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Many chimney sweeps have worked as firefighters. With an understanding of the damage a chimney fire can do to a home, sweeps not only keep chimneys safer, they also serve as advocates for fire prevention. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that homeowners have their chimneys, fireplaces, and vents evaluated at least once a year.
Chimney sweeps perform a wide range of duties during service calls. They clean flues and remove creosote. Creosote is a residue that develops from wood and smoke and glazes the bricks of the insides of chimneys; sometimes chemicals are required to break down creosote. Sweeps examine and sweep the fireplace and check brickwork inside and out. They may perform a video scan of the chimney, using equipment composed of a camera at the end of a pole. Sweeps also install stoves and perform repairs. People contact chimney sweeps with specific problems, such as too much smoke from the fireplace, or rain and snow getting in through the chimney. A sweep will attach a "cap" at the chimney top to prevent moisture, animals, and debris from entering the chimney. Crown repair also may be needed to keep the rain out.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is another concern of homeowners. Sweeps reline deteriorating chimneys to keep carbon monoxide from seeping through into the home. With their masonry skills, chimney sweeps perform much brick repair and replacement. But sweeps don't just keep the home fires burning safely; they also attend to the chimneys and stoves of commercial businesses and industrial buildings. Some sweeps even specialize in the maintenance of the large smokestacks of electric and gas companies, which often involves traveling to multiple cities all across the country.
The tools of the trade have advanced a great deal since the days of the 18th century, when white geese were sent through chimneys; sweeps would determine how much creosote was inside the chimney from how darkly the geese's feathers were soiled. These days, in addition to the brushes, poles, and ladders that have long been necessary for cleaning, sweeps rely on power tools and equipment such as demolition jackhammers, cordless drills, special vacuums, hand grinders, and circular saws with diamond-tipped blades.
Some chimney sweeps sell products such as wood and gas stoves, cook stoves, and gas barbecues. They also sell fireplace inserts, fireplace glass doors, and gas logs. As with any small business, chimney sweeping involves office work. Detailed billing and client records must be kept, and customer phone calls must be answered and returned. Sweeps must also market their services. Many sweeps educate their communities on fire safety by distributing brochures and speaking at public events.
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