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Looking after your
1) Burn Wood only
2) Burn dry wood only
3) Burn dry untreated wood only
4) Burn with enough air so plenty of bright orange flames
5) Don't slumber
6) Sweep regularly
7) Install a correctly sized appliance, don't oversize resulting in having to slumber to keep heat down
8) Leave doors on stove ajar through summer months when not in use
9) When you go to bed open air vents fully (assuming there's only a little fuel left)
Chimney Flue Maintenance
It is a common misconception that you only need your chimney swept and maintained if you have an open wood burning or coal fireplace. Stoves are all the rage nowadays, and though they might be
less of a sooty affair, all stoves and heating appliances that make use of a chimney need to have their flue maintained to safe standards. If you do not ensure that this is done, you are leaving
yourself open to:
* Higher levels of carbon monoxide - This is dangerous for your health even at fairly low, consistent levels. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a slow process that worsens over time, and is not always the dramatic and sudden reaction to over exposure that most people associate it with. Symptoms can be dangerously subtle and flu-like (e.g fatigue, nausea and feeling generally run-down)
* Higher risk of fires - If your chimney is poorly maintained, the buildup of debris, soot etc will only increase your likelihood of experiencing a fire in your home or in the chimney's flue itself. Either type of fire is just as dangerous, and if you expect that you have either kind in your house, evacuate the area immediately and dial 999.
* Structural damage - This is any home owner's nightmare. Not only is structural damage something that will dramatically decrease the value of your home, but it can be dangerous and often life threatening.
All flues should be checked for blockages caused by falling soot, bird nests or masonry debris. Often, these faults will only be revealed by having the chimney swept by a professional chimney sweep who knows exactly what it is they are looking for. A chimney sweep should be carried out regularly:
* At least twice per year when wood or other solid fuels are being burnt.
* At least once each year if burning gas or oil.
Acids or tars generated by wood or coal products are corrosive and can in time erode mortar or flaunching. This is an example of the structural damage I mentioned earlier. Any damage caused by the erosion of mortar or flaunching can be found by having it surveyed, as can other signs of damage or holes, which should be repaired promptly to prevent leakage of combustion gases into rooms or roof spaces. Factors such as these are just some of the reasons why most home insurance companies require that you have proof that your chimney is regularly swept in the form of an official certificate backed by a chimney sweep association.
It is essential that an efficient hearth has a good air supply. As many of us had it drummed into us at school, a fire needs access to plenty of oxygen to burn well. A common cause of air starvation is excessive draught proofing or the use of double glazed replacement windows. The fitting of solid fuel or multi fuel stoves should be carried out by a qualified fitter who will ensure that there is adequate ventilation. Sadly, though, this isn't always the case. Additional venting may sometimes have to be fitted to rectify errors made in your stove's installation.
A handy tip on how to keep your flue healthy yourself in between chimney sweeps is that you should use the proper fuel required for your heating appliance. For wood burning or multi fuel equipment, you should burn only seasoned hardwood. Seasoned hardwood should have a maximum of a 20% moisture content, and it should have been dried for at least one year. Improperly seasoned wood will not burn anywhere near as well, and so can lead to excessive build ups of debris, and is a waste of your hard earned money. One way of telling if the wood you are buying is properly seasoned is by visually inspecting it. The wood should look dry and cracked, and the inside should be very light in colour, while the drying process should leave the outside of the wood very dark.
Another thing to note is that when a cowl is fitted to a chimney, the fixings must be inspected periodically to ensure that the fasteners are tight, especially in areas subjected to high winds.
By looking after the upkeep of your chimney and stove/fireplace, you will be avoiding a lot of time and effort spent in fixing the problems that buildups and faults can cause. In the long run, you could be saving energy (both yours and wasted energy from your heating appliance!), money and possibly even yours and your family's lives.
Considering that so many homes have working chimneys, some information is not as commonly known as it should be. In my line of work, I have come across a few inaccurate beliefs that are shared by a surprising number of homeowners. Here are a few:
"I don't need to worry about carbon monoxide. My stove isn't fuelled by gas."
Carbon monoxide poisoning is most often associated with gas leaks. Anything burned that contains carbon (e.g wood, coal) produces carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is odourless and a non-irritant and symptoms can be difficult to distinguish between the common flu or fatigue. I cannot stress enough that it is of the utmost importance that preventative measures are taken by keeping your chimney, flue, stove, fireplace etc well maintained in order to keep you and your family safe.
"If it burns, it's safe to use as fuel."
People are sometimes lead to believe that they can burn any kind of wood on their fire. Kindling is kindling, isn't it? This is an incorrect assumption. Wood needs to be properly treated, so that moisture levels within are is at or below the recommended 20%. Correctly treated wood tends to be darker on the outside and whiter on the inside as a result of the drying process. A good tip is to buy wood for your fireplace at least a year in advance of using it if. This will give you a roaring fire and a better working chimney.
"I only need to get a chimney sweep in once every few years if I'm not having problems."
For your home insurance, you will need to have your chimney properly swept as often as your stove or fireplace requires, so that it can be certified. Without the proper certificate, you have no proof that you are taking steps to look after the upkeep of your chimney.
"I don't need a chimney sweep. I can do it myself."
If you know how to clean and upkeep your chimney, then this is great news! You will know how to ensure that yours is safe and well looked after. However, if you are not certified to do the job, you will be unable to issue yourself the certificate needed to keep your home insurance valid. Even if you can do a good job of sweeping your chimney yourself, it is a good idea to get a professional chimney sweep in to inspect the job you have done, and to give you the certificate you need.