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
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’ve been sweeping for a while now but every now and then we chance upon something not previously discovered. Not hidden treasure, sadly, but in this case, words people use!
We have quite regularly heard ourselves referred to as ‘chimley sweepers’ but more recently understand that the Black Country folk often use the word ‘chimdee’. We’ve had mis-spellings of our company name – often we’re extended to Wilkinsons – we assume that’s why they’ve started to use Wilko – to avoid any confusion, of course – and we regularly see ‘chimeny’ – all of which make a lot of sense when you may never have seen chimney written down – and only heard it spoken with an accent.
But is does get a bit odd when we saw ‘chimberly’…
Then there’s a ‘flue’. Flu, flew, floo – you name it we see it! We remember it as an anagram of fuel.
Sometimes we’re asked to fit a cowel, or a Cowell perhaps – apologies to Simon! Our favourite though is the lady who asked us to fit a cow to her chimney. We do fit cowls and of course it is understandable that this word is misheard – go on, you know you’re saying it in your head now – try it aloud. I wish I could draw because there are herds of Fresian cows gathering (in my mind) on the rooftops of England.
Although this is a blog with no comment – we’d love to hear what you call your chimney so we’re opening up our Facebook for comments – let’s hear it for the mis-heard chimbley phrasing…FACEBOOK
Around 6 weeks ago we noted that the ‘chimney birds’ were collecting twigs – and now they have begun to create more little Jackdaws.
It is a little earlier than other years but we have found eggs in nests in Newbury and Brighton already so we will be unable to remove any live nests (unless it’s a major emergency!) until the beginning of July. This is the law and we are respectful of the RSPB approach to this.
If you think you have a nest in your chimney, do get in touch because we can book you in for the earliest possible appointment once any offspring have hatched and flown. If you believe you have a nest call us – we’ll be happy to check. We can arrange to have a birdguard fitted as well to prevent any further intrusion. Jackdaws return each year to the same place to nest. By making your flue bird proof it may relocate the birds to the nearest flue so you might like to consider having additional chimneys at your property protected and to talk with your neighbours about this as well.
Bird nests in a live chimney flue may create a serious carbon monoxide hazard as there is no way for the gas to escape from the room –carbon monoxide is a killer, but a silent one, so do make sure you have a suitable CO alarm if you’re burning solid fuel or use a gas fired appliance in your home.
Bird nests are also a common cause of damp in a chimney breast – it appears to have been commonplace for people to simply block off the chimney if there was a nest in it – particularly in redundant bedroom chimneys. If you have a recurring damp problem it might be worth a call to your sweep to see if there is anything that can be done – although, as full access to the chimney is required, the fireplace will need to be unblocked before we can sweep.
The good news is that the advent of these Jackdaw babies also heralds the Spring – and it’s been a lovely one so far!
Franchise Director, Wilkins Chimney Sweep
We recently visited the breath taking ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at The Tower of London. It was immensely thought provoking to think that 888,246 people lost their lives during World War 1. If you haven’t already been, we highly recommend a visit, since the photographs simply don’t do it justice.
When we returned, we tried to find out about our fellow chimney sweeps and whether there is any information on the previous professions of those who served during the war. We weren’t able to access that but were interested to learn that the wives of many of the tradespeople who served often stepped into their husband’s shoes – and the story linked below and photographs showed us just how true that is. This lady was heavily pregnant – she gave birth the following day! But do take a look at her feet – we suspect she really was in her husband’s shoes…please do take a look (with thanks to the ‘Kent in WW1’ website team)
So come on Boris and your team – let’s see some proper maintenance on our much loved Tower. And please don’t shoot the messenger…or send her to the Tower!
Having written about Jackdaws throughout April, I suppose I was only marginally surprised to read this article:
What did surprise me is that having lost part of a building to a fire due to a Jackdaw nest, nobody thought to provide a decent bird guard to prevent it happening again. Even on a listed building there are ways to prevent bird ingress. The fitter may not have a complete range to hand but should be able to source something that will suit both pocket and style.
Wilkins Chimney Sweep fit from ladders where possible but I spied the scaffolding at this property – that’s the perfect time to make sure that the chimneys are protected – either capped if not in use or guarded against bird ingress with a cowl some form of wire cage.
The right cowl can also prevent rain ingress – great if you have a woodburner since these rust if rain is allowed to enter the flue.
It would be so great to hear that chimney fires are a thing of the past! Regular cleaning and protection from birds and rain will go a long way to make this happen.