There are many good reasons for getting your chimney regularly swept, not least to stop the soot blowing back down the chimney on windy days! Probably the biggest cause for concern is the threat of a chimney fire. There are around 10,000 reported chimney fires in the UK each year, and the evidence shows that people are largely unaware of the threat. With a growing trend towards wood burners, which have narrow flues, efficiency is also a good reason to keep the chimney clean. Soot build up narrows the vent space, reducing it's ability to draw air, and with it the smoke, up the chimney. In severe cases, smoke is steadily allowed to waft back into the room with a consequent danger of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. While this is something normally only associated with gas and oil heaters, low-level Carbon Monoxide can also be serious health hazard
What causes chimney fires?
Chimney fires are usually caused by an excess build up of soot in the chimney or flue, but can occur at any time. You might think that soot, being made of burnt material itself, would't burn, but smoke takes with it a percentage of tar and creosote which builds up with the soot to make a combustible coating inside the chimney
Is there a toxic treat from burning coal & wood?
Yes. When burning any carbon based fuel, there is a risk of Carbon Monoxide being generated. Normally, open fires draw very efficiently, taking any gasses with it. However, any blockage or restriction in the chimney can cause low-level Carbon Monoxide to be vented back into the room.
Does it matter what I'm burning?
Yes. Unseasoned soft wood is the biggest cause of deposits that contain tar & creosote that may lead to a chimney fire. They also deposit more soot, so be especially careful if using a wood burner that has a narrow flue. If you burn wood, try to make sure you get it from source that guarantees the wood is seasoned for 2 years. Cheaper pine logs can be a false economy as they burn quicker. Coal soot generally contains less combustible material, but builds up more densely than other fuels, so it it equally important to maintain regular chimney cleaning.
I've seen self cleaning 'logs' - How do they work?
These logs contain chemicals which bond with the soot on the wall of the chimney causing it to clump together and fall back into the fireplace. Regular use of these 'logs' can reduce the amount of sweeping required, but will certainly end up costing more and many people don't like the amount of sooty waste that falls back into the fire place.
How often do I need to get the chimney/flue swept?
This will depend on a number of factors. The type of fire, what you burn, and how often you use the fire. Generally, you should get it swept once a year, but if you use it during the day or past the winter season, it should be more. If you are a landlord with a solid fuel appliance, you may be responsible for ensuring it is swept twice a year.
Is there any danger in leaving it too long?
Yes. The longer between sweeps, the greater the risk of fire & reduced efficiency.
Do I need a cowl?
Cowls serve a number of purposes. They prevent rain entering the chimney, which will help to prolong its life, stop birds coming down the chimney and dropping nesting material which may cause a blockage. Some types of cowl will also prevent down drafts. See my Caps & Cowls pages for more information
Will I know if there's been a chimney fire?
In some cases, a chimney fire can be a frightening experience, being likened to the sound of a jet engine! In open fires, the heat generated by a chimney fire draws more air up the chimney, making it burn stronger - a vicious circle! However, with closed wood and multi-fuel burners, which have restricted ventilation, this air supply is not easily available and the fire will burn much slower - smouldering its way up the flue. In this case, you may not even be aware of the fire until you find the flue blocked by debris or damaged by the heat. Regular cleaning will help reduce the risk to a minimum.
Ever wondered why Chimney Sweeps are considered lucky?
It follows a custom that started about two hundred years ago, when a London Chimney Sweep saved the life of King George II.
The Sweep had been the only person brave enough to step forward when the King's coach and horse's bolted, the Chimney Sweep pulled up the horses and saved the monarch.
The King was so pleased that he made an announcement by Royal Decree declaring that all Chimney Sweeps are good luck bearers and must be treated with respect.
The folklore was established and to this day Chimney Sweeps are still considered Lucky and are invited to attend Weddings to kiss the Bride and shake the hand of the Groom.
It used to be the tradition that the newly wed couple were given a wine bottle filled with "lucky soot", however, soot is now considered toxic waste!