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I saw this article posted on another site and was so impressed that I got permission from the author to reproduce it here.

There’s a lot of myths around the age-old art of chimney sweeping. Some people can’t even believe that we are still around, and even some of those who do see it as an unskilled profession. Comments like “anyone can push a brush up a chimney” aren’t uncommon.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Sweeping a chimney is a highly skilled profession, from inspecting the installation, fault finding, to selecting the correct equipment and educating customers, it has many facets.

Here’s just a few things you should consider when choosing a chimney sweep.

Are they a registered sweep and have been independently assessed?

Unlike gas fitters, chimney sweeping is completely unregulated in the UK. Anyone can buy a set of drain rods and call themselves a chimney sweep. There’s no requirement for any training or formal assessment of their skills. They don’t even need to be insured. Frightening isn’t it? Ensuring that you book a registered sweep (for instance, I’m a member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps and a HETAS-Approved chimney sweep) means that your sweep has undergone training and been professionally assessed by a third party. They must also carry a minimum level of public liability insurance. Some may carry this voluntarily, even if they aren’t registered, but to be a member of the Guild of Master Sweeps (or other associations for example), it is compulsory.

Can they provide you with a Certificate of Sweeping?

This paperwork is very important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates accountability, but also it is proof that you have had your flue swept. Most insurance companies will not pay out in the event of a chimney fire if you cannot prove your chimney has been swept. Therefore, a Certificate of Sweeping, stating that your flue has been swept in accordance with the national standard, is definitely worth having.

Do they have the equipment to do the job?

Unlike years ago, when sweeps only needed a set of rods and maybe three or four types of brushes in their armoury,  modern sweeps need four or five times that amount, plus various sorts of rods. Why? Well, unlike years ago, there are different types of flues around today. There’s still the old Victorian masonry flues of course, but there’s also stainless steel flexible liners, cast in situ flues, pot-lined flues and factory made twin wall insulated systems. A modern sweep should also have a HEPA-rated high powered vacuum (not a household Henry hoover!) to ensure any residual dust is kept to an absolute minimum. And remember, you cannot clean a chimney with just a vacuum – rods and brushes must be used. Anyone who says they sweep a chimney without using brushes isn’t doing it properly.

Do they offer you practical advice on how to use your appliance?

Fires have changed a lot over the years. Closed appliances (i.e. stoves and woodburners) work differently to open fires, and vice versa. Also, the type of flue you have and the fuel you use will be a factor. I recently visited a new homeowner who had never had a ‘real’ fire before and not only gave them hints and tips on how to manage the burn rate on their appliance, but also any potential issues to look out for due to the type of construction of their property and its geographical location both in the building and the area more generally. I always say that my job is 50% manual and 50% educational; one compliments the other. All good sweeps take time to advise and explain.

And finally, do they treat you, and your home, with respect?

It is a privilege to be invited into somebody’s home or business premises to provide a professional service. Therefore, arriving within the allotted time (or phoning forward if they are held up at an appointment, which does happen from time to time) and using the correct sheeting up methods to keep dust to a minimum is very important. I always make my customers aware of any potential issues as soon as possible, for instance when dealing with blocked flues where there is no natural ‘draw’ in the chimney. To me, the sweep-customer relationship is a partnership, and by working together we can help ensure the flue is in the best condition possible.

With thanks to Mr Soot.

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