chimney blockage

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 3: Chimney Fire Safety Week – Fuel!

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:

SOLID 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.

OIL

 

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. 

FIRE LOGS

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

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.

For those who are able to buy wood in bulk  and have room to season it themselves we have put together the TOP 3 woods to burn…and 3 to avoid for burning – although we do recommend roasting the fruit of the chestnut tree: it’s what open fires were made for! Remember however: Always buy the best you can, or ensure that you ‘season’ (the drying process) the wood.

TOP 3:

APPLE

OAK

ASH

3 TO AVOID:

PINE

ELM

CHESTNUT

And finally, there’s a great little poem to guide you:

WOODBURNER’S GUIDE:

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!

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

Slumbering your way to danger…

 

A very tarred up pot and cowl

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.

Three friends for woodburner users!

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…

Louise Harris

Use someone who can…

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-in-boiler-fluestalactites-in-boiler-flue-too

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)

stalactites-removed

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!

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!

Happy New year 2016

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.

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

We’ve been working with landlords to help them keep on the right side of the law with new regulations on carbon monoxide alarms in tenanted properties (it’s not just a smoke alarm that’s required now) and have been able to ensure that all our customers have a suitable CO Alarm in place to keep them safe when using their woodburners, open fires etc.

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.

 

 

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…

Why Choose a…
Wilkins Chimney Sweep
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