Chimney Brushes - Do-it-yourself Chimney Sweeping
Advantages of hiring a chimney sweep
Perhaps because of their long-standing status as an integral part of family life, there are lots of superstitions associated with fireplaces and their trappings. Among the traditions reputed to bring good luck are a piece of coal carried over the threshold on New Year's Eve and the presence at weddings or chimney sweeps with their chimney brushes.
It's also good luck, in a somewhat stronger sense, to sweep your chimney regularly - in fact it could be literally a matter of life and death. The idea of the chimney is to remove hot air and potentially dangerous fumes produced by the flames below: if it gets clogged, you are at risk of fire or even carbon monoxide poisoning.
It's possible to sweep your chimney yourself. Chimney brushes are generally available from retailers of fireplace accessories and can also be hired. Check how high your flue is before deciding on the length of brush needed. After surrounding the (obviously cold and empty) fireplace with dust sheets, the brush is simply pushed gently up and down the flue. Don't twist it or push it too high or you may unscrew the brush head and knock the chimney cap off respectively.
DIY chimney sweeping, if you're going to do it at all, is probably best reserved to freshen the flue up from time to time. Because a clean chimney is so vital to home safety, it is important to consider employing someone to do it properly occasionally. Today's qualified chimney sweeps are highly skilled technicians. They will not only clean out the twigs, soot and bird poo: they may also re-point the chimney, reline it, fit a cowl, mend the fireplace and/or sell you parts. Certainly more expensive than doing it yourself, but potentially much more thorough. Make sure your sweep is accredited to guarantee skill level and cost. There are numerous guilds and associations which can help you with this, including the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (www.chimneyworks.co.uk), the National Association of Chimney Engineers (www.nace.org.uk) and the Guild of Master Sweeps. In the UK the Heating and Equipment Testing Approval Scheme works with NACS to run solid fuel courses for sweeps resulting in HETAS approval.
A far cry from the soot-covered urchins of Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. This 19th classic book was one factor in changing public opinion of the propriety of shoving small children up flues - sometimes to their deaths - with chimney brushes which were probably bigger than they were. It was only in 1875 that a law was passed in the UK preventing children from working in chimneys, and before 1788 they could be younger than 8 years old. That's something worth remembering when we deplore child labor in other countries. As is the fact that we consumers still take advantage of it, in less direct ways.