Reducing the risk of chimney fires
4 September 2017
Despite recent good weather, winter is just around the corner and many will soon be lighting fires for the first time in months. As part of Home Fire Safety Month, this week is Chimney Fire Safety Week which aims to raise awareness of safe chimney use, including the importance of ensuring that chimneys are swept regularly, are clean and appropriate quality fuel is used.
According to the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS), the primary aim of the chimney sweep is to aid in the prevention of chimney fires and reduce the risk of dangerous fume emissions from blocked heating appliances, flueways and chimneys.
What causes chimney fires?
Chimney fires usually occur because the deposits of combustion are left within the flueways. By definition, a chimney fire is the burning of soot or creosote within the appliance, outlet or flue system, which can result in improper function of the appliance, damage to the flue, house or surrounding structures and it can even start a house fire.
Chimney fires are usually started when high temperatures or flames from a very hot fire extend into the appliance outlet or flue and the ignition of the combustible deposits within, occur.
Humberside Fire and Rescue Service is urging residents to follow the following guidelines:
- Ensure your chimney is swept regularly
- Chimneys should be swept according to the type of fuel used:
- Smokeless fuels – at least once a year
- Bitumous coal – at least twice a year
- Wood – quarterly when in use
- Oil – once a year
- Gas – once a year (Any work on gas appliances requires a Gas Safe registered installer/engineer)
- Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained
- Be careful when using open fires to keep warm. Make sure you always use a fire guard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers
- Ensure the fire is extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house
- Ensure good quality fuel is used
- Never interrupt the air supply by blocking air vents or air bricks
Responsibilities for the maintenance of chimneys
Renters and owners
Any person that uses flue appliances has a responsibility to maintain the appliance and flue. It is often stated that people should take reasonable care within the terms of household insurance policies and in the instance of thatched properties, the frequency of sweeping required is often specified by the insurers.
Landlords have a duty of care to their tenants and are required:
To repair and keep in working order, any room heater and water heating equipment.
After a chimney fire
After a chimney fire has occurred it must be inspected thoroughly as soon as possible by a Certified Sweep before the chimney is used again. This is to ascertain if the rapid and dramatic changes of temperature, which would have occurred within the chimney, have caused any damage and also to determine the need for any remedial measures. It is imperative that the chimney is not used prior to inspection.
Chimney sweeping is important. The function of sweeping the flue/chimney is to remove the deposits that build up when the burning of carbon based fuels occur. By sweeping the flue/chimney it ensures that there is a clear and safe passage for the safe exit of combustion products, which are caused by the burning process. This lessens the chances of the chimney catching fire.
It is important to remember that all fuels contain carbon – including oil, gas, wood, charcoal, coal and smokeless fuel – and care should be taken with all flues at all times to ensure its safe use. If you do not get complete combustion then carbon monoxide will be produced.
Sweeping will also ensure the safe removal of obstructions that may have lodged inside the flue:
• Flue collapse (loose brickwork), which could prevent the safe exit of products of combustion
The other function of a chimney sweep is to help and advise people in the safe use of the appliance or intended appliance they may be called out to sweep.
Sweeping frequency recommendations
Smokeless coals - at least once a year
Wood – up to four times a year
Bituminous coal - twice a year
Oil - once a year
Gas – once a year
Find your local chimney sweep
The ICS website has a ‘find a sweep’ facility proving contact details for ICS members – click here
You can search for a NACS chimney sweep by visiting the NACS website www.nacs.org.uk and by clicking on sweep search.
Alternatively, you can search for a chimney sweep at www.hetas.co.uk