September 30, 2009
Setting her sights high among ashes and soot
Dryden chimney sweep says she’s proud of the success she’s had since starting out in the 1980s
DRYDEN — Chimney sweep Betsy Cleveland has found everything from squirrel nests to women’s underwear in chimneys she cleans throughout Cortland and Tompkins counties.
Cleveland loves her job, which she says has afforded her some of the most spectacular and colorful views of the area from rooftops during the fall.
“It’s fun and it’s beautiful. I’ve enjoyed owning my own business and I am very proud of it after all these years,” said Cleveland, who started the chimney sweep service in 1980 and expanded to window washing in 1989 and housecleaning in 1994.
Cleveland has 14 employees and brings two helpers with her on her chimney cleaning jobs.
This is the most popular time of year for chimneys to be cleaned, Cleveland said, adding they should be cleaned at least once, if not twice, annually.
Cleveland owns traditional chimney sweep attire that dates back to the late 1800s in England, where chimney sweeps were a civil servant position paid for by the state. They were issued warm wool coats, top hats and tails and marched in funeral processions, said Cleveland.
Chimney sweeps are considered a symbol of luck in some parts of the world, she said. They can be found at weddings in Germany and Scotland.
Cleveland has high regard for a job that often involves very dirty work.
She starts a job by laying a tarp on the fireplace and readying a triple-filter vacuum that assures the house is not polluted with residual soot.
She will clean the inside of the fire box, where the actual fire is set, and up into the chimney from below with a brush.
If she cannot clean everything from below, Cleveland climbs a ladder to the top of the house where she carefully positions herself next to a chimney and begins her work.
Cleveland will lower a brush into the chimney by using a flexible fiberglass extension rod. She will brush clean the sides of the interior, known as the flue.
What Cleveland is cleaning off is the highly flammable substance called creosote that is created when wood is burned. Cleveland said since wood is composed of grains which contain sugar, when the wood is burned the sugar distills, creating wood methanol, which is flammable.
The methanol combines with the soot that is the byproduct of burning wood. The soot and methanol combination is the sticky creosote that adheres to the inside of the chimney and must be cleaned out annually due to its flammable nature, Cleveland said.
For airtight wood burning stoves, Cleveland recommends a cleaning twice a year. A fireplace must be cleaned at least once annually as should coal stoves, and oil stoves should be cleaned every five years.
For wood stoves and fireplaces, Cleveland recommends that people dry their wood at least a year and use oak, ash, maple or cherry, no pine or soft woods.
Cleveland said she always wanted to own her own business and loves the area. She services many fraternity houses at Cornell University (where the woman’s underwear was found) and residences in Ithaca. She expanded to Cortland five years ago after moving to Dryden.
“I love Cortland. It’s a really nice community,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland said she is fine with working at heights that are sometimes equal to six stories, such as fraternity houses with high roofs.
“You have to be comfortable and respect the height,” she said.
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