Are you looking for a ‘different’ Christmas present for someone this year? That one person who seems to have everything and needs nothing? Well, the elves at Wilkins Towers have had a hunt around the internet for some fun, quirky and unusual chimney, wood and fire related gifts that might just help you out of a tricky gift giving conundrum this Christmas.
If the person like fires, wood, trees or gardens, they are probably going to LOVE one of these (we’d like the chainsaw course please.)
On a serious note, whilst our list may save your Christmas present giving reputation, the first gift on the lift may actually save someone’s life so could we recommend one in each stocking? This year we adopted the Katie Haines Memorial Trust as our charity of the year; Katie died of carbon monoxide poisoning shortly after she got married and we’re working with the Trust to spread the word about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
Wherever you are this Christmas – please stay safe, have fun and enjoy the holidays!
Peter, Louise and Gerry the Cat x
The Wilkins Chimney Sweep Guide to the ‘hottest’ chimney-related Christmas presents around!
Click on the item if you want to find them online – other suppliers may be available!
Carbon Monoxide Alarm
At Wilkins we sell a ‘standard’ look, but top quality, carbon monoxide alarm (Honeywell XC90). But for something a bit different we think this NEST smoke and CO alarm combo is pretty attractive. An essential piece of equipment for all fireplace users. LINK TO NEST STORE
Whilst we love old-fashioned designs this wall hung companion set attracted us because it is so unusual. Pretty sure Austin Powers would describe it as ‘Groovy Baby.’ LINK TO FIREPLACE PRODUCTS
Did you know that this handy device, when placed on top of your wood-burning or multi-fuel stove, pushes the heat around your home? They are brilliant and can really make a difference in a big room, we highly recommend them. They are mostly utilitarian in appearance (there’s a market there surely?) but we found this lovely fan that reminded us of reindeer antlers! FIND ME ON GEARBEST
Wood Storage – Indoors
We hope by now, if you have read any of our other blog posts, you’ll know it is REALLY important you only burn DRY wood (wet wood releases tar which sticks to the inside of the chimney which can, in turn ignite, causing a chimney fire.) Achieve safety and beauty with this ingenious indoor log store that will let your logs dry out beautifully in just a few days. We saw this one at a local show – and thought it was particularly appropriate as it looks like a Christmas candle. SEE THE RANGE HERE AT ARDOUR LIVING
Wood Storage – Outdoors
If you have longer to dry out your logs how about this beauty? We thought ‘5 Gold Rings’ when we saw this one! Wood that is stored to dry out still benefits from air circulating through it, so this design is great. Pop a tarp over it in the wet weather. SEARCH WORM.CO.UK!
Make your own logs – paper log maker
Are you forever at the local garage buying bags of logs? Why not make your own from old newspapers? This brilliant little contraption will help you save £££’s on your yearly log bill. Simply soak the paper in water until it is mushy, load into the log maker and press down to expel all the water. Leave to try and voila, free logs! LOOK FOR ME ON PAPERLOGMAKER
If you use your fire a lot, own a small bit of land and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, why not grow your own wood? A Somerset company runs day courses to teach you all you need to know to plant, maintain and harvest your very own willow wood. The course is £60, next one in early Feb and the ‘grow your own’ kit starts at £65! CONTACT THE WILLOWBANK
Cut down your own wood – with a professional chain saw course
And finally…something silly! Behold the Beacon!
That brings us to the end of our lift of chimney-related gifts for Christmas 2017. If you buy any of them we’d love to see a photo (especially if it is the beacon!)
Wishing you a very happy Christmas from the Wilkins Team.
So the summer holiday season is over and now you’re thinking of heading off for a winter break in a country hotel, or maybe even jetting off to some far flung beach for some winter sun?
Who doesn’t love the idea of long walks in the countryside and returning to a drink by a roaring log fire or lying on a sun drenched beach, cocktail in hand while temperatures in the UK plummet and people mutter darkly about the annual return of the ‘thermal vest’?
Pack your bags – it’s time to fly!
Your bag is packed you’re ready to go – now be honest, hands up if you give even a passing thought to whether there will be a carbon monoxide alarm fitted in your hotel room? No? Didn’t think so.
Obviously we’re in the safety business so inevitably it is something we think about; our chosen charity – the Katie Haines Memorial Trust – is a stark reminder. Katie died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning just weeks after returning from her honeymoon, and yet even WE don’t cover some of the basics ourselves. We’re complacent because we don’t really want to think about it and we hope that others will think about our safety instead, because we ‘presume’ they have a ‘responsibility to do so.’
Cost Cutting Costs Lives
The harsh truth is that hotels and holiday companies will cut corners; they are being squeezed to provide more ‘experience’ for less money – just look at poor old Monarch Airlines. So what gives eventually? The hidden bits of a trip – the unregulated health and safety perhaps? The missing carbon monoxide alarms?
Almost every day there are reports of landlords, hotel owners, apartment managers and facilities managers who have failed in their duties to provide these basic safety items, but by the time the report makes it into the public arena, it’s usually too late, someone has lost their life.
Here are just two stories, both posted within a few weeks of us writing this article:
- British School Children Narrowly Escape Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Spanish Hotel – 21 September 2017
- Fire Crews Rescue Two Women After Oil Burner Leaks Carbon Monoxide – 29 Sept 2017
Luckily in these two cases no life was lost but for those where the outcome was not so good, it seems tragic that for the sake of £30 (or less) they could have been protected with an alarm that would have detected and alerted them to the odourless, tasteless, invisible killer that is carbon monoxide. The killer that can travel through walls and leach out of appliances such as boilers, Agas, open fires, wood burning stoves etc. So please, buy one today, keep it in your suitcase and take it with you every time you stay away from home.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Children on the Rise
Worryingly, Project SHOUT, set up by Stacey Rogers whose son Dominic (10) died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning when fumes permeated through the wall of his bedroom from a neighbouring property, has reported that cases of children arriving at A&E suffering from the effects of CO poisoning have risen dramatically. On a more positive note, we are delighted to hear that MP’s have been asking for a Carbon Monoxide detector to be fitted in every home recently and await the outcome with great hope.
Mum’s The Word
I was delighted to receive an email from a friend who is a Mum recently – she reported her story as follows:
I thought you’d like to hear this conversation I had with my son last week; he is 22 and just moved to London, sharing a house with four friends from Uni.
Me: Have you unpacked your Carbon Monoxide Alarm I gave you?
Him: Funny you should say that. One of my house mates asked me if we had one and I said ‘Yes, my Mum gave me one last week’. My mate said ‘it must be a Mum thing, my Mum’s been nagging me to get one as well’!
Give the gift of life
Whoever you are reading this – a Mum, Dad, friend, neighbour, daughter or son, sister or brother, or just someone who cares, please could you add something to your shopping list? Whether it’s on this week’s groceries shop, a birthday gift or perhaps a friend heading off on holiday, please give A CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM. Go on…it might just save a life (and remember you need one PER appliance, i.e. boiler, Aga, open fire, wood burning stove, NOT one per house).
Where to buy your Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Plenty of places sell the alarms, your local hardware store or, for the more ‘do it now’ amongst us, you can buy them online from:
We wish you, and your new Carbon Monoxide alarm a safe winter break!
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…
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
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!
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.
Wilkins Chimney Sweep
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.
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…
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
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!
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.
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.
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…
We’re sorry to advise that Good King Wenceslas may not have been quite the ‘good’ King we sing about. You might recall the words of the song indicate that the ‘poor man’ was gathering winter fuel. As a result, the King ordered that he be brought pine logs to deliver to the ‘poor man’.
Our Autumn blog, as a result of many questions (http://www.wilkinschimneysweep.co.uk/which-wood-to-burn/) advised Ash for the King to ‘warm his slippers by’ – and pine doesn’t feature at all on the list of woods to burn!
Everyone is discouraged from burning pine wood as it has an exceptionally high resin content; this resin becomes creosote (tar) when burnt and is very likely to ‘tar up’ the flue.
Tar is a problem for a number of reasons:
- It is frequently cited as the cause of chimney fires
- A chimney fire can damage the chimney (including woodburner flues)
There is a similar problem with our lovely Christmas trees – and the needles and small branches may ‘flare’ when burnt and could ignite any residual soot or tar in the chimney! So, however tempting it is to throw that tree on the fire at twelfth night, this wood cannot be seasoned and may result in serious problems, so please resist the urge!
From all at WILKINS CHIMNEY SWEEP, we wish our current (and future!) customers a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a safe burning season.