Pathfinder spoke to Tony Lavin in our March issue of the magazine to find out about the art of being a chimney sweep and to discuss his business for sale…

Tell us a little background to the company? 

TL Chimney Sweep Services was founded in March 2012 and since that time has been based at Red House, Stow Park in Lincoln. 

The business is currently run on a ‘sole trader’ basis and the only employee is myself. 

The business offers domestic and commercial chimney sweeping services within a 30-mile radius of the operating base in Stow Park.

From initial setup in 2012 with no customers, the business now carries out approximately 1100 sweeps per year. Approximately 80% – 90% of those sweeps are repeat customers.

Prior to setting up the business in 2012 a lot of research was done to ascertain the best pathway for training and accreditation for a new sweep and a new sweeping company.

The chosen pathway was with ‘The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps’ who offered initial training, continued professional development courses and ongoing support for the member and the member’s business. Once trained, the sweep is classed as a ‘Registered Sweep’ and can issue insurance industry recognised ‘Guild of Master Chimney Sweep’ sweeping certificates.

The business trades on being a Guild member and using their logos and registered sweep accreditation. 

It is this that attracts many customers to contact us to book sweeps, knowing that we are accredited by the Guild and that they can go to the Guild in the event of any complaints or disputes. The Guild has a ‘Find a Sweep’ website that is searchable by post code and lists all the Guild sweeps within the area searched. The ‘Find a Sweep’ website generates a reasonable amount of business.

I am also an HETAS Approved Chimney Sweep. This accreditation also generates quite a bit of business from private customers but more so from commercial customers, especially property agents and the like as it is a known and respected qualification.

The company has a 68 plate Vauxhall Vivaro L2 H1 van which is fully racked out to house the sweeping equipment and is also sign-written. It has currently done in the region of 37,000 miles (February 2022). It is fitted with a full ‘Van Guard’ roof rack and ‘Van Guard’ pipe carrier. The van is currently on a PCP lease which ends on 05/10/22 but the lease can be bought out earlier than that if required. The current estimated second-hand value of the van is in the region of £17,000 (Parkers online vehicle valuation website February 2022).

We have invested heavily in sweeping equipment and have a full range of both manual and power sweeping rods, drill driver, vacuum cleaners, dust sheets, foam blocks, CCTV camera and sweeping brushes/heads. If all the equipment was to be bought new today the approximate cost would be £12,450. There are approximately £5100 worth of sweeping rods, 2 Vacuum Cleaners that cost over £1900 and numerous sweeping brushes, sweeping heads, cameras and associated sweeping equipment. A full itemised list of equipment is available on request.”

Why be a chimney sweep? 

“The role of a qualified and accredited chimney sweep is vital to the safety of properties and their occupants that use solid fuel fires and appliances or gas and oil appliances. It is recommended that all appliances are swept at least annually and, depending on the type and amount of fuel burnt, up to four times per year. As a qualified, registered chimney sweep you have the knowledge to diagnose issues that customers are having with their appliances and know how to solve them. You also have an in-depth knowledge of building regulations relating to the safe installation of appliances which enables you to recognise and report dangerous installations. Many insurance companies now require households who have fires or stoves to have their chimneys swept at least annually to comply with terms of the insurance policy and require a certificate from a qualified sweep.

In recent times the demand for chimney sweeps has grown significantly as many people have opened up old fireplaces and the like and had stoves installed. The recent price rises in gas and oil is also increasing the use of open fires and stoves.

The role of a self-employed chimney sweep is very varied and also very rewarding both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction with the job done. You are your own boss and can organise your work around your family and other commitments and carry out the work at a time to suit both you and your customers.

Purchasing an established chimney sweep business means that the work will predominantly come to you as the vast majority of customers are repeat customers who come back year after year.

In the last 12 -18 months four local sweeps have retired/left the industry and many of their customers have moved to me and other locally established sweeps. Lincolnshire has many chimneys and relatively few qualified sweeps to service them. In the really busy time of year from August through to February, customers can often wait up to eight weeks for a chimney sweep booking.”

What skills do you think military service leavers can bring to the business and the role? 

Prior to setting up the business I was a Police Officer for 30 years. I retired at fifty years of age and still being fit and healthy, decided that I still wanted to work but do something completely different. My police service taught self-discipline, respect for others, a high work ethic and a desire to succeed at whatever role I was doing. The military is, in my opinion, very similar to the Police Service in terms of ethics and also that many leavers are still physically fit and looking for a new challenge out on ‘Civvy Street’. 

It is an opportunity to develop new skills and specialisms and to put them into use keeping the public and their property safe. Although the majority of sweeps are one-man bands or small companies there is great comradery amongst them and there are various forums, associations, trade shows and the like where support and advice can be obtained when required.

Depending on what specialist skills the military leaver has gained, there is potential for generating additional income by registering as an HETAS Dry Appliance Installer and install stoves and chimney liners, there is also work available for anyone wishing to fit bird guards or cowls, carry out chimney repairs or replace pots and repair stoves and fires. By attending customers’ premises to carry out a sweep you identify problems such as broken pots, stacks that require rebuilding/repointing and the like and appliances that need repair or replacement parts. You are in a prime position to offer to quote for the required work if this is something that you undertake; currently the business only carries out minor repairs such as replacing fire bricks and stove door ropes so there is the potential for generating more income if you offer these additional services.”

What qualifications do you need to become a Chimney Sweep? 

“The Chimney Sweep industry in the United Kingdom is presently unregulated and anyone can setup and trade as a chimney sweep. From the outset, I decided that it was important to get the best training and highest accreditation possible as a chimney sweep.

Prior to setting up the business in 2012 a lot of research was done to ascertain the best pathway for training and accreditation for a new sweep and a new sweeping company.

The chosen pathway was with ‘The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps’ who offered initial training, continued professional development courses and ongoing support for the member and the member’s business. Once trained, the sweep is classed as a ‘Registered Sweep’ and can issue insurance industry recognised ‘Guild of Master Chimney Sweep’ sweeping certificates.

HETAS are one of the governing bodies for the solid fuel industry and offer training and accreditation for solid fuel installers and chimney sweeps. Amongst many others, HETAS offer two courses, the H003 Installer’s Course and the H009 Service and Maintenance Course. Passing either of these courses qualifies the holder to register as an ‘HETAS Approved Chimney Sweep’. I hold the H003 qualification and is an HETAS Approved Chimney Sweep.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) oversees an NVQ Level 2 OSAT Qualification in chimney sweeping. This is a workplace-based assessment for established sweeps and entitles the holder to gain a ‘Skilled Worker CSCS Card’ to enter commercial work sites to work as a Chimney Sweep. I also hold this qualification.”

Anything else you’d like to add? 

“As The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps is an integral part of the current business it is recommended that it would be in the purchaser’s interest to train and become accredited with The Guild in order to continue using the current sweeping certificates, adverts and van logos. The initial Guild course is four days in length and run at various locations around the country a few times per year. The next available course is in Norfolk from the 23rd of May 2022 to the 26th of May 2022. There is also one more course in 2022 being run in Blackpool from the 20th of June 2022 to the 23rd of June 2022. The cost of the course is £1500-00 including VAT. Accommodation is not included in the cost of the course so will be an additional cost in addition to the course fees.

Once the course has been undertaken and passed, The Guild require that you accompany two Guild Sweep Trainers for a minimum of four days in total as they carry out their work. Once you feel that you are fully up to speed with sweeping there is a final assessment done in one day to sign you off and accredit you as a Guild Sweep. The cost of this is £399-00 including VAT and also includes one year’s Guild membership, a pack of Guild paperwork, van stickers and the like.

Another important accreditation is the HETAS Approved Sweep. Customers, especially property management agents, look for a HETAS Approved Sweep to carry out work for them in preference to a sweep who is not HETAS Approved. To gain this qualification you need to be a registered member of The Guild or another recognised sweeping association or have an NVQ in plumbing/heating. Passing this course also allows you to register with HETAS as an Approved Dry Appliance Installer who can sign off their own installations. This course costs £715-00 + VAT, not including accommodation.

If the recommendations regarding Guild and HETAS training are taken on board it would be sometime before the purchaser would be in a position to be a qualified and accredited Guild Sweep and an HETAS Approved Sweep. Both of these qualifications are currently relied upon to be able to operate the business, retain the Guild and HETAS logos on signs and paperwork and issue the sweeping certificates. 

I would be prepared to offer training and advice to the new purchaser prior to the courses and work alongside them for as long as is required. A civilian work attachment would be welcomed for any prospective purchaser to ‘try before they buy’. Tony intends to retain both Guild and HETAS membership that TL Chimney Sweep Services can operate under until such time as the new owner is fully accredited and qualified to use their own qualifications and accreditation. This is open to negotiation as to how this could be done in practical and financial terms to suit both parties.

I have had the business valued by an independent business expert. The valuation would include the company van, sweeping rods, brushes and associated sweeping kit, website, email address, mobile phone number, landline phone number and electronic ‘Digital Sweep’ database which contains all customer contact details and generates electronic email reminders to customers whose chimneys are due for resweeping. Other than the training and accreditation recommended above, this would be all that a purchaser would require for a seamless takeover of the business.

The annual turnover is currently circa £61,000.” 

If you are interested in the first instance in the purchase of the business or chimney sweeping as a second career then contact Tony at: info@chimneysweeplincolnshire.co.uk

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