Warnings on the use of open fires in the home
February 18, 2009barriehol
Our local Fire and Rescue Service (what happened to the Fire Brigade?) are highlighting their concerns regarding the public’s increasing use of open fires. The trend to bring open fires back into service has been “fuelled” by the economic downturn and the obscene increases in the cost of heating fuels including Gas, Heating Oil and Electricity.
In the old days before smoke free zones became the norm an open coal fire was the principal source of home heating that coupled to a back (of fire)boiler that heated the water cistern and later led to the central heating system. I am of an age to recall the advent of central heating and it certainly transformed living conditions for many.
As a result a huge percentage of the housing stock has an open fire and chimney flue – even if they have subsequently been blocked up or fitted with a modern gas or electric appliance. In the house where I was raised we also had open fire grates in the bedrooms.
To re-commission an existing fire grate to start burning wood or eco safe solid fuels on the face of it should be OK. The problem is that people overlook the fact that the chimney should be properly maintained. Carbon fuels lead to a build up of soot in the flue, particularly when burning logs. Also if the chimney has been out of service for any length of time the chances are that birds have nested in the stack.
If you light a fire under these circumstances you could end up with a fire in the stack itself, a damaging fall of soot in the living room or a house full of smoke. You can also ignite the chimney by burning paper and plastics materials that can be easily drawn up the stack by the updraft.
More serious would be if the chimney lining and pointing had deteriorated over time allowing the fire to break out into a roof space. With all that dry timber around the consequences could be devastating.
The advice from the Fire and Rescue Services is that if you are looking to save on your heating bills by re-using you open fire start be getting the chimney swept – yes there are still chimney sweeps out there – and continue to sweep at least once a year. Check the stack for any damage or loose bricks and invest in a fire guard. They also point out that Gas fires that vent through the chimney stack also cause a build up of soot that require sweeping.
If you want to protect yourself and your family further, as I mentioned in a previous blog, fit a smoke alarm and invest in a fire extinguisher. A 3 litre water + additive extinguisher is £25.95 EX VAT. A more versatile 2 KG ABC Dry powder is just £13.25 EX VAT and is also rated for use on burning Gas, Oil and Petroleum Fuels but note that it will leave more mess than water when used.