Chim-Chiminey in OC– By Gina Dostler
“We’re being attacked by Hottentots!”
The crazy line by Admiral Boom brings a smile every time, as dancing chimney sweeps atop the London rooftops charismatically hop around in song. Those cheeky devils of Disney’s “Mary Poppins” give a fun and spontaneous view into the world of chimney sweeps and sparked my mind wondering, do they still exist?
Alive and well in Orange County, chimney sweeps are really a very important part of maintaining a home where fireplaces grace the rooms in warmth, comfort and style.
Chimneys come in many shapes and forms, but the most important parts the flue and the box require a certain care and knowledge so fires stay in the proper place, the fireplace. And anything that deals with fire brings safety straight into the limelight and signals that keeping a clean chimney makes for a happy chimney household.
Dan Sjostrom finds life as a chimney sweep something he likes to do and with his cheery attitude and safety knowledge, I queried him on the ins and outs of chimney care. With a slight sing-song in his voice, cued me into the world of chimney sweeps.
Q: It’s chimney season! What is a chimney sweep all about?
A: A chimney sweep has a devil-may-care attitude with a love of adventures climbing on rooftops and chimneys. But also to be a successful chimney sweep is a professional and knows the industry standards – the recent codes and requirements for chimney safety. It’s an ongoing certification process, where the sweep is always learning about what’s new in the industry and maintaining the most current standards and procedures.
Q: Why use a sweep?
A: There are several points to suggest why using a professional chimney sweep is a good idea. The most obvious is to get the creosote out of the chimney or fake log because it is combustible material. It is a natural by-product of the wood burning process. Originating from condensed components of smoke, the first stage is a flaky soot lining the insides of the chimney. Second stage creosote forms into soft, gummy deposits. In the final stages it is a hard, glazed substance that appears shiny and is literally baked on the side of the chimney.
Q: OK, this sounds ignorant, but soot can catch on fire?
A: About 30,000 residential fires originate in chimneys according to the U.S consumer Product Safety Commission. Most of the fires result from the buildup of creosote where flames from a burning newspaper could be sufficient to ignite it. This soot burns fast and as it spreads up through the flue a draft results and intensifies the fire. As the creosote burns it peels and curls off the inside walls of the chimney, drips into the flue where it forms balls of fire propelled upward by the updraft. They shoot onto the roof and that can definitely destroy a home.
Q: What is the next point for having a chimney sweep visit a home?
A: Inspecting for integrity of the chimney is very important. The firebox and flue have to be sound. Cracks can be potential problems. There was a house that had a fire because of a 3” long crack with a width less than 1/8 inches. Whenever the fireplace was used the heat went into the crack and heated up the surrounding structure causing the wood to dry out and become a tinderbox. One night the homeowners of this same house left the gas fireplace on overnight and the heat going into the crack ignited the wood and caused a fire in the house. Heat causes wood to deteriorate by removing its moisture and soon the wood gets to a certain flash point where it combust, meaning as time goes on it requires less heat to start burning.
Q: Here in shake and bake country the moving and shaking of the ground can cause shift in the homes and cracks to appear.
A: Yes. Brick and mortar that comprises most fireplaces is especially vulnerable to shifts in the earth so it is really a good idea to get an inspection every year to check for anything amiss in the fireplace. Also when buying a house, it’s good to make sure the chimney is sound. There might not only be a potential hazard, but a potentially large repair bill in the mix to get it functional.
Q: So is dancing and singing with a cockney accent required to be a chimney sweep?
A: Stepping in time is in every sweeps blood. I really like doing what I do. It’s seasonal work leaving the summer times free for me to spend with my wife and kids. And I like working and meeting new people every day. You know there is a mystery that surrounds the magic of fireplaces between the good luck of a sweep and the charmed visit of Santa, where up on the rooftop lots of things can happen. And of course rumor has it to kiss, hand shake and even be married by a chimney sweep is loads of good luck. (Yes, we’ve done weddings before!) So, yeah, maybe I find myself doing a little shuffle or two as I make my way towards each chimney, tipping my hat with a twinkle in my eye and giving the best service a chimney sweep can give with a “good luck gov’na” to all!
Dan Sjostrom, Professional Chimney Sweep
Lucky Sully Chimney Sweep
Orange County and Northern San Diego