woodburner installation

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

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

 

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

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 Fire Potential

Having written about Jackdaws throughout April, I suppose I was only marginally surprised to read this article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-27849099

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.

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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