The Cottage Smallholder

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A tale of two chimneys and how to sweep your own chimney

sweep's brush and IncaYears ago when the cottage was being renovated I was advised by the foreman that my chimneys needed relining.
“Don’t worry Fiona. It won’t make a mess. You need to get it done though. A dodgy chimney could be dangerous. I happen to know a man that has a company that relines chimneys I’ll give him a ring.”

The Chimney Lining Friend came and examined the chimneys carefully. His face was grave.
“Both chimneys need relining. As there are two, I can do you a deal – both for £3,500.00.”

I trusted the foreman but I wavered.

The Chimney Lining Friend swept on, “The chimneys need to be swept before we start. We could do this for £100. Perhaps you’d like to use your own sweep?”

I decided to use my own guys. They arrived on the Friday before the relining was scheduled to begin.

They swept the kitchen chimney and examined it carefully.
“This chimney is old but we’ve seen much worse. It doesn’t need relining.”
I was surprised.

They discovered that the chimney in the sitting room was new. It had been built inside the old inglenook fireplace.
“No wonder the fire draws so well.”
They warned me that if  The Chimney Lining Friend insisted on coming on Monday he would probably want to do a smoke test. Apparently teeny wafts of smoke can escape into the attic.
“If this happens, don’t be alarmed. It’s normal. Stick to your guns. Don’t have the chimneys relined!”

The foreman arrived before the friend. Despite my protestations, he insisted on waiting for TCLF. We sat in silence until the large deluxe car reversed into the drive.

They did the test. Twice. Not a waft of smoke drifted into the attic. The building company was one of the best in Cambridge. The gangs were good, arriving on time as scheduled and the quality of the work was excellent. But I’d never use the company again. Of course there are backhanders in the building industry but faking the need for a job is just not on. The relationship with the foreman was never quite the same again.

In fact the experience put me off having the chimneys touched for years.

When Danny arrived he mentioned in passing that he always swept the chimneys back home in rural West Cork. Since then we have swept our chimneys ourselves. If you have a standard, traditional brick built chimney it’s really easy. The fancy vacuum cleaners and screens are unnecessary. All you need are a set of drain rods a chimney sweeping brush and an old sheet or newspapers taped in place in front of the fireplace. Our drain rods double as chimney sweeping rods. Total outgoings are around half the price of just one professional clean.

You can buy a good brush at a decent builder’s merchants. They are also available online and there you will find a lot of dire warnings about DIY chimney cleaning (they are generally written by chimney sweeps).

There is one golden rule for chimney sweeping and drain clearing. Keep turning the rods in a clockwise direction. This ensures that the rods do not become separated and get lost in the chimney or drain. The Penultimate Paramour turned the rods the wrong way once. A disaster that was averted by sheer determination and hours of patience.

I put a layer of newspaper in the fire basket and sling an old sheet across the outside of the fireplace (this protects the room from stray soot). I work from behind this screen. Then I screw the brush head to the first rod, stick it up the chimney and add another rod so that I can access the contraption easily.
Sweep up and down, and twist clockwise as you add the rods and push the brush up the chimney. This dislodges the soot and creosote. It’s worth spending a few minutes on each metre of chimney. Finally the brush bursts out of the chimney pot. Nip outside and check that it’s sticking out. On the downward path repeat the sweeping twisting action. As you pull the brush down, remove the rods as you go. Finally examine the chimney with a powerful flashlight to check that it is really clean.

If you want to clean your own chimney you need to be practical. If it’s an old chimney full of nooks and crannies you may need to use different brushes or a chimney vacuum. I have never cleaned a metal flue. It may be worth getting a professional sweep in once and watch carefully what he/she does. Then you will know exactly how a pro would tackle your chimney and perhaps you can take up the reins next time.

  Leave a reply


  1. ppaul bindloss

    In case anyone is looking for flexible chimney rods instead of using the standard drain rods which will damage the flue liner then please look at my video and feel free to contact me on any issues you may have with sweeping your own chimney.

  2. Jeff Boehler

    The Chimney Safety Councils and Associations, (CSIA) collect dues and fees from chimney sweeps in exchange for driving prices up with scare tactics and taking about “Reputable Sweeps”. They talk about “Repeatable sweeps” as a way to keep prices up when in all actuality it’s a 6-day certification and minimal start up costs to become a chimney sweep. It’s all about up-selling liners and other services and scaring you into more work. Yes there is a risk of to much soot or the chimney being backed up without regular cleanings as well as risk of fire without regular maintenance, however, they are not Doctors, did not go to medical school and should not be getting paid $100 for an inspection and $85/hour for a skill that anyone can learn. The bottom line is that chimneys were around for hundreds of years without liners and worked fine. Anytime you burn something in your home you are at risk. The statistics that are hid behind are outdated and biased towards increased overpricing of a specific non-labor intensive job.

    • Ben Taylor

      If you had a chimney fire which burnt your house down and your insurance asked ‘who sweeps your chimney and what are their credentials’ and you say ‘I do it myself’, do you think they would pay out? There are some coments on this site which seem to condemn chimney sweeps as a waist of time! Personally I am happy to pay £40 or £50 each year knowing that the chimney is being cleaned by someone who has been trained how to do it properly. Also it means I dont have to deal with all the cleaning up after. My sweep is a member of the leading sweep guild in the UK and has public liability insurance. I get an insurance apraoved sweeping certificate which signs off the whole installation as being safe to use. My sweep also checks my woodburner for damage to seals, glass etc and makes sure its in good working order. Like all trades people you get good and bad sweeps but all you need to do is research it first before choosing just like you would with a builder or plumber. Choosing a sweep who is a member of the guild of master sweeps is a good start as they have the best training and need to produce insurance details to become a member. Trade organisations are also there to protect the consumer. Or…you could take a chance, save £40, and do it your self because it seems some people think they are just as compitent to do it without any kind of training or experience! crazy but true! Jeff, I find your comments worringly ignorant and misinformed.

  3. A vacuum is ONLY used to clear up after che chimney has been swept, under no circumstances, would I tell anyone had cleaned there chimney with a vacuum the averag price to clean a chimney within a fifteen mile radio us £38 don’t pay more, or you have been ripped off 23 September 2014

    • Ben Taylor

      A vacume is not ONLY used to clear up after the sweeping process. It can be used to pressurise the flue to prevent soot blowing back into the room. A sweeps vacum should also be HEPA rated (capable of dealing with hazardous materials). Also, if you choose the cheapest chimney sweep you can find I guarentee they will not be a member of a sweep guild or organisation and may not even have any training! Like anything, they are the cheapest for a reason!!!Paying more does NOT mean you have been ripped off, but of course there is a limit where value for money plays a part. I pay £55 for my sweep (price varies geographically. Would you say the same thing about buying a car or a lawyer? Pay for the cheapest you can find and it probable wont last long and certianly will not be a farari or even close. At the end of the day we are talking about a fire in your home! Either the one you use every day to keep warm or the one that ends up burning your house down! I want to know its been swept and checked ready for use and a certificate to proove it.

  4. C Evans

    On a recent phone in on BBC Radio Two (Jeremy Vine programme)about chimney fires a couple of people contacted the show to say whenever their chimney went on fire when they were children their mothers threw salt on the fire and it put it out! I can’t see any reason why this would work. Does anyone know if there is any science behind this at all. Is it just old wives tales and their chimney fires would have gone out anyway despite the salt?

  5. I am a Chimney Sweep coving Bedfordshire Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and i normally find complacency has often ended in disaster, more often than not, extreme tarring and creosote in the chimney, or on an uncleaned register plate, which if not cleaned regularly and properly, can ignite and cause a chimney fire.

    Always burn seasoned wood, make sure its dry! and avoid resinous woods like conifer. and have it professionally swept regularly. you will find your liner and chimney will thank you for it, and so will your sweep, and your insurance company.

  6. Andrew is right, and I imagine the rules in the UK are similar to the US, which is where he writes from.

    If the chimney is in effect leaking it is highly dangerous, and although I am not too fussy on all manner of ‘elf n safety’ rules I personally would never use a stove connected to a leaky chimney.

    If smoke can get through, then so can fire, and it is no good saying it is very unlikely to happen. Too late when you are attending the funeral.

  7. I am a CSIA certified chimney sweep based out of Pennsylvania, USA. There are a couple very concerning comments that were made in this article that I would like to address.
    -œThis chimney is old but we™ve seen much worse. It doesn™t need relining.. How do you know? The only way to properly inspect a chimney to find out if a liner is needed is to perform what is know as a LVL II inspection. This consists of sweeping the flue and running a video camera up the flue as well as inspecting visually all areas of the chimney that are accessible.
    -“Apparently teeny wafts of smoke can escape into the attic.” This is NEVER the case….quite scary in fact that i saw you write this…Per current NFPA 211 (US) code and current IRC (International Residential Code) “Any flue that cannot contain the by-products of combustion MUST be replaced, repaired or relined.” End of discussion. No ifs ands or buts about it. Any little bit of smoke that gets into an attic space means that there is a hole somewhere in that flue and God forbid the homeowner ever had a chimney fire, that fire could escape into the living space. This could be possibly fatal.
    In conclusion, have you chimney professionally serviced at least once a year. It’s required per current codes (NFPA 211 and IRC) and it could save your home or better yet you and your families lives.

    • To check for leaks cap off to of flu smoke test, cameras expensive rubbish in most cases,

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