Making a clean sweep for safety

With summer drawing to a close, Chimney Fire Safety Week (7 –13 September) provides a timely reminder to make sure that your chimney is ready for the winter months ahead.

As part of the national Fire Kills campaign, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) is urging householders to ensure their chimney is safe and to have it swept by a registered chimney sweep.

In 2014 WYFRS attended 116 chimney fires, 110 of which were in dwellings and six were in commercial premises.

Top tips

  • Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained
  • Ensure good quality and appropriate fuel is used
  • Never interrupt the air supply by blocking air vents or air bricks
  • Avoid ‘slumbering’ an appliance (unless it has been tested as safe to do so). Slumber mode is when an appliance is purposely set at a low or minimum output, normally for overnight burning, to be revived in the morning without the need for relighting
  • Make sure you always use a fire guard with open fires to protect against flying sparks from hot embers
  • Make sure embers are properly put out before you go to bed
  • Never store the fuel next to the appliance
  • Appliances that have been lined still require regular sweeping

WYFRS Area Manager for Fire Safety Ian Bitcon said: “With the colder, winter months looming, people will begin to start using open fires and their chimneys again. In order to keep you and your family safe from fire, you need to take necessary steps such as ensuring your chimney is swept regularly, depending upon what fuel you burn, that may be up to four times a year.”

 

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

Mr Bitcon added: “All chimneys and flue-ways should be cleaned and checked during the summer months to ensure they’re free from debris and in full working order before the heating season.

“A blocked or defective chimney can cause both chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisonings so it’s very important to employ a professional qualified chimney sweep. Due to the additional risks that come from an open fire, I would, also, urge all householders to have a working smoke alarm in their home.”

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 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.

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:

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

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:

  • Nests
  • Cobwebs
  • 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.

Find your local chimney sweep

There are a number of associations where you can search for a chimney sweep:

  • The Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps www.apcis.org.uk 0845 604 4327

In addition HETAS also lists Registered Installers through its Competent Person Scheme. http://www.hetas.co.uk/find-installer

For more information on fire safety please visit www.westyorksfire.gov.uk where you can book a FREE Home Fire Safety Check online.

Alternatively visit the national Fire Kills website www.gov.uk/firekills