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A clean (chimney) sweep

By Staff | Sep 29, 2008

He’s not scared of heights and he already had some of the equipment he needed. Besides, he wasn’t happy with the chimney sweep he hired 25 years ago.

“He was up on the roof for about 20 minutes and I don’t think he did a complete job for what he charged me,” says Dan Olsen, owner of Fireplace Solutions in Blue Earth.

A painter by trade, Olsen decided he wanted to get training to clean chimneys.

Married and with two children, the 1972 Frost High School graduate loaded his car and left his family for three weeks to attend a vocational school outside of Chicago.

“It was the first time I had ever been there. It was quite an experience,” he says.

When Olsen started his Top Hat Chimney Sweep business he had about 400 customers a year. Now, that averages about 150.

“More and more people switched to gas fireplaces. But, with energy prices at what they are and increasing people might think it’s more economical to heat with wood,” he says.

Olsen works from the top down.

He dons a face mask to block any soot from entering his breathing passages. At one time he wore a black blazer and top hat, but gave that up.

“I don’t know if people took me serious. This is an important service. I help keep homes safe. It’s a serious job,” says Olsen.

His main mission: prevent people from getting carbon-monoxide poisoning and burning their house down.

Once on top of the roof, he uses a long brushlike instrument to scrape inside the chimney. Inside the house he uses another scraping device to remove ground-in soot and dirt. Then, it’s time to suck up the mess and muck with a heavy-duty vacuum.

“Sometimes I get real dirty. Other times you can’t tell. It’s like I had an office job,” he says.

The highest he’s had to climb is about 43 feet. The chimney on his house is 26 feet off the ground.

“I do clean mine. I don’t recommend the service for others and not do my chimney,” he says with a chuckle. How often should a chimney be cleaned?

Olsen says that’s a tough question. A lot depends on usage.

The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, “Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom of deposits and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance and repairs shall be done if necessary.”

Olsen says chimneys of homes heated with gas also should be inspected. He says it could become non-functional from bird nests and other debris blocking the flue.

Smoke backing into the house is the most common reason people seek his help.

He says odor of another kind also has prompted telephone calls.

“I’ve pulled out raccoons, squirrels and even a goose that all had died,” he says.

Not all critters, however, have met their demise.

Olsen once found birds nesting in a chimney, and he even put a cap lid on one when a squirrel jumped out after being spooked out by the homeowner.

Like anything else, not all jobs go as planned.

There was the time when Olsen was called to get rid of bats inside a chimney. The homeowner convinced him a smoke bomb he had would help do the trick.

“It turned out to be a cherry bomb of some sort and blew the cap right off. But, the bats did fly out,” he says.

The going rate to hire a chimney sweep is $150 an hour.

Besides himself, Olsen says he knows of only two in the immediate area; one in Janesville and another in Marshall.

He says his customers come from an 80-mile radius.

“Every year I get a call after a chimney fire and I hate that,” he says. “The financial loss and damages could have been prevented. That’s a shame.”

With winter coming, Olsen also can help homeowners meet their heating needs.

He sells, installs and services gas stoves, furnaces and fireplaces. If you prefer to use wood, he can put in a conventional fireplace or if you want to use corn as a heat source he can do that too.

Before the snow flies, you’ll probably find Olsen up on a roof top ready to tackle ick, ick, ick.

It’s a “dirty-deed,” but the chimney will be clean and ready for good Ole’ Saint Nick.