Prevent chimney fires

No matter what kind of solid fuel you burn, it can have implications for your home, your health and your bank balance – and not just in the obvious ways.

Your solid fuel heating system needs to have its chimney regularly swept to make sure it’s working as well as it should and to prevent chimney fires. That might seem strange; after all, it has no moving parts, so why would it not work?

For a number of reasons, say members of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps.

Avoiding chimney flue problems

• Anything that burns fuel, they say, produces carbon monoxide, with solid fuel stoves and open fires producing hundreds of times that of oil or gas appliances. That means the flues need to be kept clear so the gas can escape, and so there is nothing up there to fuel a chimney fire.

• These days, some insurance companies won’t cover a chimney fire if the chimney hasn’t been swept by a competent person, and some authorities will charge up to £2,000 if the fire brigade attends to put out a fire in an unswept chimney. Not everyone heeds that advice; in 2010 32,000 UK homes suffered chimney fires.

• As the chilly nights of autumn set in and we think about lighting fires, it’s important to check that chimneys haven’t been partly obstructed by birds’ nests during the summer.

• The wrong kind of fuel, like coal or coke in a wood burner, will make an appliance burn inefficiently, which creates more soot.

• Wood needs to be seasoned, and to burn effectively needs to have a moisture content of less than 20%. Store it in a way that lets air circulate.

• Plywood, chipboard and MDF burn inefficiently, so not only will they not create a lot of heat, but the smoke from them is a high in tar, which is extremely flammable and will collect in the chimney.

What’s more, the buildup of flammable material in a chimney can stop carbon monoxide escaping from a room, where it can linger and be a killer. It’s colourless, odourless and tasteless, so you won’t know it’s there. However, carbon monoxide detectors have a more sensitive nose, and will pick it up long before your life or health are threatened. Some models offer dual functionality, rolling in smoke detection abilities too.

Chimney SweeperSo what’s the right frequency for sweeping a chimney to avoid all these downsides?

• Smokeless coals: At least once a year
• Wood: Once a season when in use on open fires, twice a season for stoves
• Bitumous coal: Twice a year
• Oil: Once a year
• Gas: Once a year.

Now we’re leaving summer behind, and that makes it the best time to have a competent person, like those who are members of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, to make sure your chimney is ready for the winter. Remember: If there’s nothing up the chimney that can burn, you’re not going to have a chimney fire.

Chimney sweeps have a far more important role than turning up as a quaint good luck charm at weddings. They can prevent your home catching fire, and stop you suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.