It is fair to say that if a person was asked to describe a chimney sweep, chances are the picture they conjure would be that of a soot covered child working in the Industrial Revolution, or the dancing chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins. Chimney sweeping is an ancient profession. There are records of people earning a living by cleaning chimneys as far back as the 16th century. The occupation of chimney sweep is thought to be one of the oldest in the world because chimneys have been around for a long time. It is only in the last two hundred years that the chimney has in fact been big enough to hold a human. Before that, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Western Europe constructed houses with rooflines with crow-stepped gables which allowed a chimney sweep convenient access to the top of the chimney.
Today we live in a world which is much more modern and we have luxuries such as central heating which has more or less replaced the coal and wood fires used to heat homes in the past. Because of this, it is easy to assume that a chimney sweep would no longer exist. However this assumption would be way off the mark. They may not be as readily available as a plumber or electrician, but they are available and they are modern professional tradesmen. The number of households turning to wood and coal to heat the home is growing, as old fashioned fireplaces are becoming increasingly sought after, and with good reason. If a fireplace has been well restored it can add great character to a room, and, if it is well looked after, it can also be a great source of heat during the cold British winter months. The benefits of having a real wood or coal fire in a home has to be balanced out by giving up some time and money to make sure that the fireplace works both safely and efficiently. If a property is owned by a landlord, they will happily pay to have a chimney swept as they will not want to make a claim on the landlord insurance if a problem develops in the chimney. It should be done during the yearly gas appliance check.
There is actually a National Association of Chimney Sweeps and they take the job very seriously, they pledge to help in the prevention of chimney fires and help to cut down the risk of dangerous fume emissions from blocked heating appliances, chimneys and flu-ways and all members of NACS are covered by Public Liability Insurance. A good chimney sweep will have completed all of the necessary training and will be experienced enough to notice problems which could lead to a fire in the chimney and he/she will be able to make homeowners aware of any problems. They can also inspect the chimney for potential problems from the roof such as signs of freeze thaw weathering. As with everything else, if a problem is picked up early, it will probably be easier and also much cheaper to fix it. Although it may be possible to attempt the job yourself, it is much more convenient to hire a professional chimney sweep to take what will be a very time consuming, draining and a very messy job off your hands. Having a professional do the job will also bring the peace of mind of knowing that any potential dangerous problems have not been overlooked. Chimney sweeps normally advise that chimneys should be cleaned after a long period of disuse i.e. over the summer. Some also advise that a chimney should be cleaned before the end of a heating season to make sure that the chimney is clear of all animal nests and prepared for the subsequent idle period. If a chimney is used a lot, it might be necessary to sweep it more often than once a year. A professional chimney sweep will be able to advise the best cleaning schedule for a chimney.