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…
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
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.
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)
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!
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.
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.
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.
This week, a customer in Worthing contacted Mark Frost. He reported that mother squirrel (assumed) was regularly on their stack and they had heard scratching from behind their blanked off fireplace. Could he attend to and sort it out? They had tried to remove the old gas fire blanking plate and had seen 2 squirrels behind it, who then scurried back up the flue. A small amount of debris was in the fireplace, which they had cleared away. Mark told us, “I duly turned up and first removed their existing ceramic hood and then set about removing a nest (which was very small) thinking that the squirrel would exit at the pot level. The customer kept watch and I completed the sweep apparently without any critters emerging. On peering up the flue, however, one was sitting on a ledge looking at me – this year’s brood, about two thirds full size. I opened a window with the customer retreating outside to watch. I then managed to grab it after a bit of faffing around and carry it to the window and let it go outside, for which I was rewarded with a slight nip. (Not whisky!) As we weren’t able to watch the pot the whole time we assumed the other one went out of the top. I then fitted a ‘cap’ to the chimney pot and we thought that was the end of it.
This week, a customer in Worthing contacted Mark Frost. He reported that mother squirrel (assumed) was regularly on their stack and they had heard scratching from behind their blanked off fireplace. Could he attend to and sort it out? They had tried to remove the old gas fire blanking plate and had seen 2 squirrels behind it, who then scurried back up the flue. A small amount of debris was in the fireplace, which they had cleared away.
Mark told us, “I duly turned up and first removed their existing ceramic hood and then set about removing a nest (which was very small) thinking that the squirrel would exit at the pot level. The customer kept watch and I completed the sweep apparently without any critters emerging. On peering up the flue, however, one was sitting on a ledge looking at me – this year’s brood, about two thirds full size. I opened a window with the customer retreating outside to watch. I then managed to grab it after a bit of faffing around and carry it to the window and let it go outside, for which I was rewarded with a slight nip. (Not whisky!)
As we weren’t able to watch the pot the whole time we assumed the other one went out of the top. I then fitted a ‘cap’ to the chimney pot and we thought that was the end of it.
That evening the customer called again to report that scratching was still coming from behind the metal plate…and so I returned the next morning. When I arrived the parent squirrel was on the stack, presumably communicating with her offspring still in the flue. Once the metal plate was again removed it zoomed into the room, so I chased it about for a few minutes before catching and releasing him outside. Two very dark grey (!) squirrels saved! I am being a bit soppy here as we know they are vermin, with a price on their tails (sixpence from the Police Station!) until recently.”
Mark reported that neither of the bites was serious and went on to tell us “When I was a small boy my parents used to take me to Greenwich Park on Sundays. The squirrels there were so tame they used to crawl up your legs for nuts (jokes are available!) and I was bitten accidentally on a few occasions and lived to tell the tale!”
There we are – all in a day’s work for one of the ‘intrepid’ WILKINS team!