HETAS Approved Installer

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

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

 

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. http://www.thesilentkiller.co.uk/

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

 

 

Buying a new home?

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.

Nest removal

Remains of a birds nest with burnt residue

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.

Chimney Lining Horror Story

Many householders living in older properties who are having a woodburner installed sensibly have their chimney’s lined. However, there are people who do not install these correctly! All new installations must be signed off by the local council building control officer or installed by a HETAS Approved Installer. Sadly there are some real rogues out there when it comes to people lining chimneys and one of our customer’s this week has been a victim of this. We swept a chimney with a liner and whilst doing so the customer advised us that she had had a bird down the chimney. On inspecting the pot from the ground a rusted piece of chicken wire was seen and we were asked to replace this with a stainless steel mesh birdguard.

Working with Ben Hughes of Ben Hughes Chimneys, from the ladder, he looked into the pot and observed that the birds had built a nest between the liner and the brick chimney. This space should have either been filled with insulation material or sealed to prevent this from happening. (Apologies for the photograph quality but we hope it gives you an idea.)

We are now obliged to wait until early July when Ben can remove the liner because there is a live Jackdaw chick at home. We will then sweep and remove the nest debris and the customer will have the liner reinstalled (assuming there was no damage to the liner when it was installed) and we will make sure it is secured correctly to prevent this happening again. 

Gap between the chimney and the liner where the nest has been built.

Gap between the chimney and the liner where the nest has been built.

Jackdaw chick in nest between pot and liner.

Jackdaw chick in nest between pot and liner.

Sadly, of course, the ‘victim’ of this scam is an elderly lady, living alone, who can’t find the paperwork from the original installer and, in any case, is nervous to take any action primarily as she doesn’t wish to have him back in the house.

Our plea to the British public – please think carefully before you have this type of work done. We recommend that you use a HETAS Approved Installer who will issue you with a certificate of installation. Keep all your receipts just in case there is a problem. HETAS want to hear of any HETAS Approved Installers who don’t come up to standard and will help you resolve these issues. Please be safe!

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Wilkins Chimney Sweep
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