Written by Vicki Holder
“I’ve helped deliver a calf during a rural call-out; driven off with random dogs and cats who have climbed into the back of my van while I’ve been working; saved countless baby birds; got the fright of my life when I pulled a baby’s arm from a chimney though it turned out to be a doll dressed in glittery material a magpie had found; been chased by bees and stung by wasps. Not to mention attacks by dogs, cats and the odd pot belly pig.”
Life as a chimney sweep is clearly never dull. There’s a real social aspect to the job, says Ciaran. “It’s hugely satisfying to know you’re helping people stay safe and warm - cheesy but true! Every day brings variety and a new challenge. It's physical and mentally challenging and keeps me on my toes. I get to meet lovely people every day. They offer me fruit; limes for tarts and cook me dinner.”
"One little boy stayed home from school, when he heard the chimney sweep was visiting, to find out how Santa comes down."
The job has also earned him a reputation as one of the top tradespeople in New Zealand. At any one time, there are at least half a dozen reputable chimney sweep companies in Auckland.
Complete Chimney Care stands out from the crowd. Scroll through New Zealand’s largest user referral website NoCowboys and you’ll discover an extraordinary number of positive ratings on his listing. The company beat 17,000 other rated businesses to become NoCowboys Business of the Year in 2013 and with a 98% approval rate from 857 listings, it’s since been Business of the Month many times - which clearly proves, there are diamonds to be found in coal dust if you look.
Ciaran, who left Ireland 5 years ago, established Complete Chimney Care in 2012 with his partner Kimberly Muncaster, who worked for animal welfare charities previously. They met when Kimberly from England popped over to Ireland for a holiday with a friend. Several years later, they decided to head to New Zealand together. “It’s much like Ireland,” says Ciaran, “just as green but doesn’t rain as much.”
The enterprising duo saw a niche for a comprehensive service for everything chimney-related, including cleaning, removing and rebuilding chimneys that are structurally unsafe and ready to fall. They also install wood-burning stoves. And, given Kimberly’s background, of course the business donates to the SPCA.
“I genuinely love my job. I go to work with a smile on my face. Nine times out of 10, I'm still smiling when I come home. "
People pick up on that, and appreciate the efforts we go to as a small, family-run business to return calls, turn up on time, and always be friendly and polite.”
Thankfully, the practice of sending small children up chimneys has died out, he says. “Other than that, the process of cleaning chimneys hasn’t changed much at all. It can still be dangerous and dirty. But we use harnesses, scaffolding and edge protection if we need to.” Due to new WorkSafe regulations Ciaran and his team now clean most chimneys from the bottom up. Drop sheets are used to cover the area in front of the fire, and he uses old style rods and brushes to remove soot or blockages to clean the chimney or flue.
There's a long list of attributes that make a chimney sweep great, says Ciaran, “But in my opinion, the most important is having a thorough and meticulous approach to the job and remembering people's safety comes first.” Plus having the support of a good business partner. Kimberley adds: “We manage to tick all the boxes because we have the right infrastructure behind us. It’s great working together.”
Most people fall into the job by accident or because they know someone else in the trade. “You learn on the job and are trained by someone with experience. There's no formal qualification in New Zealand to become a chimney sweep. To work at heights, however, you do need a NZQA qualification and to install wood-burning stoves you need to complete the NZHHA (New Zealand Home Heating Association) Installer course.”
For those contemplating employing a chimney sweep is - choose carefully. “Think twice about buying a cheap deal. Anyone can buy a set of rods and brushes and call themselves a chimney sweep. As the saying goes: if you pay peanuts you’ll get monkeys.”
Insurance companies won't pay out on claims caused by chimney fires unless you've had your chimney swept and inspected on an annual basis by a professional and verified chimney company.
Burn dry, seasoned firewood only. Avoid wood with a high gum content as this will coat the inside of your chimney or flue with a sticky resin which is difficult (often impossible) to remove with a brush. The same applies to pine cones.