fire safety

Why do we need a ‘CHIMNEY FIRE SAFETY WEEK’?

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!

Louise Harris


Wilkins Chimney Sweep

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

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.



Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

A recent article, published by Wilkins Chimney Sweep (West Suffolk) in their local Haverhill Press, prompted contact with the originators of this website. If you haven’t ever seen it, it’s a cheeky little graphic that is understandable and clear!

Please share it – we think it might help to save lives.

And don’t forget that all your Wilkins Chimney Sweep’s are fully trained and sell carbon monoxide alarms if you need one…

Clear message - The Silent Killer

Clear message – The Silent Killer



Chimney Fire Safety Week

The 8th to 14th September 2014 is National Chimney Fire Safety Week and fire services across the UK have been challenged to engage with the community on keeping safe in their homes.

This has me thinking.

We live in an area with a lot of thatched property (West Berkshire) and the owners of these much coveted properties are tasked by their insurers to provide a certificate of sweeping at least annually. And I wonder why all household insurance policies don’t carry this stipulation directly when there is a ‘live chimney’ (a chimney in use, or a woodburner flue) perhaps with an option to simply provide a ‘not used’ disclaimer each year. (They do typically have a ‘must maintain the property’ clause though…this is a catch all in the event of a claim but not useful for preventative action!)

I have asked this question of any insurance brokers who I meet but don’t yet have the ear of any of the UK insurers to pose this thought to them. I’d be delighted if you pass this on!

I am not an advocate of the ‘big brother state’ where the public are forced down the route of more bureaucracy in for matters of safety – both lives and property – surely this would serve as a low cost and efficient way for householders to be reminded that chimney sweeping is a critical part of house maintenance.

I think the problem is visible in another way. Our local fire safety officer has told me tales of fire crews arriving at a property where the smoke alarm has been disabled because it’s ‘irritating’ the householder. And yet the average person will undoubtedly tell you how mad this action is …and go ahead anyway because they regularly burn the toast and the smoke alarm is ‘very annoying’. My personal feeling is that it would be far more ‘annoying’ to have your house burn down.

Fire Kills

Fire Kills

Image courtesy of federico stevanin /

So, my contribution to the forthcoming chimney fire safety week is to simply spread the word and that’s what I’m challenging you to do, too, as you’re reading this. It doesn’t cost much to have your chimney swept annually. It may cost lives if you are using the fire regularly and DON’T have it swept.

And if you happen to be an insurer and think this is a good idea, please take it. Have it. Claim it as your own. We don’t want the credit. We’d just like people please to have their chimneys swept by a reputable, qualified chimney sweep at least annually and then get on with the safe enjoyment of their fire or woodburner.

(Louise Harris, Wilkins Chimney Sweep, Newbury)

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