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!
John Baldacchino in West Cheshire was recently called by a customer who had a nest in a gas flue – this is a really serious danger. If the customer had been using the gas fire there is nowhere for carbon monoxide to escape except to build up in the room – and this could have resulted in deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. This nest was pretty extensive – you can see how close it is to the top of the pot.
This situation was made worse because the customer believed she couldn’t have a nest in the flue as there was a ‘cage’ on the top. Here’s a picture of ‘the cage’. These are ‘affectionately’ known as bird boxes by our team as they offer no protection AGAINST birds but a lovely warm and rain free ‘home’ FOR birds! This terminal was clearly stamped with DO NOT USE ON A GAS FLUE. These terminals are more usually stamped NOT TO BE USED ON FLUES IN USE – and are simply unsuitable for use on anything but a disused chimney. If there is something stamped on a flue terminal there is usually a sound reason for it!
The Wilkins Chimney Sweep team all know what to fit for the appropriate flue. When there is a change of use it is absolutely critical to check that whatever is fitted is fit for purpose.
So please spread the word – don’t rely on someone who has no specialist knowledge of what to install (builders often don’t know the right type to fit – however good they are at building!) and if in doubt, please feel free to contact a Wilkins Chimney Sweep! Whatever you call it – cowl, cage, birdguard, terminal, clay pot thingy – we’ll work out what you need it for and then make the safe recommendation.
Woodburners and multi-fuel stoves are fantastic. They look good, they’re cleaner and their warmth output is greater than open fires. But…and you knew there was one coming…they can be trouble if you aren’t careful.
Simply put, there is typically a steel liner installed from your stove up your chimney to take away the smoke. And this often catches out new owners of stoves. The problem is that stainless steel doesn’t last forever – and is quickly corroded if you burn wood and coal or smokeless fuel together – even in a multi-fuel stove.
This liner was installed in 2011 and gave up after 5 years. Whilst there is definitely a warranty on most of these flues, there is also a protocol regarding what to burn. Multi-fuel stoves –designed to burn both coal and wood – should only burn one or the other. Combinations of fuel can lead to production of a mild acid that can destroy stainless steel.
Using a reputable HETAS installer, following the instructions regarding the stove use and having the flue regularly swept will help but burning the correct fuel and not mixing fuels is essential – and not something that is widely known.
Unfortunately this customer will have to have her flue replaced and will undoubtedly feel despondent at having to make a further investment. It is the second one this month that our team have been called to sweep and it doesn’t make for good news.
Keep safe this winter – book a sweep now so you’re ready for the cooler season and, if problems occur you have time to resolve them!
For more information on this HETAS is a good place to start…there are some excellent booklets available that are free to download: HETAS
Our team at Wilkins Chimney Sweep have been very busy sweeping chimneys and now removing nests built during the spring. It is critical that we now install some form of bird guard for our customers and have been horrified to find people have been sold unsuitable, and sometimes dangerous, options by builders or occasionally other chimney sweeps.
There are a few criteria for fitting a suitable bird guard:
- It needs to prevent birds getting in!
- If the flue is going to be used, the bird guard needs to be fitted to ensure that we can sweep fully into the unit to maximise the chimney clean and ensure there are no further blockages.
- In the event that the flue is not going to be used, it must still allow for air flow in the chimney to prevent damp.
- The bird guard should be suitable for the property e.g. our customer might like something that matches the colour of the pot if there is one!
Our guys have reported instances when they have gone onto the roof to check a problem and the birds have pulled off mesh wiring and made a nice nest with it in the chimney! The problem with the nests, aside from smoke into the room, is the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning as it blocks a vent into a room. In addition they can cause damp as a result of the blockage. So worth getting rid of and preventing further problems.
Adrian Steel in North Hampshire has just completed a job where the customer had had a DANGEROUS ‘terminal’ installed by a builder – the unit is clearly marked as unsuitable for use on a live flue – this clay bonnet terminal cannot be swept into and it provides a nice shelter for the birds – they love them! It is dangerous because this terminal may prevent fumes from escaping when a fire is lit. The final no-no for us is that it is a terracotta unit in a buff pot – not great to look at!
As a Which? Trusted Trader we have to deliver every time – a professional job is required. Don’t be fooled by people who don’t have to take the consequences for their actions. We take a little extra care and ensure that we fit the correct cowl properly!
- It is secured tot he pot so it can be swept into
- The mesh is big enough to prevent clogging with soot and tar
- The top helps to keep the rain out
- The whole thing will prevent birds nesting in this chimney
- We fitted this from a ladder too…it helps to keep the price down for our customers.
Keep Safe & Ask a Professional!
The Jackdaws are nesting! Having bird guards (cowls, cages or caps for redundant chimneys etc.) is essential if you don’t want the birds to nest in your flue.
Wilkins franchisees usually work from a ladder to keep the price of this work to a minimum. Sometimes a cherry picker is needed and occasionally we have to resort to recommending scaffolding. John Baldacchino in West Cheshire recently undertook a cherry picker job to protect six new town houses. Despite a 50 minute ‘hairy moment’ when the cherry picker sensor jammed stranding him in mid-air, the job was successfully completed once the engineer has rescued him!
The importance of this work should not be underestimated. Nesting birds (primarily Jackdaws) in the chimney are a danger – worst case scenario is that they will block the chimney and subsequently carbon monoxide can enter the room and could be fatal to humans and pets. Nests can also cause chimney fires when the nesting material and debris catches fire. Larger nests may also be the cause of damp on the bedroom ceiling or chimney breast – we frequently find that a chimney has been closed up because it’s blocked and then forgotten about – the long term damage can be difficult to remedy.
Most nests are found as our customers light their fires for the first time after the summer and the room fills with smoke. There are also the tell-tale signs of twigs falling down the chimney (that’s the birds putting scaffolding in place for the nest…), sightings of the Jackdaws on the roof and around the pot, and even the noise of the chattering birds can sometimes be heard.
Prevention is far better (cheaper and safer!) than cure. We cannot take out nests or cap a chimney if there is any evidence of a ‘live’ nest, and indeed eggs or live young. It’s against the law for us – and for the householder – so we will have to wait until the nesting season is over. As the weather has been so warm, birds are already active so time is of the essence! (We have seen this and the BBC reported this during the week!) THE BBC REPORT (Click to play video)
We know, too, that a number of people believe that chimney sweeping must be on the wane – a dying craft – when nothing could be further from the truth. The need for our services is more relevant than ever (and from a business established in 1895 we think we might know a think or too about that…) and we pride ourselves on helping new and experienced users of fires, multifuel and woodburning stoves, as well as AGA, Rayburn and the more recent biomass boilers, to follow best practice.
We believe that having your woodburner chimney swept mid-burning season will help you to check that what you’re burning and the temperature you’re burning at is not causing problems. A good chimney sweep will advise you on the use of your stove, guide you on what to burn and the quality of your wood supply plus tell you if the mid-season sweep is critical or you seem to be handling things well…this will give you peace of mind!
It’s been a mild winter so far and many people have used their fires to take the chill off and not use their heating. The annual sweep (minimum advised by the fire service and many home insurance companies) is still important and can help to keep you safe by preventing or limiting the chances of a chimney fire.
So give your chimney sweep a call – we can help!
(P.S. Chimney fire statistics are poorly reported and it’s difficult to gain an accurate picture – the most current figures available are 2013/14 when 7,700 chimney fires were reported. To add to the problem of these statistic, if a house is burned down as a result of a chimney fire, the figure is not recorded as a chimney fire but as a house fire – it is possible that there is more data missing.)
Happy New year!
The warm weather has made for an interesting season for us. People have still prepared themselves for winter as usual and the Wilkins Chimney Sweep team have been hard at work. The weather, though, has meant that customers aren’t using their chimneys much yet – indeed many have barely worn a winter coat so far this winter.
Like everyone, including the weather forecasters it appears, we have no idea what the weather will bring – not so long ago the forecast was for the worst winter on record (indeed we blogged in September following ‘severe weather warnings’ that never materialised)– and before that the hottest summer! It’s good to be prepared for when the cold truly sets in for sure – but only time will tell when that is. Our thoughts are with the victims of the floods and the teams working to help keep them safe, recover their property and help them move back to their homes quickly.
As a final seasonal reminder – don’t burn that Christmas tree – and here’s why…Christmas Tree – it was great to see the East Cambridgeshire folk taking a resonsible approach to recycling their trees and hope that there are similar warnings (and facilities) nationally. Recycle your tree
We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of the Wilkins Chimney Sweep customers and suppliers a warm, safe and Happy New Year 2016. We hope that we will be your choice again in 2016 and beyond and look forward to seeing you.
We really appreciate feedback from our customers and it is lovely to be able to sweep in some unusual properties too. They don’t need to be this tall of course… we pride ourselves on doing a good job wherever and whenever we sweep…
Chris Wright, Wilkins Chimney Sweep (Newark) was delighted to receive this testimonial from a very happy customer living in a unique building!
“Shortly after moving to Newark a flue had been installed at our property, I had been looking for a Sweep to clean flue before the new season, nothing extraordinary there until you consider that the flue is over seventeen metres tall! I’d enquired with a couple of firms but none of them seemed interested or up for the challenge of sweeping our larger than usual chimney. That cannot be said of Chris at Wilkins, he was genuinely interested in the job from the first phone call and eager to take up the challenge. There’s a serious investment in this installation so I was keen to build a relationship with someone I could trust with that investment this year and every year, I genuinely think I’ve found that person. Chris rose to the challenge and completed the sweep with a level of professionalism I believe he would deliver on any job. Great communication, quick clean job completion, respect for our property, quality customer service and a completely respectable price means I’ll be talking to Chris annually.”
The WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP team were deeply saddened to learn that Frank Shurey, a very important part of the Wilkins heritage, had passed away on 8th October 2015.
Peter Harris, Managing Director, bought the original WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP business from Frank, and his wife Gloria, in 1998. Gloria is the daughter of Bill Wilkins who taught Frank to sweep chimneys. With Gloria running the business side they built the sound foundations of the systems that Peter bought and has developed.
Frank was a family man through and through. We were glad to be able to attend his funeral on Friday 23rd October 2015 and to hear the stories of his life.
In honour of Frank, we have made a donation to Thames Valley Air Ambulance, his chosen charity. We wish him, and his family, peace.