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Chimney sweeps thriving despite downturn

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Demand for chimneysweeps is on the rise, untouched by the crisis. (ČTK)Demand for chimney sweeps is on the rise, untouched by the crisis. (ČTK)

Despite a large number of reports on laying off and cost-cutting measures adopted by dozens of companies, there are sectors, which thrive and are omitted from the pessimistic newspaper articles. “You can’t do it without the chimney sweeps. All you need to do is raise your head whether in town or a village and count the chimneys,” said Jaroslav Čermák from Dolní Beřkovice near Mělník. He owns a chimney company Gesiko and also holds a certificate allowing him to inspect chimney systems. He said that the state of the chimneys has got significantly worse since the 1990s. The disintegration of chimney sweeping companies and of the fixed division of areas caused insufficient care for chimneys. The demand for men in black overalls and white hat is therefore on the rise. And not even the crisis has been able to change that just yet.

This year’s tough winter pushed the start of the building season, and so Čermák’s company only started to build new chimneys two weeks ago. Night frost could damage the ceramic chimneys, the construction of which uses special mortar and glues susceptible to temperature changes.

Chimneys? Sweep, sweep and sweep

The only impact of the crises affecting the chimneysweeps from Gesiko is the slowing down of industrial halls construction. The company also supplies decompression drainage systems for horizontal roofs. “We haven’t done a single metre of drainage since the beginning of the year. The first commissions have started to arrive, however,” said Jaroslav Čermák. He does not worry much, though, since he is having success in another sphere. Panelák houses are showing interest in chimneys as they are disconnecting from heat supplies and are building their own gas boiler houses. A team of two chimneysweeps builds one 30-metre tall chimney in a day while they spend eight hours hanging in the air.

Modern fireplaces and boilers for wood stoves need to be checked twice a year – at the end and beginning of the heating season. “You clean the bicycle before you store it away for winter too. And then you check it again in spring so that you don’t break your neck,” Čermák said. Chimneys need to be checked before the season because sometimes a bird, attracted by the heat, falls into the chimney and then suffocates on the fumes. Not a nice idea for sure but even despite the dirt and the modern heating systems the romantic atmosphere of chimneysweeping work connected to the walking on the roofs and working near the sky remains untouched. “Despite construction of the new chimneys, the basics of our work is sweeping and sweeping,” said Čermák.

Other activities required by modern housing get added to the list. “You discover that the chimney is falling apart, and so you line it and recommend new stove or a modern boiler that secure longer life of the chimney,” he said. Chimneysweeps follow the new trends but the regulations do not. One such regulation from 1981 requires the owner of the building with a chimney to secure its check and sweeping six-times a year.

The chimneysweeps themselves are lobby for a change. Only chimneys attached to appliances running on low-quality fuel throughout the year needed such frequent checks. With the modern boilers, it suffices to check the all-year-round chimneys once every three months.

How to become a chimney sweep

Jaroslav Čermák exchanged his trading profession for chimney sweeping. Before doing business in chimney sweeping he sold chimney systems on the Czech market. But then in 2006 he ran off and sold his successful wholesale company to the chimney producer he was collaborating with. “Sales lost their charm for me. In addition to that, more and more customers asked for chimney construction not only supply. That brings more joy. It means that you can see your actual work on the roofs and there are kilometres of chimneys built by now,” Jaroslav Čermák said. That was the reason of his decision to sell his original company. Anyone who passes the apprenticeship can become a chimney sweep. The second option, which is more popular nowadays, is to attend a one-year requalification course. Before its start, however, the applicant has to prove a three-years long working experience in a chimney company. “During the studies, one has to learn the regulations concerning the chimneys, as well as construction basics and chemistry,” said Čermák. The course costs dozens of thousands of crowns and the education of chimneysweeps is not over with final exam.

“Chimney sweeping is no longer only about the black soot inside the chimneys. It is an alchemy, a whole science of principles of burning, draught conditions and different kinds of appliances,” said Čermák. Another step in the education of an ambitious chimneysweep can be the course for chimney inspector. This course expands the chimneysweeping knowledge and also adds information on work protection and fire security.

Another special stamp can be added when one passes the exam in front of the Environment Ministry committee certifying you to measure the effectivity of small burning sources and of the air pollution. Chimneysweep thus pays another dozens of thousands of crowns.

One foot in jail

Just like the chimneysweeps’ education is not cheap, their work is not cheap either. Construction of an 8-metre high chimney for a fireplace can cost CZK 50,000. The price is high not only due to expensive material but mainly due to the responsibility the chimneysweep and the chimney inspector hold.

“When someone builds your chimney wrong you can be poisoned or your house can burn down,” Čermák said. “I vouch for that chimney with my stamp and if anything happens I, as a chimney inspector, pay for it. I am constantly one foot in jail, in fact,” he added.

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