In late 2017, the CSIA, in cooperation with the National Chimney Sweep Guild, sent out a survey (via email and via Sweeping magazine) to the chimney and venting industry at-large to take the temperature of the industry as it relates to topics that concern both organizations.
Who Did We Send it to?
The survey was sent to every email address in both organizations’s database and ran in the “progress” issue of Sweeping magazine, the largest distributed edition of the year. This includes members/nonmembers of the NCSG, certified and non-certified technicians, owners/operators of chimney and venting businesses, operations and support staffs at those companies, and suppliers or related companies in the industry. The last survey was conducted by an outside firm in 2012.
Survey Respondents – Most respondents were owner/operators of companies and a strong majority were either CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps or Dryer Exhaust Technicians and NCSG members. We received helpful insight from the industry, despite not getting deep organizational input from individual technicians or from non-certified/non-member companies. The response rate exceeded the response rate from 2012’s survey.
- 75% of respondents are owner/operator of their sweep business (85% in the 2012 survey).
- Nearly 15% are technicians.
- Nearly 10% work for a supplier company.
- Less than 5% were either C-DET only or support staff for a chimney/venting business.
The geography was not as reflective of historical trends of the industry.
Top 5: 7.8% from both California and Illinois. 7% from Pennsylvania. New Jersey and Tennessee at 6% of respondents.
43% of respondents have a total (self-included) of 1-2 employees (down from 59% in 2012). 30% have 6 or more employees. The industry is trending towards growing companies.
Number of active sweeps as employees by company
41% are a single technician operation. 36% are a three technician or more operation.
Owner’s past experience:
Over 70% worked outside the industry; 30% worked part or full-time for another chimney/venting company.
87% of respondents have or have been NCSG members; 64% of respondents are currently members. 13% of respondents have never been members.
Length of membership
47% of respondents have been NCSG members for 10 years or more. 14% of respondents have been members between 5 and 10 years. 7% have been members less than 5 years, but more than 2 years. 9% have been members less than 2 years.
Reasons for not being a member
Cost 51.85%; Lack of benefits 25.93%; Other 55.56%
(multiple selections were allowed, total exceed 100%).
66% of respondents have maintained consistent membership. 25% of respondents lapsed at some points, and 9% operated for some time before deciding to join.
Business for respondents has increased since the 2012 survey.
31% operate in the $100-249,999 range, 18% report gross earnings of $1,000,000 or more, Nearly 4% of respondents reported over $2 million. Just over 7% reported gross revenue of $50,000 or less. By comparison, 5 years ago, just 6% had revenue over $1 million, and 9% had revenue less than $50,000.
Budget expenses (in thousands)
The top 3 costs for respondents are labor, business insurance, and auto equipment purchases and maintenance. Labor, far and away, was the biggest expense.
How many trucks?
42% of respondents report as a “one truck” operation; 58% are a two or more. 12% report being a six or more truck operation. The bulk (78%) of respondents fell between a one, two, or three truck operation.
Jobs per year
66% of respondents perform 500 or more jobs per year. 32% perform over 1,000 jobs. 3% perform 50-99 jobs per year.
Respondents perform a wide range of services. While virtually all do a cleaning, only 73% of them offer an inspection only as a service. Waterproofing, relining, repairs, installs are standard services offered by roughly 75% of respondents. Just under 61% of owner/operator respondents offer dryer vent cleaning
Chimney flue inspection scans
The division between those that use the inspection cameras to find additional business and those that see the camera as an add-on service remains pretty in-tact. 40% use it on every flue possible (additional 7% use it only on masonry) while 38% charge an additional fee. 16% do no use an inspection camera on every inspection.
Type of jobs as percentage of business
As expected, sweeping and inspection are most of the chimney and venting business, as respondents say that 46% of their jobs are a sweep. 17% of jobs are relining or resurfacing. Masonry repair, appliance install and inspection only are roughly 12% of jobs each, while waterproofing and dryer vents are 5 and 6% respectively.
44% of customers are repeats. Referral sources vary from friends and neighbors (24%) to CSIA/NCSG site (4%). 31% of customers are reported as non-referral. It is unknown if respondents track customer sources or settle for “internet” as the source versus a specific site (Google, CSIA, etc).
Top 3 reasons for slowing growth
Nearly 64% of respondents make a decision to either maintain their current size or grow slowly as a reason for slower growth. 48% report a lack of qualified staff to grow their business (which is an opportunity for CSIA to continue industry education and growth). Employee costs (labor, insurance, etc) is another top reason for slower growth.
Reinforcing the previous response, 39% cite hiring as a top challenge for their business. Nearly 20% cite office operations as a challenge, while 12% cite marketing as a challenge.
Top 3 concerns over next 5 yrs
Nearly 50% are looking to retire while 50% are looking to grow.
Over the next five years, respondents ranked these three concerns as their top concerns:
- Improving profitability through better pricing and work practices 63.97%
- Adding more employees and equipment to grow my business 48.53%
- Finding an exit strategy that funds my retirement 45.59%
Changes to business in last 5 years
60% of respondents have decreased radio/tv/print as a business strategy. Similarly, nearly 60% have increased digital advertising. 47% have purchased large equipment (new truck, etc), while 33% have added new services.
Individual technician data
Owner/operators also completed this section as they are technicians as well.
Not tracked in 2012.
The industry, at least in this survey, has slipped in the 20’s category, as there were only 7% versus just over 20% in 2012. Every other category shifted ten years due to the roughly ten years since the last survey. In 2012, roughly 35% were in their fifties, now there are 30% while the sixties went from 15% in 2012 to 22% in 2018. While this survey tracked along with the 2012 findings in this category, both surveys were owner/operator heavy and we still do not have a strong number for the younger technicians employed at chimney and venting companies. We know they are out there, as we see them in our in-person classes.
High School or equivalent 18.29%
Some College 41.14%
Graduated from college 26.86%
Some graduate school 5.14%
Completed graduate school 8.57%
Served in Military
Despite CSIA accepted GI Benefits, only 14% of respondents have served in the military. 86% have not.
Military – current
There 0% of respondents serving, even as Reserves.
CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep 95.56%
CSIA Certified Dryer Vent Tech 22.96%
CSIA Master Sweep 11.85%
NFI Gas Specialist 25.19%
NFI Woodburning Specialist 20.00%
NFI Pellet Specialist 14.81%
NFI Hearth Design Specialist 2.96%
1-3 years 29.10%
4-6 years 8.96%
7-10 years 11.94%
More than 10 years 42.54%
Never certified 2.99%
Certified but lapsed 4.48%
Reasons for not certified
Respondents that are not certified cited cost or necessity as the top two reasons.
Chimney Physics and Inspection and Report Writing are the most popular courses. 20% of respondents have never taken a CSIA course. 14% indicated they had taken courses online only. 58% of respondents did not plan to take an in-person course in 2018
Chimney Physics 35.54%
Inspection and Report Writing 32.53%
National Chimney Sweep Training School 24.70%
Installing and Troubleshooting Gas Hearth Appliances 20.48%
Masonry Repair for Chimney Professionals 18.07%
Advanced Masonry Repair for Chimney Professionals 6.63%
Roof System Specific Rope Access Training 3.61%
Other courses 32.53%
I have taken one or more of these courses online, but never in person 13.86%
I have never taken a CSIA course 19.88%
55% of non-technician or owner responses were suppliers. 28% were in education and training and 18% were other.
NCSG Supplier Member?
66.67% were members.