He's not exactly the storybook character Bert, ready to lead Mary Poppins' charges up a smoke stairway to the stars.
But Brian Miller,a partner in Miller's Chimney Sweep of Westminster, will clean your flue just as thoroughly.
A full-time sweep for the past five years, Miller said the familybusiness was started when his brother was out of work 13 years ago.
"Wayne worked at the Caterpillar plant in Dallastown, Pa., and when they went on strike, he had no job," Miller said. "So, he started the family business."
Miller will start cleaning a chimney, in thiscase Mike and Diane Serio's, by making sure it needs to be swept.
Unlike many chimneys, which have terra cotta flue liners, the Serioshave a stainless steel one; they replaced the terra cotta liner whenit cracked after a chimney fire.
With a small hand mirror, Millerdiverts the sunlight down the flue, looking to see how much creosotehas built up inside the chimney. On cloudy days, he uses a strong spotlight.
Creosote, or the residue left from burning wood, can be found in three degrees inside a chimney, Miller said.
First-degree creosote is like a powder, and second-degree is the crusty stage, he said.
"Third-degree creosote, or glazing, is when it's hard, blackand shiny and smells rather strong," Miller said. "That's the type that can catch fire."
The residue, which ignites at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, needs to be cleaned out regularly. Gases leaving a fireplaceor wood stove normally range in temperature from 300 degrees to 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We suggest that a person with a wood-burning stove get it cleaned once a year," Miller said. "Those with open fireplaces are usually only weekend burners, so we suggest they get it cleaned once a year if they burn a cord of wood or more in a season.
"Otherwise, they can probably wait another year."
Homeowners who burn gas never need to get their chimneys cleaned, as long as they have a cap over the opening, Miller said.
"Birds like gas and will get down in there and build nests," he said.
After brushing creosote off the outside of the flue, Miller nimbly jumps to the top of the chimney. He then stands over the flue, adding several three-foot lengths of rod and pushing the brush down the chimney until he reaches the bottom.
Finally, after scraping all the glaze to the bottom, Miller and a helper shovel and vacuum out the ashes.
"With a (stainless steel) liner, it takes about a half an hour to clean," he said. "Others, with the clay liner, take longer."
When cleaning chimneys without a metal liner, the sweep also must come through the fireplace side and sweep the smoke shelf behind the damper, Miller said.
"You can find all kinds of things back there," he said. "Birds' nests oranimals, like raccoons. Luckily, I've never found snakes."
In homes that have a wood stove inserted in the fireplace, sweeps must pullout the stove to clean behind it properly, Miller said.
"We run into all different kinds of things," he said. "We've even done churches."
While cleaning out the Serios' stove, Miller noticed a buildupof creosote on the doors.
"I had some really bad starter wood this year," Diane Serio said. "It was probably green."
Homeowners never should burn green wood, Miller said.
"It's harder to burn and it's not as hot," he said. "There's more creosote because of the moisture content. You always want to burn real dry wood."
Miller charges $57.95 for an open fireplace and $67.95 for a wood stove inserted into the chimney. The extra $10 is for pulling the stove out and putting it back to clean behind it.
"That price includes an inspection to make sure everything is safe," Miller said. "I look for a cracked flue liner, missing mortar joints and to make sure the crown is not cracked."
In houses with a cracked liner, creosote might seep through the holes and down into the bricks of the chimney, Miller said. Ifit catches fire, the flames could ignite the rest of the house.
"That's the way some people's houses burn down," he said.
Charges for other sweeps in Carroll include:
* Baumgardner's in Westminsterwill give an estimate with prices beginning at $70. Charges are based on such items as whether the homeowner has a wood stove or whether the chimney will require rotary cleaning.
* Bob's Chimney Sweep inUnion Bridge charges $45 for a straight chimney, $50 for ones with afireplace, $55 for a free-standing wood stove and $60 for a stove inserted into the chimney.
* The Carroll County Chimney Sweep in Westminster's prices are $49 for a fireplace or a free-standing wood stove and $59 for a stove inserted into the chimney.
* Fire Safe Chimney in Westminster charges $45 for a fireplace or a free-standing wood stove and $55 for a stove inserted into the chimney.
It's time for a clean sweep