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Clean sweep for Hans


FAMILY TRADE: Hans Steevens is carrying on the chimney sweeping trade that began with his grandfather in the Netherlands.

Grace Griffith

 

THERE were 12 chimney sweeps in one room during a recent family reunion North Wonthaggi’s Hans Steevens attended.

Carrying on the family trade has become a rarity in today’s age, but not for Hans’ family.

Hans’ grandfather Piet first began delivering soap to families in the Netherlands by horse and cart before transitioning into the sale of heating oil and coal.

Eventually this led to a livelihood in chimney sweeping – a career that would become a family tradition. 

“My father, also named Hans, his five brothers and six of my cousins have also stepped into the roll,” Hans said.

Growing up, Hans helped his father to clean out chimneys, but it wasn’t until three years ago that he turned to into a local business named Keepmetidee.

“I never thought I would do chimney sweeping. I went to university and got an accounting degree,” he said.

“I then went on to work in hospitality and retail – I opened up the KFC store in Leongatha – but I needed a change.”

While the stereotypical image of a soot-faced chimney sweep with his sweeping pole might come to mind, Hans doesn’t fit this bill. 

The local sweeper starts the cleaning process from the top of the chimney down and avoids using poles where possible.

“I have two tools: one is a rope with weight and brush that I drop down the chimney. The other is a fibreglass pole on a spool which I push up the inside of the chimney,” he said.

“I usually work from the roof but sometimes you have to work from the top and then the bottom due to bends in the flue.”

The Holland born chimney sweep said the perception foreigners have of ferocious Australian animals has proven true for him on a number of chimney cleanouts.

“Recently I found two possums in one massive flu. One of them was dead, so I pulled it out and then saw another live one was still in there,” he said.

“I pulled this possum out and it went berserk. Everything in Australia wants to kill you, it’s true! This possum bit me,” Hans laughed.

Australian animals weren’t the only shock when Hans moved to Australia in 1985.

“Aussies use so much slang and you don’t realise it,” he said.

“When we first moved here, my dad’s boss invited our family for ‘tea’ at 6pm.  Mum thought what an odd time for tea, so we ate before we went.

“When we got there they had dinner ready for us. We didn’t know tea meant dinner!

“There was also a time we got asked to ‘bring a plate’ to a barbeque and we rocked up with empty plates,” Hans chuckled.

But the chimney sweep couldn’t imagine being anywhere else now, saying Australia is the place to be.

Part of the appeal of his job is being able to travel and see the countryside, along with helping to keep homes and families safe.

Hans eagerly shared his tips to stay out of harm’s way while operating your wood heater this winter.

“It’s important to use good, dry wood, and let your wood dry for 12-18 months, depending on what type of wood it is, before you burn it,” he said.  

“Don’t burn rubbish and don’t burn pine wood: it can leave your chimney almost unusable by leaving a sticky residue on the inside of your chimney that is almost impossible to clean.”

Hans also warned coastal home owners not to burn drift wood, as tempting as it is, as salt from the wood will release deadly ammonia gas when burnt and will corrode chimneys over time.

“If you get a new fireplace, please get it installed by a licensed plumber. Don’t play with your family’s safety,” Hans said.

“If it’s your only form of heating, get it cleaned once a year before winter.

 “A well maintained heater will always be safer and more efficient.”

When asked if Hans thought the family trade would continue, he said he hoped so.

“I’ve got two sons. I’d like to teach them as a backup, for something they can fall back on,” he said.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=30109

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