chimney swept

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

 

Stove liner collapse – burning the wrong fuel

Woodburners and multi-fuel stoves are fantastic. They look good, they’re cleaner and their warmth output is greater than open fires. But…and you knew there was one coming…they can be trouble if you aren’t careful.

Simply put, there is typically a steel liner installed from your stove up your chimney to take away the smoke. And this often catches out new owners of stoves. The problem is that stainless steel doesn’t last forever – and is quickly corroded if you burn wood and coal or smokeless fuel together – even in a multi-fuel stove.

This liner was installed in 2011 and gave up after 5 years. Whilst there is definitely a warranty on most of these flues, there is also a protocol regarding what to burn. Multi-fuel stoves –designed to burn both coal and wood – should only burn one or the other. Combinations of fuel can lead to production of a mild acid that can destroy stainless steel.

Using a reputable HETAS installer, following the instructions regarding the stove use and having the flue regularly swept will help but burning the correct fuel and not mixing fuels is essential – and not something that is widely known.

Unfortunately this customer will have to have her flue replaced and will undoubtedly feel despondent at having to make a further investment. It is the second one this month that our team have been called to sweep and it doesn’t make for good news.

Keep safe this winter – book a sweep now so you’re ready for the cooler season and, if problems occur you have time to resolve them!

For more information on this HETAS is a good place to start…there are some excellent booklets available that are free to download: HETAS

Hetas

Steel liner collapse

Steel liner collapse

Steel Liner corrosion

 

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!

Chimney Fire’s on the increase…we can help!

It is frustrating for any chimney sweep to read that chimney fires are on the increase – but sadly we possibly could have predicted that there would be a similar headline sometime soon. And now it has happened. We can only report our direct experience but there are a number of customers who we have swept for a number of times in the past when they had an open fire. After having a woodburner fitted they have advised that they won’t need the chimney swept now because they have had a liner installed. Of course, there may be times when an installer fails to make things clear, but the truth of the matter is that some people appear to believe that this is a way to save money. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fire service recommend more frequent sweeping due to the narrowness of lined flues – and woodburners do need a little more attention in respect of the burning temperature. ‘Idling’ a woodburner can result in tar/creosote build up that is difficult to remove and can also damage the liner if it catches fire – prevention is best as there may be no cure.

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 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.

 

 

Frank Shurey. Thank You.

The WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP team were deeply saddened to learn that Frank Shurey, a very important part of the Wilkins heritage, had passed away on 8th October 2015.

Peter Harris, Managing Director, bought the original WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP business from Frank, and his wife Gloria, in 1998. Gloria is the daughter of Bill Wilkins who taught Frank to sweep chimneys. With Gloria running the business side they built the sound foundations of the systems that Peter bought and has developed.

Frank was a family man through and through. We were glad to be able to attend his funeral on Friday 23rd October 2015 and to hear the stories of his life.

Bill Wilkins & Frank Shurey Chimney Sweeps

Frank Shurey (left) with his father-in-law, Bill Wilkins, taken in 1995 to celebrate the centenary year of Wilkins Chimney Sweep.

Behind every man, and woman, there is a story and we were privileged to have known such a good man, and more so to have him as our predecessor. We’d like to publicly thank him for the opportunity and for taking such an interest in our journey.

In honour of Frank, we have made a donation to Thames Valley Air Ambulance, his chosen charity. We wish him, and his family, peace.

 

 

Severe Weather Warning – keeping you safe and warm

 

 

 

Recent compelling headlines about severe weather warnings are not really unusual for this time of year. One year we identified three headlines with directly opposing data so we are aware that there may be some scaremongering!

However, it started us thinking about what this really means. (we have touched on this previously – we may be understandably slightly obsessed with the weather! (Blog: Weather or not to have your chimney swept) Of course there is the usual bedlam on the roads but for the most part the real challenge will be for the very young, the elderly and the infirm. The government pay a winter fuel allowance that might take care of some increased fuel bills but many people will rely on their open fires, and wood burners and stoves if the weather is bad. So here’s a little checklist that is easy, practical and undoubtedly sensible whether you’re young, old, rich, poor and everything in between!

El Nino Effect?

El Nino Effect?

  • Make sure your supply of fuel is well stocked. Oil ordered / coal bunker full / seasoned wood in a dry storage place. (Blog: Which wood to burn)
  • Ensure that your chimney has been swept within the last 12 months. It is crucial to make that call a chimney sweep if there is any soot fall or evidence of bird activity such as twigs in the grate.
  • Check and/or install a carbon monoxide alarm in any room where fuel is being burnt – not just by the gas appliances…this will shortly be LAW in tenanted properties. (Blog: CO – the Silent Killer)
  • Check your smoke alarm.

These few things could keep you safe and warm.

Why not be a great neighbour and pass this on to someone you know might need a helping hand if that cold front does set in.

Alternatively we’ll see you on the beach in Whitley Bay on Christmas Day for a barbecue!

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

Merry Christmas!

We’re wishing all of our fabulously loyal and supportive customers a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2014. Thank you for using WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP – we hope that you enjoy using your fireplaces and woodburners this festive season – relax and keep safe.

We’ve supported The Katies Haines Trust during our Christmas regional meetings and wearing our lovely Christmas jumpers – please make sure your Carbon Monoxide alarm is on, charged and working to keep you safe whilst using your fires, woodburners and stoves…

(And please look out for advice coming soon on NOT burning your Christmas tree!)

The official Wilkins Chimney Sweep Christmas tree!

The official Wilkins Chimney Sweep Christmas tree!

Merry Christmas from WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP

 

‘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…

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