up a full-time salary.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are opportunities for chimney sweeps throughout the country. Although most sweeps are self-employed, there may be opportunities to work for larger chimney sweeping companies or be contracted to work for a local council.

Self-employed chimney sweeps have to purchase an industrial vacuum cleaner, rod and brush kit, and a range of cleaning, safety and personal protection equipment. In addition, they require a van for transporting equipment and tools between premises. Further expenses include public liability insurance cover and the additional costs in promoting the business.

Chimney sweeps sometimes advertise their businesses on the National Association of Chimney Sweeps' website.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements to become a chimney sweep, but it is useful to have a good level of fitness, good communication skills and a full driving licence.

It is common and often desirable to gain experience in other areas of practical work, such as construction, before entry to this type of work. An Apprenticeship or course in construction which involves learning practical building skills, such as bricklaying or roofing, may be a good starting point. The Diploma in construction and the built environment may be useful.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Those who wish to become self-employed should aim to gain professional recognition as a competent chimney sweep by undertaking a HETAS-approved training course and gaining membership of a professional association such as the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps or the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS).

The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps provides a two-day intense training course covering theory and practical elements. Trainees are paired with experienced Guild chimney sweeps and receive training on chimney sweeping techniques and how to run a successful business. Trainees are tested for competency, with re-assessment after a year of running their own business. For those wishing to progress there are further courses available that offer recognised certification and include:

- Installations of appliances
- Chimney building and lining
- Chimney surveys
- Working at height course

The NACS offers training at their Chimney Training Centre. This is mandatory for those who wish to gain professional recognition as a member of the NACS. Part 1 is an induction and includes sweeping techniques, regulations and standards. Parts 2-5 are at an advanced level and include:

* Chimney and flue maintenance
* Chimney and flue surveys
* Metal chimney lining and flues
* Flue smoke testing procedures
* Solid fuel awareness
* Ladder/roof safety training.

The NACS also offers courses in chimney re-lining, new chimney installation and fire safety training.

Chimney sweeps may also work towards a CSkills Level 2 NVQ in chimney engineering/cleaning with the NACS.

The Institute of Chimney Sweeps (ICS) offers a one-day training course, covering preparation, tools, smoke testing, cleaning wood-burning stoves and Agas, and business marketing.

Any sweep working in gas installation and use must be registered with the Gas Safe Register to operate legally. For further information see www.gassaferegister.co.uk.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Chimney sweeps should:

  • Be physically fit and energetic, with plenty of stamina.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative, without supervision.
  • Be good with their hands and able to use a range of tools.
  • Have administration and business skills, especially if they are self-employed.
  • Be aware of health and safety regulations.

Your Long Term Prospects

Chimney sweeps may undertake additional courses through accredited training providers, and continue to develop their business and reputation by gaining experience in a variety of working environments such as domestic and commercial properties.

Get Further Information

Association of Professional and Independent Chimney Sweeps (APICS),
Bryallen, Hengar Rd, St Tudy, Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 3PL
Tel: 0845 604 4327
Website: www.apics.org.uk

Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps Ltd,
24 Church View, Aveley, Essex RM15 4LH
Website: www.guildofmasterchimneysweeps.co.uk

HETAS Ltd, Orchard Business Centre,
Stoke Orchard, Cheltenham,
Gloucestershire GL52 7RZ
Tel: 0845 634 5626
Website: www.hetas.co.uk

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