Business

Chimney guy keeps the home fires burning

Rick Prentice performs chimney maintenance at the home of one of his regular customers. - Charlie Bermant
Rick Prentice performs chimney maintenance at the home of one of his regular customers.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

When listing business categories that can be enhanced by modern technology, fireplaces may not spring immediately to mind.

But the co-owner of a Port Orchard business said it’s these advances that have kept his job fresh after two decades.

“We’ve always adapted to new trends in our business,” said Rick Prentice, co-owner of Sunrise Gas and Chimney. “Things are always changing. Not so long ago, gas fireplaces had just a line of ugly light. Today they provide an efficient source of heat. They’ve come a long way.”

Prentice, 42, has run the business for nearly half his life.

It began as a cleaning service, but grew with the increased use of gas fireplaces.

Today, the newest trend is the development of outdoor heating elements — such as infrared — and elaborate gas barbecues.

Like every other business owner, Prentice has suffered from economic conditions.

He moved the business out of a separate location and into his home, and cut back from seven employees to two.

Even so, the increased demand for outdoor heating has provided a silver lining.

Prentice said most of those who heat their outside areas are middle to upper class, but still have less disposable income than a few years ago.

“People are trying to create a more comfortable environment in their back yard,” Prentice said. “They’re looking to build a resort atmosphere at home to enhance their lifestyle because they can’t afford to travel as much.”

As gas fireplaces become more attractive and efficient, homeowners who want to develop an alternative heating source can choose between gas and the more traditional wood.

The difference is that gas is less messy and more automatic; to turn it on you only need to flip a switch.

And there is no need to go outside and chop wood or track it into the house.

“The new gas fireplaces are really attractive,” Prentice said. “They look just like wood without creating a mess. They are more efficient, and can heat up a house quite nicely.”

Prentice said that the biggest benefit of either a gas or wood fireplace is the ability to generate heat during a power failure and they are equally useful in this respect.

Wood heat, on the other hand, has a richness that some people love.

“Part of living in this area is an attraction to wood,” Prentice said.

What’s not up for debate is the fact that a standard wood fireplace wastes energy.

“Old-style fireplaces have a negative efficiency,” Prentice said. “You get good heat when you first light the fire, but as it cools it sucks the warm air out and lets the cold air in. So over a 24 hour period a gas fireplace is more effective.”

Another option is to install glass doors or make sure to close the damper.

Prentice acknowledges that homeowners can’t always afford to retrofit a fireplace or install a gas unit, but doing so saves money in the long run.

Prentice won’t quote an average cost, but said he will work with each customer to provide service within an individual budget.

He compares the process to buying a car, with the ability to purchase simple transportation at a low cost or spend lots of money on a luxury item.

Prentice said a lot of the work he does can be done by the homeowner, but should not be improvised.

“I have nothing against people trying to do this themselves,” he said of installing a chimney, “but they need to read the manual very carefully. If they don’t put enough thought into what they’re doing, they could burn their house down.”

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