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…
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’re sorry to advise that Good King Wenceslas may not have been quite the ‘good’ King we sing about. You might recall the words of the song indicate that the ‘poor man’ was gathering winter fuel. As a result, the King ordered that he be brought pine logs to deliver to the ‘poor man’.
Our Autumn blog, as a result of many questions (http://www.wilkinschimneysweep.co.uk/which-wood-to-burn/) advised Ash for the King to ‘warm his slippers by’ – and pine doesn’t feature at all on the list of woods to burn!
Everyone is discouraged from burning pine wood as it has an exceptionally high resin content; this resin becomes creosote (tar) when burnt and is very likely to ‘tar up’ the flue.
Tar is a problem for a number of reasons:
- It is frequently cited as the cause of chimney fires
- A chimney fire can damage the chimney (including woodburner flues)
There is a similar problem with our lovely Christmas trees – and the needles and small branches may ‘flare’ when burnt and could ignite any residual soot or tar in the chimney! So, however tempting it is to throw that tree on the fire at twelfth night, this wood cannot be seasoned and may result in serious problems, so please resist the urge!
From all at WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP, we wish our current (and future!) customers a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a safe burning season.
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?
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…