birds nest

Day 4: Chimney Fire Safety Week – Terminals!

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

Flue vent: AKA pepperpot top / Clay cowl / Elephants Foot

 

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!

BONNET COWL

 

 

 

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.

Be safe!

Louise Harris

Franchise Director

Wilkins Chimney Sweep

Day 2 of ‘Chimney Fire Safety Week’ – carbon monoxide awareness

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.

Avril says,

‘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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Avril Samuel

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:
  • Headaches
  • Breathlessness
  • 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:

www.gov.uk/government/publications/smoke-and-carbon-monoxide-alarms-explanatory-booklet-for-landlords

The importance of the RIGHT flue terminal

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.

Nest in chimney pot with incorrect terminal removed.

Nest in chimney pot with incorrect terminal removed.

Flue terminal which was removed from a gas flue.

Flue terminal which was removed from a gas flue.

 

 

Keep Safe – Use a Professional!

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!

BONNET COWL - NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE

BONNET COWL – NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE

BONNET COWL - WITH WARNING!

BONNET COWL – WITH WARNING!

Clay Cap (3) 
This bird guard will do the job perfectly:

  • 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!

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)

John fitting bird guards from a cherry picker

John fitting bird guards from a cherry picker

Stuck for 50 minutes in the air...but finally released!

Stuck for 50 minutes in the air…but finally released!

Pigeon Rescue!

Pigeons are not the most intelligent creatures – whatever folks may try to have you believe. Brave and useful…but not always smart. We often receive calls from people who have a pigeon in their chimney, or grate, and we’re asked to help remove them. We’re happy to help when we can. Here’s an amusing little video of a pigeon removal. Two things struck me: the first was ‘not the tongs!’ – you’ll see what I mean. The second was that the lady would have been better off  picking up the phone to us…she did not enjoy the experience! Yahoo Pigeon Link (Thanks to John Baldacchino, Wilkins Chimney Sweep (West Cheshire) for this find.)

Pigeons are not the nest builders…there are lots of theories about their chimney work though. They appear to sit at the top and sleep – or are overcome with fumes – and drop down the chimney. They do not appear to be able to effect a vertical take off so they sit  and wait. Sadly it doesn’t always end well for the birds. Sometimes they make it, covered in soot, into the room below and that’s when the real fun starts. Here’s one of our feathered fiends after a rescue by Nick Ménage, Wilkins Chimney Sweep (North Oxon) Nick Ménage Pigeon Rescue. We’re glad to report that he gathered his feathers and took off shortly after this – and avoided the cat who thought lunch was being served on the lawn.

Best advice, aside from calling in a sweep, is to shut the doors and all the curtains except for one open window. The shoo the bird towards the light. It will hopefully leave of it’s own accord…

NESTING SEASON IS UPON US

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.

Jackdaws - nesting in a chimney pot near you?

Jackdaws – nesting in a chimney pot near you?

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!

Louise Harris

Franchise Director, Wilkins Chimney Sweep

01635 551454

‘Weather or not’ to have your chimney swept?

It’s been warm this year – did you notice?! Established chimney sweeps will tell you that the first frost brings a flood of telephone calls, and the threat, or first fall, of snow sets them ringing once more. This year has been an interesting one though. The inclement weather has meant that a lot of our customers feel that they did not use their chimneys much last winter and some have decided to ‘risk’ not having their chimneys swept until next year.

A recent spate of chimney fires across the country has had regional fire services a little concerned that people haven’t had their chimneys attended to and might be putting their properties, and worse, their lives, at risk.

Now this might sound like a bid for more business. We’re busy all year round and, whilst it has been a bit less manic than normal, we’ve still been sweeping chimneys across the UK… What got me thinking, however, was a particular call from a very nice lady who simply asked whether she needed to have her chimney swept this year. I was able to tell her the date of her last sweep. I was also able to remind her about the problem we’d identified with a tarred up chimney at that time. It had been 18 months since we’d last visited. She swore blind it was this year. This is not uncommon (I can imagine chimney sweeps everywhere with a wry smile as they’ve had these calls too) but of greater concern is that she thought she hadn’t used it much – what did I think?

Weather...or not?

Inclement October weather raises an interesting question!

The weather has been kind but people were using their fires into March and April this year. Since the weather wasn’t desperately cold but the winter seemed to drag on, many chose to use their fire rather than keep the heating on, perhaps. The problem is, for us, the answer has always got to be – have your chimney swept once a year as a minimum – ‘weather or not’, since many people cannot remember how much they used it and when it was last swept. There may be a flue blockage (the Jackdaws, too, have been enjoying the weather!) and at least you’ll know before there are any problems. The only way we can tell if it needs sweeping…is by sweeping it!

My feeling is that it is a risk to ‘pass’ on this year’s sweep.  And it’s not a risk we’re prepared to recommend. In the words of the good old Scout motto –Be Prepared. The weather may throw us a curved ball giving us Spring temperatures in October but it is just as likely to give us snow on Christmas Day – and your sweep will be tucking into his or her turkey by then…

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.

Nest removal

Remains of a birds nest with burnt residue

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.

Chimney Fire Potential

Having written about Jackdaws throughout April, I suppose I was only marginally surprised to read this article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-27849099

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.

Why Choose a…
Wilkins Chimney Sweep
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