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Making a clean sweep the old-fashioned way

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Making a clean sweep the old-fashioned way

Old school tactics such as beating a chain against the interior wall of a brick chute help break up creosote that builds up over time.

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POSTED August 8, 2014 8:21 p.m.

Chimneysweepers aren’t like Bert from Mary Poppins.

As much fun as it would be to have a Dick Van Dyke character dancing through your living room as you ready your home for the winter, the truth of the matter is that the job is more often than not dirty, labor intensive and overlooked until it becomes an absolute necessity.

And it’s not just limited to the chimney in your living room.

Thanks to modern air pollution standards and the California climate that Central Valley residents enjoy nine months out of the year, the need for a fireplace to serve as a central heating unit is practically non-existent – leaving it primarily as a decorative or only on-occasion item.

But the stove in your kitchen attached to the range that vents to the roof is an often-forgotten part of the home’s integral works, and the types of smoke being emitted can lead to gunky buildup and sludge that can be next to impossible to remove without a professional.

Enter Bert – the guy in the blue collar that uses more than just a standard push broom to clean the walls of your hood unit.

Chimney sweeping is a craft that’s not necessarily dying, but definitely isn’t a growth industry. Modern advertising methods have made it much easier for jumpstarts to enter the market on a level playing field, and most companies split their expertise by providing another service as well – such as replacing window screens or awnings or doing light handiwork.

One local apprentice, “Kyle,” said that he answered an ad asking for help when the weather started to turn and soon found himself scraping the previous year’s smoke off of a brick stack with long, heavy brushes.

The work can be backbreaking. And in the true spirit of the shadows that they often find themselves in, the work itself is often unlicensed – the Contractors State License Board doesn’t recognize Chimney Sweeps as a licensing classification, and individual guilds organized by state help create an atmosphere of self-policing.

There were stories, Kyle said, that he has heard of guys that do no work at all and charged customers. But that’s not the way that he was trained how to do things, and that’s not the honest way – even if there’s nobody looking over your shoulder.

“I definitely thought it would be easier when I walked onto the job the first day,” he said. “It’s rough. But you don’t want to start cutting corners because you do that once then you get into the habit of doing that and you’re not doing what the customer is paying you to do.

“It’s an integrity thing. It might be the Wild West in some respects, but some of those ideals still have to hold up.”

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