As the old song from Mary Poppins goes: Chim, chimney. Chim, chimney. Chim, chim, cher-ee, a sweep is as lucky as lucky can be! And I gotta say, yes, you better be pretty darn lucky if you are going to sweep MY chimney! An 1870’s Victorian farm house with a 14/12 pitched roof, it is a lot less fun to climb up there now that I’m over 50. With a ladder and a ridge-hook, it’s not terrible, but even the professional sweeps that have come out don’t like to work up there. None of them are spring chickens, either! If you are spending a lot to have your chimney professionally swept, but don’t savor the thought of going top-side yourself, I’ve got a few pointers that might make the job more appealing.
When we first bought our wood-burning furnace many years ago, we installed an 8 inch oval stainless chimney liner, which allowed us to burn wood with more confidence. It’s a much safer system and a much easier cleaning job than sweeping a brick chimney. Still, the chimney offsets in the attic, and it is serious upper-body workout to run a conventional brush all the way down from the top. Of course, the oval liner requires an oval brush, which is a special order item, and if you have a stainless chimney, make sure that you use a fiberglass or nylon brush rather that a steel brush, which will scratch the inside surface.
This year, I decided to try out the “SootEater” system. I read lots and lots of reviews and online discussions before buying, and 9 out of 10 comments I read were satisfied to very positive. I was still a little skeptical that what is essentially a weed-eater head on a series of flexible rods would really do the trick, or would hold up for very long. I knew that the six 3-foot rods would not get me to the top, but I didn’t want to invest in extra rods before trying it out. Long story short.. it works like a dream. I ordered an entire second set, so I have all the rods I need plus an extra head.
Following the technique touted in many of the online discussions, I swept on the way up, adding rods and spinning the rig with my Makita 1/2” drill. I kept it on low, not wanting to risk binding or kinking. The drill adapter has a somewhat clumsy quick release, but it does the job. Several people mentioned burning up cordless drills, even an 18 volt. I would not suggest spinning more than a couple of these rods with a cordless, particularly older cordless units that don’t have overload protection built-in.
The thing I like the most about the bottom-up approach, is that I can safely do this several times over the winter, if I am burning a lot. A nice, complete sweep from the top doesn’t seem so bad on a sunny fall day, but using the SootEater regularly may eliminate the need to go up at all. The other part of the equation that most people don’t understand is the between-sweeping maintenance that you can do to reduce the need for a lot of extra cleaning. I was coached for several years by our old chimney sweep, who is, tragically no longer with us (and no, he didn’t fall off my roof) as to which chimney cleaners work and which don’t, and how to use them.
Since my wood-burner is a gasifier, it is designed to be dampered down, which can really create creosote. By regularly cranking up the fire and running it hot, it really reduces that build up, and adding a few shots of creosote remover seems to help dry out the creosote and cause it flake off and drop to the bottom, where I just vacuum it out.
All in all, it really isn’t that unpleasant of a task. It’s a little dirty, but hey, a chimney sweep is lucky, as lucky can be, right? Just remember to wear a dust mask and protect the area around your fireplace or furnace. You may be a lucky chimney sweep, but no matter how lucky you are, you need to protect your lungs and the inside of your home! You can find the Gardus RCH205 SootEater Rotary Spinning Chimney Cleaning System for a little over $100 on Amazon.