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Chimney sweep? It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it...

For the latest in our Odd Jobs series we talked to chimney sweep Karl Walsh of

duckvan Youtube Youtube

WHEN YOU THINK chimney sweep, you might think of a sooty-faced Victorian gent with an enormous brush over one shoulder, a flat cap on his head and a general jaunty air.

Or maybe that’s just us. If truth be told though, it’s not a profession too many of us would know a great deal about.

It turns out that modern-day sweeping is no more a stranger to the technological revolution than most anything else.

“Oh it’s extremely far removed from that idea of an age-old sweep,” Karl Walsh, owner of, tells

The industry has revolutionised itself over the last five years. Nowadays the actual cleaning itself is done via power sweeping. That’s with rods that spin and clean mechanically.

41-year-old Karl, Ashford Co Wicklow born but now based in Lucan, came to the chimney-cleaning business after a stint as a gardener.

It was chance really, I’d been a gardener for a number of years, then one day I had a client who was having trouble finding someone who could sweep her chimney. I took my time over it, and then started to think about whether I could do it professionally.
I’ve been doing it now for 8 or 9 years, and the business has been in place for the last 6 or 7.

Karl Walsh Photo Karl Walsh

DublinChimneySweep is fully certified by both the Chimney Safety Institute of America and the Chimney Sweep Association of Ireland, although Karl suggests that the latter is “a little toothless” when it comes to the actual industry itself.

“I’d say there’s maybe 20 certified sweeps in Ireland at most, with loads of uncertified ones. There’s no onus on anyone to be certified,” he says.

Karl says he has no issue with uncertified sweeps.

A lot of guys doing it are good sweeps, I have no problem with uncertified guys, although it’s like hiring a solicitor without a law degree, you don’t know what you’re going to get.

When it comes to the day-to-day of the business, everything now relies on technology, from the business’ booking and reporting systems to the (extremely cool, at least to’s untrained eye) flexible CCTV cameras the sweeps use to survey a chimney from bottom to top.

I’d say 50 or 60% of the job is sweeping itself, servicing chimneys. On top of that we do an awful lot of surveying. Then there’s applying chimney cowls (caps basically, many different kinds, important for house-insulation), minor repairs, that kind of thing.


Normally DublinChimneySweep employ two people but that stretches to four in peak season, ie wintertime.

This is a really seasonal business, and coming into winter everyone wants their chimney in good nick. It’s the whole Irish mentality, “we have to have the chimney done for Christmas”, that kind of thing.

When it comes to making the business work it seems staying-power is key.

“It’s like anything else, perseverance is everything. Like any business we’ve had ups and downs, but things are certainly on the up,” says Karl.

And not just because Ireland is coming out of recession.

A lot of stoves have gone into houses now because they’re so economical. So a lot of them have been in for three or four years and they’re either due or overdue maintenance.
We’re going to more building sites now than ever before, while every house with a skip outside it has a chimney that needs to be looked at.

Clemo The Chimney Sweep / YouTube

So, what are two things about a chimney that a layman could never hope to know about?

Well, there’s syphonage, that’s where you have an upstairs and a downstairs fireplace, where the downstairs is pulling air from above, with the only exhaust being the upstairs chimney which can lead to smoke in the upstairs room, that’s quite common.
And chimney tar – which feeds from wood fuel with a high moisture content, more than 15 or 20% – that condenses on a chimney and can be a flashpoint for a chimney fire if it ignites. That’s where most such fires come from, the combustible build up within.

There’s a lot more to this profession than you might think.

Finally, the question on everyone’s lips – whose job is it to clean the Poolbeg towers in Dublin?

“I’d imagine the people who operate and constructed them would take care of that. It would probably be a little outside our remit.

Odd Job: Chimney Sweep

What does it pay? €50 for a regular chimney sweep, on a normal day a sweep would expect to run through five or six of those. Other services tend to cost more.

How many are there? Probably only 20 or so nationwide that are certified, many more uncertified

What qualifications/experience do you need? No formal qualification required but as Karl says “when you don’t know what you’re getting you don’t know what you’re getting”

Do you know someone with an unusual occupation for our Odd Jobs series? Email the author below.

Read: What does it take to become a children’s entertainer? We asked one to find out

Read: Is the food in those perfectly sculpted ads fake? We asked an expert

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