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Planning Retirement Online

Fired up for winter                  

                                     October 2010  


Fired up for winter

Chimney sweepChimney sweeps have a powerful Dickensian image, little boys covered in soot climbing up chimneys above enormous fireplaces. But actually it wasn’t really that long ago that everyone had to have their chimneys swept regularly to keep them safe. In our parents’ generation, many people had coal fires in bedrooms as well as in the living areas, and even in our childhood coal fires in the main living room was the norm.

Today, with modern central and underfloor heating systems, the trade of chimney sweeping has taken a very low profile, yet in fact chimney sweeps still perform a very essential service. In fact, they are enjoying a bit of a renaissance because more and more people are installing woodburning stoves and real fires in their homes. Old fashioned fireplaces are coming back into fashion and modern houses are being designed with fireplaces once again being the centre feature of a room.

Some people think modern woodburning stoves, because they don’t have the big brick chimney of traditional fires, probably don’t need sweeping but this is incorrect. Although modern woodburning stoves are normally very efficient and, with the correct air supply, should produce minimal smoke if only good seasoned wood is burned, nevertheless initially starting the fire can cause early soot deposits until the optimum temperature is reached. Leaving a woodburning stove in slumber mode will also increase sooting.

Efficient open fires have been designed to draw in air to fan the flames. Over the fire, the chimney acts as an escape route for this air and also for the numerous gases which are released when a fire burns. The gases and air are hot and therefore lighter than the surrounding air, hence they whiz up the chimney and escape into the atmosphere.

As they pass up the chimney, they deposit various substances on the walls as they rise. These substances will vary depending on what has been burned but often include flammable creosote. Over time these deposits will begin to obstruct the air flow leading to an inefficient fireplace. Long term, chimneys can actually become blocked because of accumulated deposits. It is these accumulated deposits that can be responsible for the many devastating chimney fires that still occur today.

In the past, and even today when chimney top protection breaks or hasn’t been installed, birds have been known to build nests on the top of the chimneys and then twigs and other matter can fall down into the hole, causing a fire hazard.

Modern chimney sweeping is a highly technical business and has come a long way from those child cleaners of the 19th century. You can today buy special chemicals which can be put onto a fire before it is lit. These chemicals burn to produce a gas which breaks down most of the deposits.

If you want to try and clean a chimney yourself, you can hire special long brushes and even vacuum cleaners specially designed to clean chimneys from major DIY stores. However, it is difficult for amateurs to know how much of the chimney is totally clean and this can be especially difficult if a chimney has been neglected for some time. If you are thinking of doing it yourself, there is also a lot of preparation work to undertake to ensure no loosened soot comes crashing down and into your house. You really don’t want soot on your carpet, walls or furniture!

Modern chimney sweeps from reputable companies arrive armed with a mass of high tech equipment and specially designed protective sheeting that fits snugly around your fire to ensure nothing can escape.

The National Association of Chimney Sweeps is one of the leading regulatory organizations which ensures its members are fully trained, have the right equipment and also carry public liability insurance; details can be found on their website, (see to find a sweep in your area, or call 01785 811732). The Guild of Master Sweeps also has a list of qualified sweeps in each area, see their Find a Chimney Sweep search page.

As a rule of thumb, chimneys should be inspected and cleaned once a year, but of course this depends so much on use, the fuel you are using and a number of other factors. Common sense is important, but it is equally important to keep your chimney clean and efficient. Talk to any fireman, and you will be surprised just how many chimney fires occur every year, fires that can spread into the house causing enormous destruction.



Nutricentre Discount for laterlife visitors If in any doubt about any of the information covered in health and nutrition related articles and it's relevance for you, consult your GP.




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