Buying a new home?
Late last year we visited a lovely couple who had just bought their first home together. They were very excited that it had two lovely woodburning stoves – one of which delivered hot water to the house. Cautiously, they called us in to check the flues as the previous owner was unable to provide a certificate of sweeping since he ‘swept them himself’.
It was a difficult discussion with the customer. The ‘standard’ woodburner flue pipe entered an extremely flimsy register plate that fell out as a brush was introduced to the hole that the flue pipe went through. This exposed the brick chimney, which was filthy and obviously had not been swept properly for many years. After sweeping off as much soot as possible the sweep advised the customer to have the woodburner re-installed by a HETAS Approved Installer (he is a HETAS Approved Chimney Sweep). It has now been removed completely and the fireplace returned to ‘open fire’ use.
The boiler flue however was an absolute horror. The first major problem was that it was blocked with a nest. And the nest could not be removed as the flue was completely inaccessible. As a result, the couple had no hot water and, worse than that had been using a potential carbon monoxide poisoning hazard (a neighbour later told them that the previous lady of the house had complained of headaches…almost certainly a result of the poor ventilation) and a real fire hazard.
The cost to the customer was a new boiler, the removal of the woodburners and the comparatively minor cost of having a bird guard fitted once we’d removed the nest.
The picture here is the last bag of wet, previously burnt debris from the chimney – it had taken nearly three hours to clear. Luckily the room had not been redecorated and was in a state of ‘work in progress’ because removing nests is a messy job and this was particularly bad as the rain had soaked everything in the flue.
My subsequent plea has to be this: if you’re buying a house with a woodburner, open fire, Rayburn, Aga or similar, ask for a certificate of sweeping from a competent person or request that a qualified reputable chimney sweep attend as part of your survey. The worst that will happen is you will know in advance what to expect – the best is that it may save your life…or be OK anyway!
We would be delighted if reputable estate agents guided vendors and purchasers to take this seriously (as they would gas safety checks), and that property surveyors (RICS take note, please!) guide purchasers in the same manner – even in a basic house buyers report. This isn’t a drive for more business…it’s a really sound safety recommendation. With HETAS reporting 176,000 woodburners installed last year alone, the prevalence means that all those in the property world should be on their game.