I can’t remember the last time we went to an appointment purely to sweep the chimney.
And yet, for the customer, that’s all they thought they wanted when they called to book.
A swept chimney.
Sure, they got that. But they also got a heck of a lot more. They never asked for it… but they got it anyway!
Why? Well, for modern, professional sweeps, the actual cleaning of the chimney probably accounts for less than 10% of the service on many appointments.
On a standard appointment alone we usually check the:
⁃ State of the lower part of the flue
⁃ The chimney stack
⁃ Type of terminal
⁃ State of the appliance
⁃ Distance to combustible materials
⁃ State of the flue
⁃ Presence/positioning of a Carbon Monoxide Alarm
⁃ Draw of the chimney
And that doesn’t even begin to cover other issues surrounding appliance operation, fuel choice, spillage, flue design, flue integrity and so on which we may pick up.
As you can quickly see, the term ‘chimney sweep’ is a bit of a misnomer. An old term which perhaps describes the job as it was 100-odd years ago. But things change, and the industry standards have changed. Yet the old label endures.
So we, as a company, have decided to do something about it.
As part of our Mr Soot Training Academy Programme, we are introducing new job titles which more accurately reflect the role in the 21st Century.
For those who undertake the requisite training, they will become Technicians.
And for those who get officially qualified via the NVQ pathway, they will become Lead Technicians.
Now, I can imagine there will be some who will liken it to councils redesignating bin men as the Recycling Operatives.
I would have some sympathy with that argument if it weren’t for the fact that, as demonstrated above, the term ‘chimney sweep’ is now, for the most part, a wildly inaccurate description.
Also – and let’s not pull any punches here – ‘chimney sweep’ comes with a heck of a lot of baggage, not all Mary Poppins-related either. And that does put some people off considering a career in the industry.
As I said recently, most new recruits to the industry are career-switchers who may, like myself, have been drawn to it through owning their own real fireplace.
Pretty much no college or university leaver wants to be a ‘chimney sweep’. But they may want to learn more about a career as a Chimney/Solid Fuel Technician. Especially when they learn just how much maths and science is involved.
Calculating flue draught, cross sectional areas, ventilation requirements, understanding stack effect….
The technician role in sweeping isn’t new, far from it. In the United States, for example, they have chimney firms who have technicians because they, like us, do more inspecting than sweeping.
It’s just that they seem to have embraced the terminology whereas, in the UK, we have sort of lagged behind.
However, as a professional UK company in this sector, I believe we need to take a lead and educate consumers about what our role actually entails.
So we’ve decided to do it, and therefore you may soon seeing more references to Technicians.
Will others follow? I hope so. Because this is a great chance to talk up our trade and accurately get across the added-value we provide day in, day out.
Of course, the term ‘chimney sweep’ isn’t going to disappear overnight, if ever. It’s heavily ingrained into the psyche not just of customers, but the whole solid fuel industry.
It may take generations to change perceptions, if ever (this is still the case in the USA, where they started decades ago) but we have to start sometime through use of more accurate job titles.
And that time, here at Mr Soot at least, is right now.
David is the owner of Mr Soot.