A Day in the Life of a Chimney Sweep

chimneyJesse Peralta took over ChimCare, the family business and Corvallis’ best known chimney cleaning service, in 2005. When the company was started in 1989, his father was the owner, CEO and the one actually doing the cleaning. Now the business employs four technicians, though Peralta still goes out on jobs himself.

Have you had your chimney cleaned lately? If your house is one of the roughly 24,000 that burn down each year due to fireplace/chimney issues, then probably not. If you’re a huge Dick Van Dyke fan, maybe you have even though you didn’t really need to.

Sadly, chimney sweeps, or chimney care professionals as they prefer to be called (it’s not 1894, bro…), do not wear oddly hipster scarf/flat-cap combos, they don’t drop into chimneys slowed only by their brush, and almost none of them are dating people who fly umbrellas around.

Peralta recommends a once yearly cleaning for people who use their stove/fireplace as the primary heating source for the household, and once every two years for occasional fire enjoyers.

“We get on top of the roof, we clean the chimney cap, and then we run brushes from the top down,” says Peralta about outside portion of the cleaning.

“The majority of your buildup, where the fire hazard is, is right above where the flue damper is,” he says, describing the process of cleaning a chimney from the inside. Once the damper is clean and the brush has run through the top, a bunch of ash, crud and creosote just fall down where they’re easily disposed of.

Got that? They use brushes, vacuums, tubes and other sensible tools for avoiding having to actually shimmy up the chimney, like a chimney boy from the age of no child labor laws or basic human rights for poor people.

The “chimney boys” as they were known were little boys, as young as 4, who got naked and climbed up chimneys with a brush attached to their head.

Both the safe modern chimney sweep and the incredibly cruel and dangerous old time chimney sweep are dispiriting realities for someone like me. I assumed that chimney cleaners dance on rooftops and literally get in the chimneys themselves, safely sliding down from the top like janitors with the skill of cat burglars.

“‘Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world…” Ol’ Dick sang in Mary Poppins. Ignoring the fact that everyone but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles basically lives and works between the pavement and the stars, those lyrics paint a fraudulent portrayal of the chimney care professional.

They aren’t the luckiest guys in the world and they’re not defenseless nude children being forced into indentured servitude.

Dick Van Dyke found love in the chimneys, British police once found over £870,000 in one. I asked Jesse Peralta.

“Bats, birds and squirrels, those are the three most common things we find.”

by Ygal Kaufman