People often ask me what is involved in sweeping the chimney. In short it means manually scrubbing and brushing the chimney from top to bottom with hand held-brushes and brushes attached to rods - these brushes vary in size and shape.
During your sweep I clean the flue, the smoke chamber, the damper, the smoke shelf behind the damper, and the firebox. I have been to many sweeps where there is no way this work has EVER been carried out, so you need to make sure your sweep does all these things. It should take about 40-45 minutes from start to finish. It normally takes me around an hour or so. Chimneys can only cleaned by manual labor - cleaning logs help but you really need to make sure that you clean your chimney at least once a year to prevent a fire. A good industrial vacuum is essential for professional chimney work, I have a great vacuum and the job is to just keep the dust out of the house and to pick up the loose material that is produced during the sweep cleaning process. The vacuum also makes sure that the chimney sweep does his job, but the vacuum cannot do the job by itself, so don't be fooled!
A vacuum that cleans the chimney is not in existence! In order to see if a chimney needs cleaning, I look inside. This is the first thing that I do when I arrive. I may arrive with my touch and look up the chimney, or if it's a wood burning stove I may need to remove it away from the wall to get up the chimney. If there is approx. 1/4 inch of soot collected up the chimney or in a wood burning stove's chimney, then it needs cleaning. I always work on the basis that a 1/4 inch build-up of soot is not a lot, but that is the "rule of thumb" for determining when to clean a chimney (I am part of the world-wide chimney sweep online community and this is outlined in a Manual for Certified Chimney Sweep Program of the Chimney Safety Institute). There is an exception to the "rule" if the build up is tar glaze deposits of creosote. They should be cleaned out even if they are less than 1/4 inch thick because if this material catches fire may cause a dangerous fire. In my years of doing this I do not typically find significant tar glaze build ups in the average chimney. Clients who have an airtight wood burning stove are prone to this. Improved burning habits are needed in these situations.
After examination of the chimney and this results in the fact that you require cleaning, I set up a few large cloths in front of the fireplace and set up my industrial vacuum and then cover the fireplace opening. The vacuum hose is then put into the fireplace under the cover and turned on. Next is my brushes which are on rods and I run these up and down the flue removing the soot and creosote deposits at the sametime the vacuum below prevents dust from getting into the house. At this point I may discuss the overall condition of the chimney with my client.
For a fireplace there is a need to run small brushes into the smoke chamber up through the throat by the damper in order to clean that area. The vacuum will take away the soot and creosote. There are differences in a wood burning stove, I will need to remove the baffles inside the stove in order to clean out the debris that has been brushed down the chimney. Some stoves are difficult to take apart and your chimney connectors may charge you extra for this.
When the work is complete, I carry out a smoke test, to ensure it is all clear, the vacuum is turned off, and all mess cleared up then my equipment is loaded into the van.