The Accidental Chimney Sweep

Are you looking for an Alameda chimney cleaner? Meet Sally McKnight—Sal to her friends, the woman behind The Irish Sweep. This is the story of how she got an unexpected start in the industry.

Sally Answers an Ad

In 1982, Sally responded to an advertisement that was placed by Jim Halloran, a hot-headed New Yorker from Brooklyn who started the original company in the 70s with guts and determination, but no real plan. He hired her to work part time in the office, answering phones and scheduling appointments.

lafayette chimney cleaner

She was a fast typist at a time when things were still done by hand, but she didn’t yet know anything about fireplaces or chimneys so she wasn’t (in her own words) an “effective communicator with customers.” Truth be told, Jim Halloran didn’t know much more than his new office assistant did, but he struck out to learn from experience.

This is a photo of him with his first sweeping vehicle and his trusty dog, Sweeper.

lafayette chimney cleaner

One day, Halloran asked Sally if she would be willing to ride along with him in the van and sweep some chimneys. He needed an extra set of hands. She agreed and that was the beginning of their future partnership. Of that initial experience, Sally said, “Well, I went out there and just loved being outdoors all day long, meeting new people along the way, working in some amazing homes and gaining new skills.” She quit her other retail position and joined the business full time.

Chim-Chimney

But it wasn’t easy. Not only were they learning on the job, but when she first began, some customers called her a “powder puff” and questioned how a woman could do the work, while others wouldn’t let her touch their fireplace unless she sang and danced “Chim-Chimney”—from the beloved children’s movie Mary Poppins.

Buying The Irish Sweep

Later, a partnership was formed and Sally became half owner of The Irish Sweep. But eventually she became frustrated with Jim and offered him a buyout.  She scraped together enough cash to purchase Halloran’s half of the business. The year was 1988. A lot has changed since then, but Sally is still the dynamic force behind The Irish Sweep.

Since those early years, she has become an educator in her community, having sat on the Board of Directors for the National Chimney Sweep Guild and for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. She has also been President of the Golden State Chimney Sweep Guild, and now serves as treasurer. Not bad for a “powder puff.”

Talk to an Alameda Chimney Cleaner

To schedule an appointment with an Alameda chimney cleaner at The Irish Sweep, call us at (510)521-4088 or use this simple contact form by clicking here. You can also read testimonials on our site. Your safety is our number one priority. We look forward to hearing from you.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE A CHIMNEY SWEEP INSPECTION

If you’ve never had your chimney inspected, you might be wondering what exactly happens when the inspector comes. Annual inspections and chimney cleanings are recommended for safe fireplace burning. You’ll want to get it done between your last fireplace usage last year and your first fire this winter to ensure that it’s in good working condition.

At your scheduled chimney inspection, your chimney sweep will likely use a special camera to look inside the system, affording them a better view of what’s going on where your fire and smoke travel.

Here’s what they’ll look for:

1.     STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS AND FLUE

The chimney sweep will first look at the exterior and interior of the fireplace and chimney, looking for any problems of wear and tear, including the fireplace, chimney, flue and hearth. These structural elements can affect whether your chimney stays standing after earthquakes or severe weather.

2.     COMBUSTIBLES ARE SECURED

They’ll also look at the structure of the chimney. This is to be sure that combustibles can’t contact any other building materials, which would be a fire hazard. Your fire should stay within a completely secure firebox area. The risk of slow-burning fire within your walls is something to take very seriously.

3.     OBSTRUCTIONS

Your chimney sweep will look for any obstructions. These could possibly block the venting of smoke, combustible byproducts and gas, such as animal nests, leaves and other debris. An obstruction could cause these gasses to build up dangerously inside your home instead of leaving like they should.

4.     VOLUME AND KIND OF COMBUSTIBLE DEPOSITS

A chimney sweep will look at the volume and nature of any combustible deposits building up on the walls of the chimney to see if they pose a danger. Creosote can ignite within your chimney or flue and is highly flammable.

To see what a chimney sweep inspection looks like using a camera like we use here at Irish Sweep, watch this video:

 

Earthquakes And Chimney: Why Repair And Maintenance Is Essential

The devastation of the recent Earthquake in Mexico is a reminder that the same could, and has, happened in California. Long term California residents will remember several damaging and in some cases lethal earthquakes in their lifetime. Earthquake preparedness experts warn that the likelihood California will experience another serious quake in the next 20 years is very high, with the San Francisco Bay Area expected to be the worst hit.

And yet despite these risks, homeowners neglect the one thing that could prevent the most common form of damage in an earthquake: chimney repair.

Chimney Collapse is The Most Common Form of Earthquake Damage

Historically, chimney collapse is the most common form of damage due to earthquakes across the country. And yet chimney repair and reinforcement is the most commonly ignored effort for earthquake preparation.

Chimney masonry repair or even chimney removal is likely to slip your mind if you no longer use your masonry chimney. But simply leaving your chimney standing with no reinforcement or maintenance is a recipe for earthquake disaster.

Even with low-level ground shaking, chimneys start to fail and bricks fall. This is particularly common in masonry chimneys built before 1980 where the mortar may be already worn down and the structure of the chimney is brittle. But even in younger chimneys the mortar can become weak or cracked due to weather and time, leaving masonry chimneys vulnerable to collapse even with a small earthquake.

Collapsing Chimneys Extremely Hazardous

Structural engineers say that masonry chimneys are usually the first thing to go  in a quake of any size, and can rapidly cause damage to surrounding buildings, cars, and people. At least 15,000 brick chimneys were damaged in Los Angeles during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, while in Napa, about half of the residential buildings damaged were due to brick chimneys.

Several deaths and injuries have also been caused by falling chimney bricks in the last significant California earthquakes, many of them involving children. When chimneys start to collapse, even during a relatively minor earthquake, bricks become deadly projectiles capable of causing severe damage.

Earthquake Proof Chimneys To Prevent Chimney Damage

When quake-proofing your home, don’t overlook your chimney. If you have a masonry chimney in your home, it is essential you call a chimney professional for an inspection and analysis of the chimney strength. This is very difficult to assess with an untrained eye. But if you can see visible cracks or gaps in the mortar of your chimney, it’s a clear sign your chimney needs urgent repair.

Masonry chimneys can be repaired and retrofitted to increase their strength, which prevents the likelihood of collapse in the event of an earthquake. Chimney repointing can help to replace masonry chimney mortar, but may not be enough earthquake preparedness on It’s own to reinforce a chimney. Retrofitting is the minimum step you should take to keep your home and your family safe from chimney damage during an earthquake. You can also discuss other options, such as chimney removal or replacement, after an inspection and consultation with a chimney professional.

Ensuring your chimney is safe and secure is essential for earthquake preparation, and shouldn’t be put off any longer. Call your local chimney professional today to book an inspection and discuss the best solution to keep your chimney earthquake safe.

5 Signs You Might Need Chimney Removal

Chimney removal is often advised, but many homeowners put it off, not considering the benefits of full chimney removal. Many homes have been built with fireplaces for heating, and they also have chimneys. As time has provided the innovation of other, more efficient heating methods, fireplaces and chimneys may not be used so often. Here we look at 5 reasons that you should consider having your chimney removed.

Chimney Removal Aides Home Heating/Cooling

If you are no longer using your fireplace for home heating, it’s possible your chimney is only working against your home heating and cooling efforts. Chimneys left in place may compromise insulation and allow drafts which hamper energy efficient home heating and cooling. Removing a chimney can help to create a more comfortable home environment while reducing energy usage and costs for heating and cooling.

You Want to Reduce Risk of Earthquake Damage

Chimneys are often the first structures to fall in an earthquake. If you haven’t used your chimney for years, it’s likely the chimney is worn out and damaged and at even higher risk of earthquake damage. Even a slight tremor can turn a masonry chimney into brick missiles, causing structural damage, bodily injury and even death to those in the home. With the risk of a major earthquake in California always growing, its best to have your unused chimney removed sooner rather than later.

Your Chimney is Worn and Damaged

In an old and unkempt chimney, bricks may be weak and broken, and mortar may be worn away leaving the bricks insecure. If you’re not using your chimney, it’s easy to neglect chimney care. But a weak chimney faces the possibility of collapse at any time. If your chimney is old and worn it’s better to have it removed than leave it in place.

You Want More Valuable Space

Square footage is valuable in a home, and yet leaving an unused chimney in place can compromise your living space. Chimney removal can also help you access valuable living space in common areas and bedrooms. A chimney can impact the space in every level and room it passes through. Chimney removal offers the added benefit of easily accessing more precious space in your home, creating a more modern and comfortable living environment.

You Want To Remodel

Working around an existing chimney when you’re trying to remodel your home can be difficult and costly. In many cases, it can be easier and cheaper to just remove the chimney so you can plan and construct your remodel the way you want. This gives you more space to work with, and freedom from the constraints of needing to work around the chimney.

By contemplating when it really might be worth chimney removal, you can access significant safety and practical benefits. Talk to your local chimney sweep company today about the benefits you could gain from removing your chimney.

DO YOU NEED CHIMNEY WATERPROOFING?

While this winter has not been too wet, many are predicting some rain over the next couple months. We don’t anticipate it reaching last year’s levels, but it’s still important that you waterproof your chimney. Water can seep into a chimney and leaks may form. But how does this potentially expensive problem even happen?

Continue reading “DO YOU NEED CHIMNEY WATERPROOFING?”

WHY GET A CHIMNEY INSPECTION BEFORE YOU SELL YOUR HOME

So you’ve decided to buy or sell your home. What an exciting time! In either case, it’s important to know the condition of the chimney and fireplace system you’re about to either buy or sell.

Buying or selling a home can be a stressful process for everyone involved.  You need to know that the value of the property you’re buying aligns with

the amount you invest in it. Naturally, you’ll have the home inspected and you’ll likely have it appraised.

If you have a chimney, hiring a chimney sweep for an inspection and cleaning is something that needs to be done.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the CSIA recommend that you have a Level II chimney inspection performed when a property is changing hands. Level II real estate inspections make use of video scanning technology, which allows us to see things that a home inspector with a flashlight would miss.

During the inspection, they feed a camera into the chimney flue and scan the walls, checking for cracks, holes, buildup, blockages, and damage. With this equipment, we can see the interior of the chimney up close and focus on areas that look concerning. We’re also able to capture photographs to include in the report provided to you. This can be great for insurance purposes or negotiating purposes and can prevent you from getting stuck with a massive chimney repair bill or a fire or safety hazard that you were unaware of at the time of the sale.

4 REASONS TO INSPECT BEFORE YOU SELL YOUR HOME

1. A FAVORABLE CHIMNEY INSPECTION REPORT REFLECTS WELL ON YOU:

When selling, the prospective buyer will see the current inspection reports, and realize your home is in great condition. The home buyer will be more enthusiastic about putting in an offer on a home that is move-in ready. You’ll be able to command a higher price than a home that needs, or might need, repair.

If you’re buying, requesting the chimney inspection report allows you to know what condition of chimney you’re acquiring.

2. SATISFY THE REQUIREMENTS OF INSURANCE COMPANIES:

Today, many insurance companies require an inspection by a chimney certified technician before issuing insurance on a home that has a chimney system. 

3. PROVIDE THE AMBIANCE ON HOME BUYERS’ WISH LISTS:

A fireplace is often an item on the home buyer’s “must have” list. There is no doubt that a functioning chimney system has great charm and aesthetic appeal. Knowing the chimney is safe and usable makes nights by the fire cozier.

4. CLOSE ON TIME:

Don’t be delayed by missing inspection reports, have the chimney inspected before listing to sell your home. The prospective purchaser wants confirmation that your beautiful chimney is in good working order. Having to wait until the chimney inspection is scheduled and performed delays the purchaser’s final decision. Make it easy to say yes.

In Conclusion, make selling a home a little less stressful by having your chimney inspection by a certified chimney sweep.