Chimney Safety

Ignoring your chimney doesn’t stack up

What can be more comforting on a dark, winter’s evening than snuggling up in front of a cosy fire and watching those mesmerising flames? If you’ve been prudent and kept your chimney well maintained then you can rest assured that you’ve considerably lessened the risk of any problems, but what dangers could be lurking if the chimney has been neglected?

According to government and fire service statistics, in 2013/14 there were 7,700 chimney fires across Great Britain; that averages 400 chimney fires every week – over 20 per day. These shocking statistics should serve as a warning against complacency when it comes to chimney safety at your property.

Billing Chimneys have years of experience in dealing with chimneys of all kinds and undertaking their maintenance. This short article explains how Billing Chimneys can help you to avoid problems and ensure that your chimney is operating safely and efficiently. Take a few moments to read it, it could save you a lot of distress and please, feel free to pass it on.

Having a clean, safe chimney can prevent serious hazards, these include:

  • Soot falls – causing mess and damaging carpets and furnishings
  • Creosote build-up – a sticky, highly inflammable deposit created from wood burning. Creosote build-up can cause blockages and can catch fire
  • Blockages – caused by the build-up of debris
  • Fire – causing smoke damage, structural damage and even destroying the home or premises
  • Carbon monoxide – a deadly gas which can accumulate and seep into rooms if it cannot escape

The best way to avoid these dangers, whether the chimney is domestic or commercial, is to ensure that it is well-maintained.

Trevor Hendes, manager of Billing Chimneys said: ‘Chimneys are designed to disperse all the smoke and fumes created by combustion safely into the atmosphere, if this doesn’t happen then any of the hazards listed could occur. Using state-of-the-art CCTV, we can make a thorough inspection of the inside of the flue and make sure that your chimney is working at its best. During the survey we can identify anything untoward missed or exposed by sweeping, including any structural damage that could be causing leaks.’

Whilst most people will believe a fire to be the most serious hazard, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is also a considerable risk with a poorly maintained chimney. Ask people what they consider to be the cause of such poisoning, they’re likely to say “gas appliances.” What people don’t often realise is that this deadly gas can also build up when burning wood, oil or coal.

Poisoning by carbon monoxide can be fatal. This noxious gas has no smell, taste or colour. Most people are aware that poorly maintained gas appliances and lack of ventilation can be sources of carbon monoxide, but carbon monoxide can build up in a blocked flue or chimney, as it cannot escape. Instead it can seep back into a room. It can also seep through cracks. Carbon monoxide detectors are essential in a home with chimneys or flues.

‘The risk from carbon monoxide poisoning is very serious and caused when the gas created during burning cannot escape,’ said Trevor. ‘As well as being stopped from escaping by blockages, carbon monoxide can also seep through cracks in the chimney or damaged sections of chimney liner. These problems will show up during a survey.’

If a fireplace, that has been left unused for some time, is to be returned to use then it is essential to call the chimney sweep to make sure that before lighting a fire the flue is clear and clean. The sweep will also be able to tell you if the flue is lined or not and if there is the possibility of a problem by inspecting the debris being removed and also by the feel of the brushes as the flue is swept. If there is any question about the integrity of the flue then do not light a fire but arrange to have the flue inspected. This would involve the CCTV survey described above.

If there is any question that the flue might leak then the flue must be lined. The type of liner you need will depend upon the chimney or flue. It is important to ensure that the right liner is fitted so this work should be undertaken by qualified engineers such as Billings.

‘Incorrect installation can affect the efficiency and safety of the liner. The other important thing to note is that liners also need regular inspection. Split or damaged liners can allow gas to seep into the home,’ said Trevor. ‘It is why we invested in a high-quality CCTV system, to give our customers the very best service.’

Another common item people think of when they consider chimney safety is a cowl. Cowls come in many shapes and sizes. They are used to stop blockages, such as birds and nests, to prevent rain causing damp, to increase updraft and stop downdraft. Cowls sound the ideal solution to chimney safety, but the wrong cowl or a badly fitted cowl could be as dangerous as the risks they are meant to alleviate.

Trevor explains: ‘It is not always necessary to fit a cowl and imperative that if you do, it is the correct cowl for the type of chimney or flue used. Always consult a qualified chimney engineer before fitting a cowl. There are different types depending on the type of fuel being used and also considerations depending on your roof covering in particular if thatch is present.

If your chimney catches fire

  1. Leave the room closing the door behind you
  2. Alert everyone in the property
  3. Get out of the house
  4. Call 999 and ask for the fire service
  5. Stay out

Always have a working smoke alarm – you may not be in the room when a fire starts.

Whatever type of chimney or flue you have the main message on chimney safety is to have your chimney swept regularly by qualified chimney sweeps and to burn only the fuel approved by the stove manufacturer. Never burn rubbish, wet or painted wood.

Should there be any suggestion that the flue is not operating correctly – the smell of smoke upstairs for instance or visible tar appearing on the flue pipe or the rear of the fire place, then call in a chimney specialist to find out the cause of the problem and correct it.

Many house insurers include clauses in policies invalidating claims where a chimney has not been maintained. Preventing the risks that can occur is far better than dealing with the aftermath of a soot fall, fire or worse.

So, make a note to call your chimney expert before the winter when your chimney will be in use. You service your car and boiler regularly, so add your chimney or flue inspection to that list, for safety’s sake.

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