Where there's smoke, there's Ken

Forecasts of snow and a cold winter are good business for some.

Abel & Prestige Chimney Cleaning's services are booked solid for the next month and owner Ken Thompson hasn't stopped for lunch since February.

Ken and Trish Thompson bought the business in June 2009, after selling their previous business, Waimak Rubbish Bins, after that business grew too big.

Just a few months later they bought the chimney cleaning business. Trish manages the bookings, and Ken cleans the chimneys.

Ken leaves their home in Cust at about 6.30am and gets home after dark.

"But he has to be busy," Trish said. "He enjoys it."

Ken admits he is a bit of a hard case.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment guidelines on best practice around ladder safety and working at height had seen some other local chimney cleaning businesses close up shop recently, the couple said.

However, Ken has the advantage of a set of old-fashioned brushes, now hard to come by, which means he can clean chimneys from below.

He also used scaffolding, or a cherry picker if necessary.

The business typically has a rush of requests for chimney sweeping right at the start of winter.

The couple had tried to encourage clients to book their services earlier in the year but it seemed to be human nature to leave it until winter.

"People don't think about their chimney until they want to use their fire," Trish said.

If you opened the door of the fire and smoke started pouring out that would be a good sign that it needed to be cleaned.

If you don't have a clean chimney and the soot is allowed to build up there is a risk it could lead to a chimney fire.

Insurer IAG head of corporate affairs Craig Dowling said the insurer's policies did not specifically require homeowners to have their chimneys swept every year, but the insurer recommended homeowners do regular safety checks around the home, which could include having the chimney swept. Not doing so would not necessarily invalidate an insurance policy - it would depend on the circumstances.

A spokeswoman for AA Insurance said the insurer's home insurance policies did not specify how often chimneys should be cleaned but conditions did include keeping the home properly maintained, repaired and kept in good order.

It's unlikely the need for a chimney cleaning service will ever disappear completely, despite clean air regulations and restrictions around the use of log burners in Christchurch, Trish said.

"We can't see it ever happening. In town it will drop back because of heatpumps, but a lot of people like a fire, they like to see the flames.

"It'll never disappear in the country."

Heavy snowfalls could disrupt power supplies in the country and those in rural areas relied on their fires, she said. "Last year we cooked on ours, we heated our water - we relied on it totally."

"A heatpump is no use to you without power."

Ken said one dairy farmer client alone had three farms, with 22 chimneys altogether, which takes Ken about a day and a half to clean. The business increased prices for the first time this year due to the rising cost of fuel.

Typically a chimney cleaning costs about $70.

Ken turns 65 this year but Trish knows he won't retire any time soon.

"It's always a busy life."

The Press