Originally published in the September 2015 issue of Sweeping Magazine
Question: During the normal season, sometimes it seems like it can take forever to sweep a fireplace. During the busy season it can really throw off my schedule. Is there anything that we can do to speed the process up without compromising the quality of the service I provide?
by Mike Segerstrom
Maybe. A part of that is going to depend on our standard sweeping methods and the nature of the services we provide. If we are working with 1 person crews there simply might not be anything we can do without cutting into our services. Whether we are using one or two person crews, looking to manage time may require that we take a whole sale look at our SOPs and processes for sweeping.
We can look at the actual sweep, the methods we use. Do some industry research, talk to other sweeps and find out the methods they use. For example it may take less time to sweep the fireplace from the bottom with rotary equipment then it does to sweep the system from the top with rods and a brush. My personal experience has been, having used both rotary methods from the bottom and brushes from the top, that the rotary method is consistently a little bit faster.
Our soot and dust control methods may be something else to consider. Do we spend a lot of time setting up to control soot and dust? Does our current method cause us to have to take our time when brushing the flue and or smoke chamber? I, and many other contractors, will often use an exhaust fan mounted on the top of the chimney to assist with soot and dust control. This can be very helpful and also allow us to be more aggressive with heavier soot deposits and still perform the sweep in a timely manner. It's important that we are always aware of where the dust and soot will be going when it leaves the exhaust fan.
If we scan every flue that we service we can also look at how long this process takes. Is there video of scanning equipment that might be a little more versatile that would allow us to set up and break down for the scan a little bit quicker? Again, we can do some industry research and talk to other sweeps and get insight from them. It may be worth investing in new scanning equipment if it will make us more efficient.
We can also look that's our procedures for collecting inspection data, and also preparing our invoices. Do we have standardized forms that help us collect the data or are we writing down a lot of notes on every sweep? Do we hand write our invoices or do we type them up with a laptop or tablet? I can say from personal experience, that when I implemented using standardized forms for myself and my other sweeps to collect data, that was definitely quicker. I can also say that when I switched from handwriting my invoices to typing them up on a laptop and printing them out, this process also took less time. Once again, doing some industry research and talking to other industry professionals can help us get insight.
With 2 person crews there may be other ways to manage time a little better. This is something we definitely need to have SOPs for. We should make sure individuals know their role for each sweep, and that there shouldn't be any time when one person is doing nothing while they are watching the other person work.
The busy season can be tough in many ways, managing time and working efficiently is just one of the areas that needs worked on. These are just a few examples where we may be able to work more efficiently and manage our time better, without compromising the level of service that we perform. Each company is different, and we all know that every fireplace and chimney can be different. But if we have certain SOPs in place, and procedures are followed, it will relieve some stress, increase productivity, and maybe even help us manager time working both more quickly and efficiently.
One final thought: we should never rush through a job, even if we are behind because if we do, we may miss something, we may not perform our service as thoroughly, and this can be detrimental to our client, to our business, and to our bottom line.