By: Richard Myers, The News Messenger
Thursday, November 10, 2005 9:42 AM PST
Aaron Zambrana's business is just starting to heat up.
"'Tis the season for chimney fires," said Zambrana, a Lincoln resident who owns A to Z Chimney Sweeping.
"When the first cold snap hits, a lot of people haven't really had their chimney's swept," he continued. "But it's so darn cold that they do it anyway, light a fire in the fireplace."
A to Z
Where: 3440 Rockwell Lane
Owner: Aaron Zambrana
Phone: (916) 408-2496
Web site: www.atozchimneys.com
Many chimney fires are caused by a build-up of creosote, said Lincoln Fire Department Operations Chief Mike Davis. Fires that do not burn very hot are more susceptible to a build-up of creosote, a byproduct of wood fires. As an example, Davis said pine does not burn as hot as oak, and could leave creosote residue.
"Some people try and clean their chimneys themselves," Davis said. "But that's not a good idea. They could crack the mortar or create cracks."
If that happens, a fire might spread horizontally into the attic, Davis said.
It all could have been prevented with a call to a licensed chimney sweep, such as Zambrana.
Zambrana said most residents in Lincoln might not need to have their chimneys cleaned every year.
"We don't live in a very cold climate, so a lot of people in Lincoln only use their fireplace occasionally," Zambrana said. "But they should have their chimney inspected once a year to make sure there are not any problems. Clean chimneys don't catch fire."
And Zambrana's company is well equipped to handle the inspection. He has invested $8,000 to buy a pair of special digital closed-circuit cameras called Chim Scans.
The cameras allow homeowners to see the inside of their chimney with their own eyes, thanks to a monitor that broadcasts the picture taken by the camera.
"This is especially important in the event a needed repair is discovered," Zambrana states on his company's Web site, www.atozchimneys.com . "The homeowner becomes educated, and knows first-hand the repairs are truly needed."
Education is a big part of Zambrana's business. He and his one employee, Chris Donovan, take time to tell residents about how to properly burn items in the fireplace with the systems they have.
Both Zambrana and Donovan are certified by the Chimney Sweep Institute of America.
But Zambrana didn't start out to get into the chimney sweeping business.
Ten years ago, Zambrana was going to college. He was looking for a business with flexible hours. Not wanting to take out a student loan while earning his business degree, Zambrana started a small window cleaning business to support himself and his wife.
While cleaning windows, he also started repairing broken screens. He eventually sold the window cleaning business. When he did that, though, he also forfeited his income during the winter months.
Needing an income during the winter, Zambrana contacted a friend in the window business. He asked him what he did during the winter, and his friend told him he was a chimney sweep. Zambrana immediately fell in love with the idea.
Eight years ago Zambrana formed his own chimney sweep business.
Typically, Zambrana spends a couple of hours at each chimney-sweeping job. First he visually inspects the chimney and then cleans it, using a brush. Finally, he inspects the chimney again, this time using the Chim Scan.
Most of his customers live near the Highway 65 corridor, including Lincoln, Rocklin and Roseville. He envisions expanding up the hill to Auburn, but only if he has the time, as his business is quite successful right around Lincoln.
Being a chimney sweep can be a dangerous job, Zambrana added. He has not had a serious accident because his company preaches safety. In fact, he turned down a job once because rains left a roof too slippery.
Zambrana also is making a name for himself in the industry. For the third year in a row, he hosted a workshop for chimney sweeps throughout California. More than 50 converged on a home in rural Lincoln for more than 12 hours.
The first part of the workshop dealt with inspecting the chimney and the second part dealt with the repairs, which included putting in a stainless steel sleeve with high-grade titanium to help keep the flue hot and the outside brick cool.
"Because we concentrate on making our customer's experience stress free, and provide the highest degree of peace of mind, our existing customers come back to use year after year," Zambrana states on his Web site. "We come highly referred. A-bout 60 percent of our appointments come from repeat customers or the friends they referred to us, which says a lot."
Whether or not local residents call Zambrana, they should still call a licensed chimney sweep.
"It's a good idea to clean out your chimney on a yearly basis," said the fire department's Davis.