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Council Services:

Chimney fire safety

As summer draws to a close and the cool nights draw in, we all naturally start to turn our thoughts toward making our homes warm and cosy for the winter months.

Reduce your risk of a fire by having your chimneys swept regularly!

If you have a wood-burner or fireplace in your home, you might be looking forward to lighting it up for the first time this autumn - but don’t forget to take vital safety precautions to protect your home and family from dangerous chimney fires.

 

What causes chimney fires?

Chimney fires usually occur because the deposits of combustion are left within the flue-ways.

By definition, a chimney fire is the burning of soot or creosote within the appliance, outlet or flue system, which can result in the improper function of the appliance - and serious damage to the flue, house or surrounding structures. A build-up of soot in the chimney could cause a serious 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 ignite a build-up of combustible deposits in the flue or chimney.

Why are they so dangerous?

Chimney fires can be very dangerous - they can damage your fireplace, wood-burner, flue or chimney and they can spread quickly throughout your house and even neighbouring properties.

What can you do to prevent a chimney fire?

The best way to prevent a chimney fire is to have your chimney swept on a regular basis to remove the build-up of soot and deposits that occurs through regular burning of carbon-based fuels.

Sweeping your chimney ensures there is a clear and safe passage for the exit of combustion by-products. It’s important to remember that all fuels contain carbon - including oil, gas, wood, charcoal, coal, and smokeless fuel - and care should always be taken with all flues to ensure safety. Not only will this prevent a chimney fire, but it will also help prevent the production of carbon monoxide, which can result from incomplete combustion.

Sweeping will also ensure the safe removal of obstructions lodged in the flues such as nests, cobwebs, and even loose brickwork which could prevent safe exit of combustion by-products.

So it’s important to have your chimney swept regularly - and how often it should be swept depends on the type of fuel used. Here’s a handy guide:

  • Smokeless fuels - at least once per year
  • Bituminous coal - at least twice per 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)

Further tips:

  • Never interrupt air-supply by blocking air vents or air bricks
  • Always use a fire guard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers
  • Make sure embers are properly put out before you go to bed
  • Only burn seasoned wood from reputable suppliers
  • Ensure the fire is fully-extinguished before going to bed
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Ensure your chimney is well-maintained

How can I find a local, registered chimney sweep?

A great resource for finding a local professional chimney sweep is the Institute of Chimney Sweeps website. It has a ‘find a sweep’ option so you can do a search and view contact details for sweeps in your area.

You can also search on the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS) website by clicking on the ‘sweep search’ button.

Alternatively, you can search for a chimney sweep on the HETAS website.

Who is responsible for maintaining my chimney?

Any person who uses flue appliances has a responsibility to maintain the appliance and flue.

It is often stated within the terms of household insurance policies that people should take ‘reasonable care,’ and if you have a thatched property. The frequency of chimney-sweeping is often specified by the insurers.

Additionally, 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.

What if I’ve had a chimney fire?

After a chimney fire has occurred and been extinguished, the chimney MUST be inspected as soon as possible.

A certified sweep should perform a thorough inspection before the chimney is used again to ascertain whether the rapid and dramatic temperature fluctuations that occur during a chimney fire have caused any damage. They will also advise whether any remedial measures are necessary.

Remember - it is imperative that you do not use the chimney before it has been inspected by a professional!

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Last updated: 29 June 2016

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