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Planning Retirement Online

Chimney fires are not
a thing of the past

February 2017

man fixing a chimney

Just when we think the British winter is over, another cold spell can snap in. With fires and wood burning stoves now common place, we can get so used to having them merrily burning away that we forget the dangers of chimney fires.

Yet Fire and Rescue Services across the UK will confirm that they attend hundreds of chimney fires every year.

Chimneys are an integral part of fires in the home. When fuel burns, it releases numerous gases.  Hot air rises so a good chimney above a fire will ensure these gases will rise and be carried safely away from your home and living room. You also need air to filter in to feed the fire with oxygen. Having a nice clear chimney will help draw in the flow of air and ensure the fire burns well and safely.

Soot – a by-product of burning fossil fuels - and also debris which sometimes can find its way up or down a chimney needs to be removed regularly. You don’t have to wait until the end of the season to have this done and if you didn’t have your chimney checked before the onset of winter, it might be very worthwhile to check it out now.

Evidently the most common causes of chimney fires are infrequent sweeping and cleaning. However fires are also caused by the burning of unseasoned wood.

Dry well-seasoned wood will have a moisture content of less than 17 per cent. And dry wood is recommended not just because of the obvious explanation that it will burn more easily. Burning wet or newly cut wood, especially coniferous wood, can cause tar or creosote to form in the wood burner and on the inside of a flu or the chimney which can be hazardous because creosote is highly flammable.

One tip to help prevent this is that if a wood burner has been used slowly, for instance kept in overnight, then this should be followed by a really fast burn in the fire. This extra heat will warm up the chimney and dry out any creosote that has formed on the inside.

Sometimes chimney fires can catch a hold before they are noticed. Excessive smoke and embers falling back into the hearth are a good sign something may be wrong;  sparks shooting out from the top of the chimney is also another sign that you may well have a chimney fire.

Another indication is if the walls around the chimney become unusually hot.

The Fire Service has issued recommended guidelines on how often you should have your chimney swept. This can vary a lot of course, depending on how often you have the fire alight, the sort of fuel you use and of course the moisture content of the wood your are burning as mentioned above.

Generally they say for:
Smokeless fuel  - have your chimney cleaned at least once a year
Wood – have your chimney cleaned quarterly while in use
Bituminous coal – quarterly while in use.
Oil – once a year
Gas – once a year.

Cleaning your chimney really is best left to the professionals. If you really want to do it yourself, you don’t have to resort to the traditional old method of using a variety of long brushes with all the problems and mess that entails. Today you can rent special vacuum cleaners for chimney sweeping, and you can also purchase special chemicals which can be put on a fire before it is lit. These are said to produce a gas which breaks down most of the substances normally deposited on the inside of chimneys. 

But calling in professionals is by far the better and safer way to ensure your chimney is clean and safe.
With their superb high tech vacuums and other equipment, you no longer even have to cover the room to protect it from falling soot. 

There is lots of information on line about keeping your chimney clear and safe, and local sweeps can be found from the following:

The National Association of Chimney Sweeps

Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps

The Association of Professional and Independent Chimney Sweeps



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