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Chimney sweeps

Mention Chimney Sweeps to one of your more animated friends and they’ll probably break into a little dance and begin singing ‘Chim Chiminey, chim chiminey. Chim chim cher-oo!’ and doing an impersonation of Dick Van Dyke’s own brand of Cockney. They have a reputation for being lucky, as the song says, which apparently began when a sweep saved King George II from being run over by a horse and cart.

Chimney sweeps

Yet their profession has seldom been a lucky one. Their work, often performed by children, was extremely dangerous and often fatal. In recent times, the industry has also been hit hard by the introduction of numerous Clean Air Acts which insist on the use of smokeless fuels in built up areas.

Today, chimney sweeps are in the enviable position of being an industry that is thriving despite the recession. They have been given a new lease on life by the growing demand for wood-burning stoves and now offer a range of services.

“We are now known as chimney sweep technicians because there is so much more to it. There’s been a huge increase in wood-burning stoves. They are very fashionable at the moment and a new generation of people want them, “says Martin Cain, President of National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS).

“Also, with the rise in energy costs, people are concerned about gas and electricity. We can replace gas and electric fires with wood-burning stoves.”

The BBC has reported on the growing demand and showed that sales of stoves, both wood-burning and multi-fuel rose 40% in 2008. The industry is also experiencing a significant rise of trainee sweeps including Gina Somerton, a 42-year-old mother of three. She opened her own business, Lady Sweep, in 2002 and hasn’t looked back.

“I wanted to be my own boss, I wanted to be able to spend time with my children during the summer,” she says. “It might sound strange to some people, but to me it’s perfect.

“It’s true that I get dirty. But I can come home and have a shower afterwards, can’t I?”

Chimney sweeps

It is important that you hire a chimney sweep regularly as they provide the essential service of clearing up creosote. This is a very flammable and corrosive by-product of burning wood and can prove extremely dangerous if it builds up in the chimney. The heat can cause it to ignite causing a chimney fire. A sweep can clear out your chimney, inspect it for any other problems and offer sound advice on use and maintenance.

Sweeps still have a reputation for good luck too, so much so that a chimney sweep can be hired to attend a wedding, with a handshake for the groom and a kiss for the bride.

Previous article Have you considered installing a wood-burning stove... in your car?

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