So the summer holiday season is over and now you’re thinking of heading off for a winter break in a country hotel, or maybe even jetting off to some far flung beach for some winter sun?
Who doesn’t love the idea of long walks in the countryside and returning to a drink by a roaring log fire or lying on a sun drenched beach, cocktail in hand while temperatures in the UK plummet and people mutter darkly about the annual return of the ‘thermal vest’?
Pack your bags – it’s time to fly!
Your bag is packed you’re ready to go – now be honest, hands up if you give even a passing thought to whether there will be a carbon monoxide alarm fitted in your hotel room? No? Didn’t think so.
Obviously we’re in the safety business so inevitably it is something we think about; our chosen charity – the Katie Haines Memorial Trust – is a stark reminder. Katie died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning just weeks after returning from her honeymoon, and yet even WE don’t cover some of the basics ourselves. We’re complacent because we don’t really want to think about it and we hope that others will think about our safety instead, because we ‘presume’ they have a ‘responsibility to do so.’
Cost Cutting Costs Lives
The harsh truth is that hotels and holiday companies will cut corners; they are being squeezed to provide more ‘experience’ for less money – just look at poor old Monarch Airlines. So what gives eventually? The hidden bits of a trip – the unregulated health and safety perhaps? The missing carbon monoxide alarms?
Almost every day there are reports of landlords, hotel owners, apartment managers and facilities managers who have failed in their duties to provide these basic safety items, but by the time the report makes it into the public arena, it’s usually too late, someone has lost their life.
Here are just two stories, both posted within a few weeks of us writing this article:
- British School Children Narrowly Escape Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Spanish Hotel – 21 September 2017
- Fire Crews Rescue Two Women After Oil Burner Leaks Carbon Monoxide – 29 Sept 2017
Luckily in these two cases no life was lost but for those where the outcome was not so good, it seems tragic that for the sake of £30 (or less) they could have been protected with an alarm that would have detected and alerted them to the odourless, tasteless, invisible killer that is carbon monoxide. The killer that can travel through walls and leach out of appliances such as boilers, Agas, open fires, wood burning stoves etc. So please, buy one today, keep it in your suitcase and take it with you every time you stay away from home.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Children on the Rise
Worryingly, Project SHOUT, set up by Stacey Rogers whose son Dominic (10) died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning when fumes permeated through the wall of his bedroom from a neighbouring property, has reported that cases of children arriving at A&E suffering from the effects of CO poisoning have risen dramatically. On a more positive note, we are delighted to hear that MP’s have been asking for a Carbon Monoxide detector to be fitted in every home recently and await the outcome with great hope.
Mum’s The Word
I was delighted to receive an email from a friend who is a Mum recently – she reported her story as follows:
I thought you’d like to hear this conversation I had with my son last week; he is 22 and just moved to London, sharing a house with four friends from Uni.
Me: Have you unpacked your Carbon Monoxide Alarm I gave you?
Him: Funny you should say that. One of my house mates asked me if we had one and I said ‘Yes, my Mum gave me one last week’. My mate said ‘it must be a Mum thing, my Mum’s been nagging me to get one as well’!
Give the gift of life
Whoever you are reading this – a Mum, Dad, friend, neighbour, daughter or son, sister or brother, or just someone who cares, please could you add something to your shopping list? Whether it’s on this week’s groceries shop, a birthday gift or perhaps a friend heading off on holiday, please give A CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM. Go on…it might just save a life (and remember you need one PER appliance, i.e. boiler, Aga, open fire, wood burning stove, NOT one per house).
Where to buy your Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Plenty of places sell the alarms, your local hardware store or, for the more ‘do it now’ amongst us, you can buy them online from:
We wish you, and your new Carbon Monoxide alarm a safe winter break!
We want your photos! We’re offering one Facebook ‘poster’ an opportunity to win a fabulous package worth £100+ – all sorts of chimney safety products including a moisture meter and a carbon monoxide alarm.
All you have to do is visit our Facebook page WILKINS FACEBOOK PAGE and post a picture of your fireplace in use – with a fire please, not a vase! A bit like this one but cat optional.
On Monday we will ‘judge’ the best picture, make an announcement, and we and will make contact through Facebook to arrange delivery of the package… We look forward to seeing your pictures.
And we hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from us during this Chimney Fire Safety Week. We’re off to light the fire and put our feet up…
Wishing you a very safe and happy burning season.
Louise & Peter Harris
Wilkins Chimney Sweep
Please don’t read if you’re expecting x-rated disclosure!
With a lot of sweeps on the road there are a lot of stories told when we get together. Many are chimney related – clogged up flues, tallest, widest, deepest chimneys, tar that a road builder would be proud of. But we thought we’d share the human stories since it is our customers who make our work important.
The Scary Moment
Many of our customers offer us a drink – a mug of hot tea or coffee is always very welcome. Some provide it with a biscuit. But one of our team was absolutely made up when visiting the home of a very famous man (a Sir, no less) who had staff to help. He was shown into the drawing room and began work as normal when the wife (a Lady) of the man arrived bearing a silver tray with a bone china cup and saucer, a plate of biscuits and a slice of cake. She stopped to talk with the sweep and make sure he was fine – what a charming lady.
There are hundreds more stories to share but just one last one… I married my chimney sweep!
Thank you to all of our wonderful customers.
Wishing you a great weekend and penultimate day of Chimney Fire Safety Week.
We know that you most likely know all of this…but…here’s a prompt. It might just be worth a read to keep you safe.
If you have just moved into a home, whether you have an open fire or an open or ‘closed’ wood burning or multi-fuel stove, unless you have proof that the chimney (or flue) has been swept recently obtain the services of a trained professional chimney sweep and have it swept.
The following applies to all the above appliances:
Ensure there is sufficient air available to the appliance to enable it to burn efficiently. If there are air bricks or vents ensure they are open and not blocked or covered. Ensure the fuel is dry and as in the case of wood, is of the correct type and has been allowed to ‘season’ properly (this will be explained later). Damp or wet fuel will lose a large amount of it’s heat ‘energy’ if it has to dry out fully before burning.
Some appliances, such as open fires, can burn a variety of fuels, some are more limited. Please check with a ‘qualified’ person or the instruction book of your particular appliance if in doubt.
See our blog on Fuel!
LIGHTING THE FIRE
The following are general guidelines for lighting open fires and woodburners /multi fuel stoves. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that, until you’re experienced with your type of appliance it’s all a bit ‘hit and miss’ or ‘trial and error’.
Before the first fire of the year or after a period of time when the fire hasn’t been lit in cold weather it might be best to warm the flue before lighting.
Lightly crumple 6 to 10 pieces of newspaper in the grate or woodburner – light it, this will warm the flue and assist the convection. If a small amount of newspaper smoke enters the room initially this usually doesn’t cause too much inconvenience.
- Begin with a bed of newspapers either lightly crumpled or long pieces rolled up and knotted in the middle.
- Arrange small pieces of kindling wood either laid in a lattice across the newspaper or stood up in a ‘tepee’ shape.
- If required fire lighters can also be used. These are often wax blocks impregnated with paraffin or similar. Natural versions are also available.
- If using coal arrange some around the paper and kindling leaving air gaps around the fuel to assist the burn then, using a long stem match or a purpose made gas fire lighter, for safety, light the newspaper.
- Add coal or small logs slowly as the kindling burns to encourage a ‘bed’ of embers. Top up with coal or wood as required.
WOODBURNERS/MULTI FUEL STOVES
If the fire has not been lit for a while, especially in cold weather, warm the flue as per ‘open fires’. Laying the initial fire is the same as for open fires except that you must not use coal or smokeless fuel unless the appliance and flue are specifically designed to burn this type of fuel.
Check with the manufacturer’s instructions as to which vents to open whilst lighting the appliance; in the event these are not available best to start with all vents open and close the top ones first and then the bottom as the fire gets established.
If you’ve not been left any instructions you might find guides online.
Fairly straightforward really, add the appropriate fuel as necessary remembering not to allow the appliance to get too hot. A stove thermometer is ideal to guide you – especially one colour coded for ideal burning temperatures.
Don’t slumber a stove if you are burning wood (whether ‘seasoned’ or not) as this could form creosote (tar) in the chimney/flue which is highly flammable and could catch fire or block the flue causing the danger of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
When you no longer need the fire, usually at bedtime, try to remember not to put any more fuel on for a half to one hour before the actual time you wish to finish the fire. This is especially important if you have an open fire or open woodburning stove. Place a fireguard in front of the fire or close the doors on a woodburner just in case any embers ‘spit’…this is not very likely but is a good precaution none the less.
Please take a look at our article on the dangers of slumbering your woodburner.
CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS
Two rules: HAVE ONE and TEST IT regularly! Look out for #TestitTuesday when you can test that and your smoke alarm…
CHECK YOUR TERMINALS
See Day 4!
As a minimum you should have your chimney swept annually unless you know you have used it significantly more, in which case, also have a sweep half way through the burning season.
The best time to have a sweep is when you stop using the fireplace. A good sweep will be able to advise you if you need to change the frequency of sweeping –and on the quality of the soot or debris removed.
Your insurer may impose conditions on frequency of sweeping – do check so you don’t get caught out…
A chimney terminal is the bit right at the top – sometimes known as a cage, cap, cowl, birdguard or ‘chimney thingy’! There are a number of uses:
- Keeping out birds (Jackdaws) who nest in the flue and vermin such as squirrels
- Keeping out rain
- Combating down draught problems
Some homes may not need anything on the chimney – sometimes a chimney pot is sufficient – indeed occasionally even a pot isn’t needed! But anyone with a woodburner, multi-fuel stove, AGA or similar appliance are advised to have a cowl of some type, if only to prevent water ingress – water will rust away the metal box beneath and can mix with the soot to create a corrosive substance in the flue.
Having the correct terminal is important and we frequently see the wrong type fitted and/or fitted incorrectly – perhaps the wrong advice has been given or simply the customer has changed how they use the flue and not considered the other end of their chimney.
Simply put, whatever is fitted to a ‘live’ chimney (one in use) should be installed so that it:
- can be swept into without dislodging it – ensuring that the flue is clear all the way to the top
- allows the safe removal of gases caused by combustion to pass out of the flue
- prevents condensation build up in the flue of a disused chimney
If you use any appliance or open fire you should NOT have this type of terminal on your chimney. They are dangerous as fumes are prevented from escaping quickly enough – they are not designed to be used with a live flue and could result in the build-up of highly poisonous carbon monoxide.
If you have a problem with birds, rain or vermin entry into your chimney – there’s a cowl for that. The silver one on the right can also aid with a down draught (in certain circumstances). There are also a variety of chimney pots and cowls for lined chimneys.
This terminal is a no-no for any live chimney. It doesn’t prevent any birds entering – in fact it’s a lovely shelter for the birds – and the cowl will impede the outflow of fumes. In addition, the design of many clay terminals, which are not intended to get hot, means that the tops can crack and be dislodged in windy conditions or when the chimney is swept. This can damage roof tiles/slates…or worse!
If you need any ‘terminal’ advice contact your local professional qualified chimney sweep or experienced chimney expert builder or woodburner supplier. Whilst a roofer will be able to install a unit they may not have the necessary skills to advise what should be fitted for safety.
Wilkins Chimney Sweep
At Wilkins Chimney Sweep, we often find ourselves having to guide customers in the safe use of their chimneys – and fuel is the key ingredient of that discussion. Burning the right fuel could save you money and prevent the build-up of creosote (tar) on your chimney lining. Ultimately it could prevent a chimney fire…
This blog would be about a mile long (and just a tad tedious!) if we gave you the full story about fuels so we’ve decided that it’s best to simply point you in the right direction of where you can find full details. The following are the best links we know that should guide you on fuel:
Whilst some appliances, such as open fires, can burn a variety of fuels, many are more limited. Please check with a ‘qualified’ person or the instruction book of your particular appliance if in doubt.
The Solid Fuel Association – not just a cute logo – is the official body representing the solid fuel industry in the UK. Fuels include coal, smokeless fuels, Anthracite and wood (including pellets and chips). It’s a really good place to start.
For all oil-fired appliances, OFTEC are a good place to start. If you’re burning oil you will still need the services of a chimney sweep to keep your flue clear if your regular servicing engineer doesn’t do this work.
Proprietary brands of manufactured logs are available made from either wax and wood bi-products or fully natural made from straw etc. These produce similar or slightly more heat than burning logs. They are easy to light and store, due to their uniform shape. They also produce less soot and ash and can be more environmentally friendly depending on the type used.
Wood is, of course, covered in the ‘Solid Fuel’ category but is such a significant part of the burning ‘challenge’ that we think some pointers are valuable.
The ‘Ready to Burn’ campaign by WOODSURE is a great place to start – and the Ready to Burn logo is an excellent guide for those who buy wood in small quantities for almost immediate use.[/ezcol_4fifth_end]
For kindling, use small pieces of ‘hard or ‘soft’ wood to assist in starting the fire. Birch bark is extremely flammable even when wet; it makes an excellent fire starter if you have lots lying around.
3 TO AVOID:
And finally, there’s a great little poem to guide you:
Beech wood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year.
Chestnut’s only good, they say,
If for long it’s laid away.
Birch and fir logs burn too fast,
Blaze up bright and do not last.
It is by the Irish said,
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like a churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold.
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume.
Oak and maple, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter cold.
But Ash wood wet or Ash wood dry,
A king shall warm his slippers by.
Safe burning to everyone!
Franchise Director, Wilkins Chimney Sweep
Today is day 2 of Chimney Fire Safety Week and appropriate, as a Tuesday that we reinforce ‘Test it Tuesday’ with news around carbon monoxide awareness…
The Chimney Fire Safety Week campaign aims to ensure that anyone who owns or uses a chimney, be it attached to a wood burning stove, open fire, Aga or other type of Range cooker, is aware of the need to have the chimney swept at least once a year. However tragedy can strike two ways with a blocked chimney, firstly the deposits that build up inside the flue can catch fire but secondly a blocked chimney can cause Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
‘The Silent Killer’ Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odourless, tasteless and colourless toxic gas which is produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels used in central heating systems, gas appliances and fires. CO can be emitted from any appliance burning combustible fuel, e.g. gas (mains or bottled), solid fuel (coal, wood, etc), petrol, oil or paraffin etc.
At the start of this Chimney Fire Safety Week we wanted to bring to our customers’ attention the dangers of CO poisoning through an un-swept chimney and have this week adopted the Katie Haines Memorial Trust as our charity of the year for the next 12 months.
Katie Haines (nee Samuel) was born on 31 January 1979. She was the daughter of Gordon and Avril Samuel and married Richard Haines on 12 December 2009. On 18 February 2010, just two months after her wedding, she died tragically of accidental Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning at her home. The Katie Haines Memorial Trust was founded in 2010 by Katie’s husband Richard and her family to promote awareness of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide.
Wilkins Chimney Sweep’s franchise director Louise Harris went to visit Katie’s mother Avril at her home in Gloucestershire and asked her to contribute to today’s blog.
‘We exist because of a tragic accident. Our work is inspired by the life of the person we lost. Our mission is to raise awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide and to prevent unnecessary loss of life. We are run by a committed group of individuals but rely on the help of other people to ensure the dangers of carbon monoxide are prominent in people’s minds – most notably the vulnerable groups in society such as the elderly and university students living in low cost accommodation.
Our vision is that everyone in the UK understands the dangers of carbon monoxide and takes preventative measures to make sure that they do not fall victim to it, such as buying an audible alarm, having burning appliances checked regularly and taking an alarm when travelling away from home, and of course testing that alarm weekly to make sure it’s working.
We are in close contact with the All-party Parliamentary Monoxide Group and on the 3rd October 2017, the Government will meet to review the smoke and CO alarm regulations. This presents an opportunity for harmonisation of regulation across the nations of the UK and we very much hope for some positive changes.[/ezcol_2third_end]
We are delighted that Wilkins Chimney Sweep have adopted us as their charity of the year, helping to spread the word about Carbon Monoxide poisoning; word of mouth is sometimes just as important and we are grateful that the Wilkins Chimney Sweeps will be encouraging their customers to get a CO alarm where they can see they don’t have one.
Below is a full list of do’s and don’ts regarding CO poisoning but here are a few points we’d like to add that don’t always make it onto the regular lists;
- At the current moment landlords in the private sector in Scotland must provide CO alarms to all their properties with a fuel burning appliance. However, in England, they only need to provide alarms for rooms with a solid-fuel burning appliance. If you or a member of your family is travelling or living away from home, make sure they have their own Carbon Monoxide detector with them to keep them safe.
- Carbon Monoxide can travel through the walls of a property. Even if you have had your appliances swept, next door may not have. An alarm is the ONLY way you will know.
- Carbon Monoxide alarm batteries don’t last forever – check how long yours is good for!
We would like to thank Wilkins again for adopting us as their charity of the year and hope that working together we can reduce the number of deaths in the UK from Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
Katie Haines Memorial Trust
Taken from the ‘Chimney Fire Safety’ website, here are the steps you need to protect yourself from CO poisoning
- Have your appliance serviced and cleaned regularly by a trained and registered professional
- Ensure your chimney is kept clear by having it swept at frequent intervals by an Approved/Registered Chimney Sweep
- Make sure the installation complies with Building Regulations guidance. The guidance is there to protect you.
- Fit an audible CO alarm conforming to BS EN 50291 and positioned in accordance with Building Regulations.
- Ensure your gas appliances are installed and serviced by a Gas Safe Registered engineer
- Carbon monoxide alarms should be regularly tested and should not be regarded as a substitute for regular maintenance of the appliance and chimney. #TestItTuesday
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
The early symptoms of CO poisoning are usually similar to common ailments such as upset stomach, tiredness and flu.
- The common symptoms can include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness or Collapse
- Chest and/or stomach pains
- Erratic behaviour and/or Visual problems
Actions to take in a CO emergency
- If you suspect fumes are escaping from your combustion appliance into your home, or your carbon monoxide alarm goes off.
- Turn the appliance off.
- Open doors and windows to ventilate the building.
- Leave the building immediately and don’t return until your appliance or boiler has extinguished and the air in the room is clear.
- If you feel unwell go to your Doctor, or call one of the following:
- Call NHS Direct on 111 (in England)
- NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 (in Wales)
- NHS 24 on 111 (in Scotland)
Landlords: Guidance on The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 can be viewed at:
4221 chimney fires in England in 2016/17. That’s 4221 too many…
Chimney fires (like many household fires) are avoidable. Of course a cynic might suggest it is in a chimney sweep’s interest to ‘frighten’ customers into having regular sweeps because sweeping is our livelihood. We believe, however, that this is a critical safety service and we work tirelessly to help people avoid a chimney fire. And that’s why we’re getting behind the HETAS Chimney Fire Safety Week.
Chimney fires are frightening – those who have talked to us about having a fire report a loud roar from the fireplace that they don’t immediately relate to a fire in the flue – many think they have an intruder in the house – which indeed they do – FIRE. A very unwelcome fire that could destroy a house and, in extreme circumstances, even claim human lives. Thankfully chimney fires rarely result in the loss of whole properties although thatched properties remain the exception.
2016/17 figures for England (Scotland and Wales have yet to report) show a slight increase over 2015/16 figures but the trend until now has been downwards. Better regulation of woodburner installations through HETAS – the drivers of the safety week campaign – have undoubtedly helped this figure supporting the clear recommendation to sweep annually at least. Sadly many sweeps will tell you they have had customers suggest there is ‘no need to sweep any more as we’ve had a woodburner installed’. And sadly some sweeps are not trained or professional in their skills leaving customers who have taken steps to have their chimney swept at further risk by not cleaning the chimney fully.
Fires are not the only problem – carbon monoxide poisoning is also a potential killer. Even mild symptoms, which are often overlooked, are unpleasant.
This week (4th to 10th September 2017) we will be publishing blogs that we hope will go some way to help the continuing education for our current and new chimney users regarding safe use of fires. Because of course we want people to use their fires safely and enjoy their woodburner, multi-fuel stove, AGA and/or open fire. And we know we can help to make that happen safely.
Look out for our competition on DAY 7!
Have a wonderful, safe, week!
Wilkins Chimney Sweep
Don’t panic – this isn’t another fitness blog reminding you that you need to get moving for your health! But it is pretty serious I’m afraid. It’s all about ‘slumbering’ your wood burner…
Wood burners (and multi-fuel stoves) are a wonderful addition to any home and can offer a great alternative to using the central heating all the time. In general, people who have had them installed recently and had contact with the installer are advised about the use. Unfortunately many of us have moved into a home where there is a wood burner – indeed this may have been a key selling point – and maybe there are no instructions for best, and or safe, use.
Here’s the technical bit: Burning incorrect wood or burning wood incorrectly can produce creosote (commonly referred to as tar). If you burn poorly seasoned wood (with a high moisture content) or ‘soft’ wood – pine/leylandii, etc. which is very ‘sappy’, this will result in the production of ‘tar’.
If you ‘slumber’ your woodburner – burn it very slowly during the day or try to leave it in overnight this will also result in the production of ‘tar’.
You might be asking yourself what the problem is with a tarred up flue – there are two main issues: the tar is very difficult to remove and is flammable. It builds up over time, increasing the risk of a chimney fire. In addition, the flue itself will decrease in size as more tar builds…this in turn will slow the draw of the flue and will result in more tar being deposited. This may also mean that carbon monoxide will be less able to escape and it is possible that carbon monoxide poisoning might occur.
To avoid this, in general terms, burn well-seasoned hardwood logs at the correct temperature (between 300 to 600 F – or 150 to 300 C). A stove thermometer will help and ‘tarring’ should be avoided.
Of course – it is also really important to have your chimney swept. And we recommend that you have this done as you stop using it – not as the winter begins. Your sweep will have more time to sort any problems and you’ll be ready for any cold nights. The fire service recommend sweep EVERY 3 MONTHS when in use…and we recommend three items that will help you: a stove thermometer, carbon monoxide alarm and HotSpot – a product designed to help.
We’ve written before about the best wood to burn so you can check here: BEST WOOD TO BURN?
Here’s to safety that makes sense.
We look forward to your call to book in a sweep…
Our team in West berks have had an interesting challenge over the last few days. An elderly customer asked us to come in as a sweep had apparently been sweeping her boiler flue for a couple of years and then told her it could no longer be swept as the flue was blocked. We were called in to take a look since the expense of a new boiler was looming on the horizon.
Our chaps tried with a standard sweep and took the pictures shown. Rain water was ‘washing’ down the chimney bringing with it lots of solid fuel ‘soot’…
Stalactites of solid fuel ‘soot’ had formed in the flue. This was dangerous and had nearly blocked the flue, causing CO build up. However, we were able to clear the flue (sorry no pictures of it clean…only some of the resulting debris removed from a slight bend just inside the flue)
Peter used Power Sweeping technology to remove these along with the 6” brush in the photograph to remove this solid fuel ‘soot’ which had solidified because it had got wet and had not been swept properly, by a different local sweep, for many years. Power sweeping is not great for all chimneys but really important in this case. So, for the price of a sweep we were able to save the customer the price of purchasing a whole new flue and possible whole new boiler…!
The moral of this – if you want something doing, ask a Wilkins Chimney Sweep. If we can’t do it…no-one can!