WHITEMARSH — Conshohocken native Joe Ochal brings his scientific background to the chimney cleaning business he started in 2014. It’s even in the name — Chimney Scientists.
Chimney Scientists employs a team of 15 and serves customers in Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery counties, as well as parts of Delaware and Philadelphia counties. Services include chimney and fireplace repairs, inspections and cleanings and fireplace upgrades, such as gas inserts, wood stoves and bulk firewood.
Ochal learned about chimney cleaning working in his uncle Bob Smith’s showroom – Chester County Hearth and Home in Warwick Township, Chester County – and cleaning customers’ chimneys while he was away. ‘university. While pursuing his undergraduate studies, he acquired his certifications in the fireplace and chimney industry.
Ochal earned his associate’s degree in natural sciences from Montgomery County Community College, his bachelor’s degree in economics from Temple University, and his master’s degree in clinical microbiology from Thomas Jefferson University College of Biomedical Sciences.
Ochal said he needed to work to help pay for college, so he went back to doing something he knew: cleaning chimneys at night or before class. This time he worked for himself, launching his business in 2014.
“Sometimes I came to class ‘dirty’ and dirty. Some of my friends have jokingly called me the chimney scientist. I thought it was a good name,” he said.
After graduating, Ochal said he tried to work in the pharmaceutical industry and then in academia, but realized that neither was the domain for him.
“I really like interacting with people. I felt like sitting on a lab bench was a bit boring compared to interacting with people,” he said, making the business his full-time business and allowing him to apply their training in microbiology to a different field.
Ochal said he started looking for more information about chimneys.
“I started networking and being mentored by industry professionals who taught me a lot. Then I started hiring chimney consultants in different aspects of chimneys,” he said .
He said he learned that others in the industry aren’t deep enough.
“They do 6-10 free inspections a day and will come in and out of your home within 20 minutes,” he said.
He admitted he made a few mistakes early on – mistakes he corrected to provide homeowners with information about their fireplaces and chimneys.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHIMNEY
Ochal’s relationship with a potential client begins with a chimney inspection which takes approximately 60-90 minutes and involves placing a camera inside the chimney.
“We show the client the chimney itself,” he explained. “And we use illustrations and diagrams so the customer understands what they’re looking at.
“When we’re done, we have an 8-12 page inspection report with photos and diagrams. Then we sit down with the client and show them everything we have done. Chimney Scientists reviews the report and provides an on-site estimate. “Most importantly, you now have the education and knowledge to make decisions for yourself.
Ochal said a misconception homeowners have — especially if a fireplace or chimney is new to them — is that they need to clean the chimney regularly.
Having it cleaned and then used is not the right way to go, according to Ochal. That’s why he starts with camera inspection.
Inspection may reveal problems that must be corrected before using the fireplace.
He said a 30-year-old or older home with a masonry chimney will likely have holes inside the chimney due to missing mortar joints. These holes are not visible without looking inside and could allow heat, smoke and fire to escape into the chimney cavity and potentially into the drywall, according to Ochal.
Also, the expansion and contraction of summer and winter cause things to move inside the chimney, resulting in holes.
“Chimneys are like bridges because they are very long. And because they’re so long, they expand and contract more than anywhere else in the house,” Ochal said.
Chimney Scientists will also determine if there is water intrusion – and if the exterior masonry can be waterproofed or needs to be repaired.
“A small investment in a basic inspection can save money down the line,” he added.
Ochal said he also works with historic restorations, using an application called Thermocrete – a spray-on ceramic coating used in historic restorations. He said modern methods of fixing chimneys would not apply to chimneys and chimneys made in the 1700s or 1800s.
Ochal said his company educates customers on the importance of using seasoned wood and covering their firewood and how these steps can help reduce creosote buildup inside the chimney. reduce chimney fires and carbon emissions.
Chimney Scientists supports a number of charities including the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; Brandywine Valley SPCA; Dawn Square; and natural lands. In addition, the company works in partnership with the Valley Forge Watershed Association around its water quality testing program.
With its firewood project, the company is working with fireplace industry leaders on wood combustion and moisture content testing, according to information on the company’s website. The goal is to reduce particulate emissions, resulting in lower repair and cleanup costs for owners.
Chimney Scientists is also a major funder and supporter of Afrilab Medical Diagnostics facilities, which are “modernizing the West African healthcare system”, according to Ochal. The company partners with 47 local hospitals and 23 pharmacists to offer x-rays, ultrasounds, HIV tests and more. “Our facilities also provide the opportunity for local educational centers to deliver training to students,” the website states, which creates a “training pipeline.”
Chimney Scientists has offices in Conshohocken and Lansdale. For more information, visit www.cheminescientists.com, call 610-909-5585, or email [email protected]