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Chimney Fires – Maintenance and Best Practise

Everyone likes the idea of sitting around a nice log fire on a cold winter evening but if like me, you have never lived in or owned a house that has a working chimney you might not realise the dangers that may be present and how to properly maintain them. There is even a Chimney Fire Safety Week (usually in September) which aims to raise consumer awareness about the importance of regular chimney and appliance maintenance and safe use. Handy information to know in case one day you do own a nice log fire!

A chimneys job is to provide an outlet for any smoke, vapour, small bits of unburned wood and any other by-products that result from burning fuel. These by-products cool down as they move up the chimney and as a result can solidify and stick to the sides creating a build up which if not cleaned correctly could result in a fire. The likelihood of this build up is also increased if burning wet wood or burning fuel at low temperatures as without the heat by-products will not be able to escape quick enough.

Regular chimney cleaning will eliminate the build up of soot, clear obstructions such as birds nests, and help prevent fires from breaking out, especially after a long period of time such as summer where it may not have been in use. A clean chimney could also help to reduce pollution. Chimney sweeps do an awful lot more than clearing soot from a chimney making it important to get a professional to do the job. They should undertake basic safety checks including things such as the visual condition of the pots etc, checking size regulations, positioning of the appliance in the house and checking there is sufficient ventilation. After all, just because you can’t see any damage to the outside of a chimney does not mean that there is no damage to the inside. It may even be possible to have a chimney fire that you are completely unaware about because of the lack of air or fuel making them very undramatic. Through The National Association of Chimney Sweeps website you can search for a chimney sweep local to you at https://nacs.org.uk/find-sweep/

According to the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service chimneys should be swept:

  • at least once a year when using smokeless fuels
  • at least once a year when using bituminous coal
  • every three months when using wood
  • once a year when using oil
  • once a year when using gas.

As with most things in life there are also a few safety tips that can be followed to ensure your fire is safe and efficient:

  • Make sure to use the correct fuel type for our appliance. Not all appliances are multi-fuel.
  • Firewood and any other combustible materials should not be kept immediately next to the fire. Often, you see firewood being stored next to a wood burner but the problem with this is that there is a chance that overtime the wood could ignite because of radiated heat.
  • Any wood being used should also have a wood moisture content below 20% which is determined by using a moisture meter on a freshly split side of a log. If logs are burnt that have a moisture content over 20% the burning temperature is reduced, less heat is produced and more fuel vapours are released which as previously mentioned will cause build up in the chimney (a potential fire risk) and also more air pollution.
  • Make sure your chosen appliance is suitable for the room it is intended for and is installed correctly and by a competent person. If an appliance is too big for the room the room may heat up too quick and temperatures turned down, resulting in inefficient burning of fuel.
  • For obvious reasons there must also be suitable ventilation to the room.
  • You can also use a thermometer, moisture meter and even a stove fan to improve efficiency, save money and reduce pollution.