Santa's Friend Chimney Service

It’s My Job: Chimney Sweep

My name is Jim Robinson, and I’m the owner of Santa’s Friend Chimney Service in Jackson.

Jim Robinson Newspaper PIc - Santa's Friend

Courtesy Greg Jenson/ The Clarion Ledger

I grew up in the Shiloh community between Brandon and Pelahatchie and still live here. In fact, I live on the house site of my great-grandfather, James Thomas Knight, whom I was named after.

I graduated from Brandon Academy and attended Mississippi State for two-and-a-half years. I grew up on a dairy farm, so I majored in dairy science at MSU. We had a fairly large family operation, but I knew I was ready for a career change. I had no idea in my wildest dreams it would turn out like it has!

To make a little extra money, I started selling firewood in the mid-‘80s.  One of my customers told me about cleaning the chimneys of the firewood customers. So one very hot Saturday afternoon in June 1988, I “cleaned“ four chimneys. I can look back now and see how unprofessional I was, starting out.

This rocked on a few years until 1994, when I first got certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Up until that time, I had no idea what a code book was. When you are CSIA certified, you become aware of proper clearances, codes, standards and practices as they relate to chimneys. I attended a National Chimney Sweep Guild convention shortly thereafter and saw the potential in this industry and, in 1996, I went full time.

Today, I have one full-time employee, Justin Perkins, a chimney sweep who has been CSIA certified since 2010. My wife, Terri, is also very involved in the office, and she is the one who came up with the name for our business!

We offer a wide range of services related to the chimney— of course, sweepings, but also masonry repair, firebox repair and rebuild if needed. Solving water leaks in chimneys is a big part of our business. We reline a lot of chimneys with stainless steel or, if the situation is conducive to it, we resurface the interior flue.

We also clean dryer vents. This is needed when the dryer is not located on an outside wall and the long vent to the outside collects lint. Over time the vent will restrict the airflow and overheat the dryer. As you can imagine, lint is very flammable.

One of the main services we specialize in is solving chimney problems, whether it is a performance problem with a smoking chimney or a smelly, stinking chimney. Both of these problems are very common and are directly related to indoor air quality.

It’s important to have a chimney cleaned regularly, because as the smoke cools going up the chimney, it condenses on the interior chimney walls as soot or creosote, which is flammable. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t matter what type of firewood you use, as long as it is not treated wood and is dry.

There are a lot of variables, but generally it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to clean a chimney.  As a general rule, we sweep the chimneys from the bottom using a rotary drill, adding rods until it reaches the top. The attachments on the head can be either “Weed Eater” string for light deposits, steel cable for medium deposits or twist link chains for heavy, glazed creosote. The vast majority need the steel cable. If I have a question or concern about the flue, I have a video camera that will inspect every inch of the interior flue. It has the capability to capture the image, and we can email a report to the customer.

When we’re working, we always wear black, of course — it is a dirty job. We take precautions because soot and creosote are carcinogenic. We have a couple of methods for dust control and, of course, put tarps in front of the fireplace. We get comments regularly on how clean and neat we are.

The best part of this job, without a doubt, is the people I have met — customers and chimney sweeps — and the places we’ve been able to go. My customers are some of the finest people anywhere — as a general rule, anyway. By going to the NCSG convention almost every year, I’ve made very good friends with fellow chimney sweeps all across America. We are very unique in that we freely share information with each other, whether it be business practices or the latest code developments.

The most interesting was the trip in 2004 that Terri and I took to the International Chimney Sweep Festival in Santa Maria Maggiore, Italy. This is held every year in September in this small village in the northern Alps. It was started to commemorate the small children who were forced to work inside chimneys in the early to mid-1900s. Of course, they had no respirators, and a lot of them died from cancer before they were 25 years old.  During that week, there is a parade through the village with about 800 chimney sweeps dressed in traditional attire. Several countries are represented, with the lead person in the group carrying their country’s flag. Of the 800, probably 700 are German. You better believe it is a party with that many Germans!

We attended again in 2006 and in 2008 toured Europe with some chimney sweep friends.

The biggest challenge in my job is definitely having too much work from the middle of September until Christmas.— but, the rest of the year, the work load is just about right!

By on March 9th, 2016 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment