How to Get Certified as a Chimney Cleaner
Whether you’re still in high school or are looking for a second career later in life, it’s important to understand the requirements for any job you’re interested in. While some jobs may just be a stepping stone towards another offer of employment, if you hope to make a career in a particular field, brush up on what it takes as far as education, certifications, and experience. Plus, find out what the industry potential looks like in 2021 and beyond.
What Chimney Cleaners Do
In short, chimney cleaners--wait for it--clean chimneys. Of course they do, but there is much more to it than that. In fact, the actual cleaning is only one portion of a job that may also include setting up appointments, driving to job sites across an extended geographical area, interacting with customers, loading and unloading supplies, and performing inspections. You may also be part of a team that installs or removes wood stoves, pellet stoves, and gas stoves.
If you also own the business you may clean chimneys, but you likely also manage office staff, handle payroll and employee issues, monitor local and federal regulations, present bids for services by visiting each site and evaluating the work required, educate homeowners, and schedule jobs.
As with many industries, the range of jobs for chimney cleaners is vast. Typical job titles within the field of chimney cleaners include chimney sweep, chimney sweep apprentice, chimney technician, chimney technician apprentice, general laborer, masonry sweep, and chimney repairer or apprentice. Depending on the company, chimney cleaning may only be a small part of your job so you may be titled a fireplace specialist, installer, inspector, or masonry professional.
Chimney cleaners, also known as sweeps, work in existing homes and businesses. They also work outdoors on the exterior of buildings and most commonly, on roofs. The job often requires working in dusty, dirty, cramped spaces and may involve work in adverse weather conditions such as thunderstorms, wind, snow, and extreme heat.
Work hours vary widely in the industry with many part-time and full-time employees, yet overtime is not uncommon during the busiest seasons. Work may require evening and weekend hours. As a chimney sweep you may work alone, with a few other workers, or as part of a large crew.
Education and Certifications
According to the Chimney Institute of America, “The CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® credential is acknowledged by industry organizations, insurance underwriters, local, state and federal agencies as the measure of a chimney and venting technician's knowledge about the evaluation and maintenance of chimney and venting systems.”
This standard may or may not be required by your local company. Since it’s not a requirement within the industry, it’s up to business owners whether they will provide access to the additional training needed to become certified. If not offered through your employer, you can still earn certification yourself through a self-study course online. To do this, you’ll order a few books and study up on essential knowledge and codes related to chimneys. You can then take the review online or meet with a representative in person where available. Finally, you take and pass the certification exam either online or in person.
You can also earn certification through a six-day immersive classroom course offered on-site through CSIA National Training Academy. This course is offered four or five times each year and includes all your supplies and testing fees.
Typical subjects of study include sweeping and inspection of different chimney systems, operation of the necessary equipment, health and safety considerations, codes, clearances, standards and practices of the chimney service trade, and Preparation for the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® exam.
Getting a job as a chimney cleaner typically doesn’t require previous experience, but if you’ve ever cleaned your own chimney you’ll be able to master the talking points of the interview. Most employers are looking for workers who are dedicated to advancing their skills through education and hands-on experience.
Strong Personal Characteristics
Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming a chimney cleaner requires strength, stamina, agility, fine motor skills, and critical thinking skills. If you’ve ever worked in construction or even completed some DIY projects in your home, you know no project goes as planned so flexibility and adaptability are key. You will also need strong customer service skills in order to effectively communicate with home and business owners. Strong communication skills will also help you interact with co-workers and bosses.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical annual pay range for all types of chimney sweeps is $12,000-$80,000, with a national average of $18,000 to $24,000. It should be noted that this is often seasonal, rather than regular full-time, work and wages vary significantly across the country.
Those starting out will likely get paid at or close to minimum wage for their work. But as you develop skills in using tools, interacting with customers, and learning other aspects of the business, you can increase your value and your pay. Those in the high end of the range are most likely business owners. The nice thing about this industry is that it is easy to start a business with little more than a few chimney sweeps, a ladder, and some flyers, although the proper knowledge is essential.
As of 2021, the job outlook for chimney cleaners is stable. While some people are eager to move away from traditional wood and pellet burning stoves, others appreciate the heat source. Either way, there are plenty of chimneys to clean and if you’re cross-trained you may spend significant time performing chimney repairs too.
Working as a chimney cleaner comes with intrinsic safety hazards mostly associated with walking on roofs and hauling supplies up and down ladders.