Visions of Mary Poppins and Bert, the chimney sweep, come to mind when you think about Steven Carter. He is a real-life, present-day chimney sweep of the highest order. In fact, he's called a Master Sweep in the old English tradition, and he's swept more than 40,000 chimneys during his career. Chim Chim Cheree indeed.
Carter is founder of Chimney Sweeps, Inc. He started the company in 1985, and is based in Lakeside, although the company services chimneys across the county, including La Jolla. He has more than 30,000 customers. His philosophy is simple: "Your chimney is part of your house. If the chimney goes, so goes the house. We take care of your chimney thus we take care of your home."
Despite the overwhelming success of the business, Carter fell into the profession quite by chance. "I had recently come off the road as a touring musician and found myself looking for my next steady gig when I stumbled across a 'help wanted' ad in the paper," he explains. "Being originally from England — where a healthy dose of luck and folklore surround the profession of a chimney sweep — I was immediately attracted to the ad so simply written as 'Chimney Sweep Needed.' The next week found me donned head to foot in black, with coat tails and a top hat."
Chimney sweeping is one of those rare professions that hasn't really changed much in terms of the old-world traditions dating back to England in the 1900s. Carter describes it tidily: "You seal off the chimney from the bottom with tarps and plastic. Then at the top, you use the right-sized brush attached to poles to brush the chimney from top to bottom several times. With the exception of a high-powered vacuum, it's all done about the same."
Running the business is definitely a family affair. Carter's wife, Valerie, takes care of the finances. His sister, Georgia, answers the phone. His son, Julian, is in charge of the office. And his son, Ariel, does special installations and general inspections. Even the voice on the answering machine is his mother's, with a British accent, of course.
After more than 30 years in the business, Carter has learned a lesson or two about success. To him, it comes with a responsibility to give back to the community in which you serve. In his case, that's all of San Diego County. "Giving back is a huge reason we do what we do — and feeling like all our hard work doesn't just make a difference in our lives but also in the lives of those around us — is of the utmost importance to everyone over here at Chimney Sweeps, Inc."
The company hosts a portion of the annual Spirit of Christmas event in Lakeside every year. They support local schools by helping to raise funds for new instruments, Lakeside pageants or the marching band. On top of that, a large portion of the company's profits go to national charities including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Truth about Drugs campaign. Coming from a musical background, Carter also supports Musicians without Borders, as well as the San Diego Arts Foundation. The Burn Institute is also near and dear to his heart, since one of his sons is a former firefighter.
The company is part of the National Chimney Sweep Guild and complies with the regulations of the Fire Department and the National Fire Protection Association. Those groups advise consumers to have chimneys inspected once a year to check for deposits, building faults and deterioration. And that inspection should include the roof.
As a final bit of wisdom, Carter has five tips on keeping your fireplace safe:
1) Don't use your fireplace more than five hours. It's not a furnace.
2) Keep the glass open to allow air to be drawn up to cool the chimney, but keep the screen closed to avoid flying sparks.
3) Never leave a fire unattended with children in the house.
4) Open a window to prevent the room from becoming smoky. The air coming through the window will go up the chimney.
5) The best times to have your chimney inspected are spring, summer and early fall. Book early.
For more information about Chimney Sweeps, Inc. in San Diego County, call (619) 593-4020 and visit chimneysweepsinc.com
— Business Spotlight features commercial enterprises that support La Jolla Light.