Thinking about being a chimney sweep
Before you think about becoming a chimney sweep, you must ensure that this is the correct career path for you. One way to do this is to call a chimney sweep that you feel that you would not compete with in business (usually around 25-30 miles away), and ask if there is a possibility you can go out to work for a few days with them to see what the business involves. You may know a chimney sweep personally, and they may be willing to show you aspects of the industry. This is always a good idea, as you will gain enough knowledge to make your mind up that this is the career you wish for.
Chimney sweeping is physically demanding career. A chimney sweep needs to have a number of qualities; they need to be practical, problem solver, good communicator, professional, with good office skills and above all have the drive to increase and manage their business to be able to thrive. Lastly you have to be aware that a business may take up to three years before it may be able to fully support you financially, although it has been known to happen within 4 months!
It can be very wise to get a part time job to compliment your business whilst you grow it, or have a partner in full time work who could look after your day to day bills. We do not wish to put you off this highly rewarding career, but it is always best to give you some of the pitfalls so you are fully aware before you start your career as a chimney sweep.
Becoming a chimney sweep
If you have no way of shadowing an experienced sweep, there are a number of training providers, that offer varying levels of service, all but one of the training providers are linked to a trade association.
Training programs all have differing levels of quality, and you have to be vary carful in which course you think is right for you. No training in the UK or Ireland, can teach you everything, as the courses would have to be around two years of training. In Germany you have to spend three years in college before you have enough knowledge to become an apprentice!
You will need a course that teaches you to practically analyse the job, and give a competent level of knowledge that will allow you to sweep, and certificate the appliance as safe to use.
The list of training providers below (alphabetically listed) give you the option of who you would wish to choose, with a brief description of the training;
- Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps (APICS)
This association insists that you manually sweep chimney for the first year, and has a three day training course followed by shadowing existing sweeps for two days. APICS does not have a dedicated training centre so hires different venues in Devon and Surrey to hold their training. After the training and Assessment you become an APICS member. As with any trade association there will be rules and regulations.
- Chimney Sweep Academy
This small group, offers a two day course at a hired venue in Suffolk. Once the course has been completed you will have to purchase the trainers sweeping equipment for you to be verified as trained, and further become a member.
- Chimney Sweep Association (CSA)
This association is new, but has various training facilities. Mainly based in Northern England and Scotland, we have little information at this moment to state about this group or their training. It is believed that the training is over three days.
- Heating Education And Training Services (HEATS)
This training centre offers a City and Guilds accredited program “competence in chimney sweeping and advanced fault finding”. The three day course is held in their purpose built premises in Norfolk (City & Guilds centre 794966). The course is not tied to any trade association, so its trained sweeps can apply to join any association, by just having a one day assessment with NACS or 3 day assessment with APICS.
- The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps (GOMCS)
The training is held at a hired venues (several locations), and comprises of 4 days course followed by 4 day mentoring by two different professional sweeps. Once you have completed the course you become a member of GOMCS. As with any trade association there will be rules and regulations.
- The Institute of Chimney Sweeps (ICS)
This independent company offers a two day course in-house in Kent. Once completed you will become a member of the ICS. As with any trade association there will be rules and regulations.
- The National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS)
This is the oldest trade association, and offers a 3 day course at their training centre in Staffordshire. Once you have completed the course you will be required to sweep 25 chimneys before a final assessment is given watching your practices for a day. Once all aspects of this have been completed then you become a member of NACS. As with any trade association there will be rules and regulations.
Please be aware that the chimney sweeping industry in unregulated and as such there is no legal requirement for you to do training or join a trade body. All of the above training services (except CSA), allow you to sweep thatch properties (which are highly insurance legislated), and some are recognised by other bodies, such as Oftec (Oftec oil and solid fuel) and HETAS (Solid fuel and Biomass).
Cost of becoming a sweep
There are a number of things a person needs to consider when thinking about becoming a chimney sweep. Are they starting a career to become a chimney sweep on a tight budget? Will they be sweeping top down, traditional or rotary power sweeping? Will they be a member of a trade association? So, we have tried to give you some idea of cost associated with becoming a sweep, to give you an idea of your set up costs.
Cost of joining a trade association with training costs vary up to £1699.00 (source NACS)
Training from £456 (source HEATS)
Chimney sweeping equipment;
Traditional to sweep from 4” to 18” from £1000
Power sweeping to sweep from 4” to 18” from £1300
CCTV camera system from £250
Vacuum (HEPA H13 rated) from £500 to £850
Insurances from £250 (average around £350)
Tools approx. £500
Sheeting from £200
Drill (if rotary sweeping) from £205
Advertising, sign writing and leaflets from £900
Vehicle from £5000
Therefore to set up as a sweep will cost somewhere between £9500 and £15000 including a vehicle
General hours and season for sweeping
Hours of business really are to suit the individual;
Some sweeps take this career up as part of a retirement, as you are ultimately your own boss, and some sweeps will only work in the mornings. However most make a career from chimney sweeping, and will work as hard as they can to gain the most out of what is known as a very seasonal job.
Established sweeps, will be working flat out from the August bank holiday until mid-February giving a 22 or 23 week run, where they will be sweeping between 6 and 12 chimneys a day. Most established sweeps will turn over between £25-45K in this season. Do not think that this is your money! Everybody will want a slice, from HMRC, the accountant, your vehicle (especially in fuel), the trade associations, the insurance and the list goes on!
One study has shown that it costs the average sweep in the UK is around £50 and of this money £17 is in expenses.
Therefore an established sweep will expect to sweep around 8 to 10 per day (depending on location), and will sweep for roughly 20 weeks solid. Based on these figures you would expect to turn over £44k of which you will actually earn £29K, which is equivalent to taking home £2400 per month, and only working half the year. Remember you are responsible for your pension!
Most of the trade has realised you will earn 2/3rds of your annual income in the last third of the year. There are ways to make money in the summer months through contract work for the councils, national trust, landlords etc., but remember when you are starting out this is highly unlikely!
Day to Day running
Dependent on how you work, most sweeps are up early and out the door by 7.30am
During the busy season, (September through February), the day will be going to each and every appointed booking, and sweeping the customers appliance.
Giving advice, checking everything is safe, certification of work carried out, and then onto the next appointment.
When you get home, you will be cleaning your van, and getting everything ready for work the next day. Cleaning anything that requires cleaning, and maintaining all tools and vehicle,
Once in your home, you will probably require a shower, before starting to return any calls from people that have left you messages to book in new appointments and answering questions about work. Dependent on how you run your business, you will also do all of your daily bookwork and accounts, as well as schedule your route for the following day. Standard operating hours you would expect to be finished everything by 21:30-22:00
The low season is much the same, however you will start much later and finish earlier, due to the reduced bookings and contacts, you may wish to use this time to advertise by doing leaflet drops or sending reminders to existing customers.
It is not unusual for a sweep to be able to take 8 weeks off work in the off season as demand will be low, these tend to be mid-March through April, July and part of August.
If you wish to be working all through the year, you may consider a fair weather job during your low season, such as; patio and drive cleaning, Gutter cleaning and Gardening. But these are only suggestions.