Q&A with Chimney Heroes owner, with tips on fireplace maintenance
Q: This is a pretty busy time for you from August through the burn time. Is this traditionally the most busy time?
ON: Traditionally yes, then people prepare. They want to make a fire for Christmas or they want to start burning and they want to feel safe when they do.
Q: Do you recommend people take care of some of the maintenance in the non-burning season?
ON: That has a couple of advantages. One is just to create a more balanced schedule with our technicians. 60 to 70 hour weeks and then up to 20 hour weeks is generally not what people like. However, if we do find a problem, ideally we will have more time to fix or restore it before they are ready to use their fireplace or stove. If it is an oven hood, you do not have to do without heat.
Q: What got you into business anyway?
ON: Nobody ever dreams of becoming a chimney sweep. (Laughs) I would say it probably fell on my lap and I loved it. I went to college and got my degree in business. I was actually at the Ministry of Youth for five years and I was just very excited to be an entrepreneur. Some of our local friends who went to our church had owned a chimney sweeping company for many years and asked me if I wanted to come and help them on the weekends. I said yes and I enjoyed it. I thought, “I could do this as a business.” With their blessings, they said, “Yes, you should do that.” I started Saratoga Chimney Sweep in 2009 and it became Chimney Heroes. So far it’s been great.
Q: What was it about the industry that fascinated you when you started out?
ON: I think it was the customer relationships that were the most fun. The people are very interesting and it’s great to meet them and build a long-term relationship. Now that I’m not that much into the field, it’s great fun keeping people busy and making sense of the work we do. We protect people. We have seen scenarios where they have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning or had wood smoldering in an area they did not expect. Knowing that we are actually helping to save lives is useful. I would also say it’s just fun to pour into people, so the employees. Really fun to see how they grow and how they really build skills.
Q: How did these customers react when you said something before it got dangerous?
ON: I would say a majority of them are grateful and wish they had called earlier. We get that a lot. We only pass on information. We rely heavily on images, so we make a very extensive documentation so that you can see what you have and make the best decision for you and your family. Usually it’s just a feeling of appreciation and relief.
Q: How has technology changed the way you work?
ON: I would say that chimney cameras weren’t very popular, but now they’re hugely popular. We just realized that we can’t see much by sticking a flashlight in a chimney and looking up. When you think of a straw … when you think of a chimney, it can have cracks in gaps and damage to the liner. Then think of smoke rising in it and all of the creosote – which is flammable – getting stuck in the cracks. What if you think of a straw and have a crack in the straw? Where is the water going Get out of the crack. It’s the same with a chimney. The creosote finds these cracks and begins to build dangerous deposits outside the fume cupboard. Something happens, a spark escapes, and then you have a fire that is not in the fireplace. Chimney cameras, we can find it all. It is bright light and can see every single point on the surface. It’s a 360-degree rotating camera that allows us to see every aspect. And then you can email your customers a PDF report. I think this is the best technological advance in the industry.
Q: What are the Chimney Safety 101 tips that readers should take away?
ON: In any case, it is important that the chimney is serviced before the heating season. If you’ve never had a camera inspection of any of your fume cupboards, this is what you should request. Most chimney services now have this feature. I would also say if you have made changes to your house, either new windows or an extension that makes your house tighter, to have it checked to see if it has changed the design. We had a couple of customers renovate and then their fire just went out.
Q: Wow. Can you explain what you mean by narrower?
ON: In essence, chimneys rely on natural drafts. It’s basically the house needs to breathe. The chimney lets the house exhale. So windows and everything below the neutral level – usually on the first floor – and below want to suck air into the house. The chimney draws air out. It’s only natural. Now they are making houses so tight that it is difficult for this process.
A tight house would be one that has minimal airflow in the house. If you draw a sketch of the house and the wind hits it, you can see where the oxygen enters the house through all the different routes. Through the window panes, through the lack of insulation, through various cracks and crevices. Because the houses are so narrow, the air cannot get in and the house is starving for oxygen so it gets to where it can get in. The easiest place to pull is …
Q: The big hole that goes out?
ON: Yes. If you put your hand in the fireplace and cold air comes in, the house is currently using it to take in air.
Q: How long did it take you to develop these anecdotes to explain these processes to a layman like me?
ON: They just come up with straw analogies (laughs) or breathe, we all breathe. We breathe in and out, and the house must do the same. It takes a while to understand these things. We hold congresses every year. We firmly believe in development. One of the most important things in our business, if not the most important, is the development of our people. When we develop leaders, everyone gets better. Go through everything that has to do with our entire department …
Q: Yes, your different certifications are very evident on your website. How big is your company?
ON: We now have four trucks and very personal, great office staff who really are our backbone for customer service. Sometimes I miss being in the field a lot. I can talk to the technicians a lot and answer any questions they have.
Q: Do you have a fireplace or a gas fireplace in your personal home?
ON: Yes, I have a wood-burning fireplace.
Q: So let’s say it’s a bleak day. What is the best way to enjoy your fireplace for you?
ON: The best thing I like to do, I love waking up early before everyone else, lighting the fire and having some time in front of the fireplace. Have my coffee, read something. This is my favorite time. I have three children. I love her to death, but it’s non-stop. My wife is great. She likes to go to bed early and I like to stay up late. I like to wake up early and she falls asleep.
Q: So you need a quiet moment.