It’s that time of year again

Some nine years ago , on the 28/10/2011 my father passed away ending an era that began in 1965 and lasting some 46 years in its entirety. I normally always write some kind of post to remind myself of the, “good old days” as I am a wee bit sentimental but not daft enough to think everything was all a bed of roses.

For instance there was the time when the roof man sent the ball and brush down a wrong chimney due to a broken bridge inside the stack. The first my father knew of it was when the old lady next door came out to complain… totally covered in soot. I remember well him telling me she looked like a cartoon character that had been blown up by a bomb when she took off her glasses.

My mother too had her version of the same story to tell , although her story didn’t begin until he had brought the old ladies clothes and Eider duck down continental quilt home for her to wash. I can only imagine she startled the whole street with her screams as a thousand duck feathers started flying around her kitchen.

These days the sweeping process has evolved somewhat and we use a power sweeping system that means we almost always do not have to climb and put ourselves at risk of falling from a great many heights. In the good old days we had to keep our climbing skills top notch as the Scottish sweeping system was the same as most of the rest of Europe (not rods and brush like in England) a ball and brush going from top down.
My father and a few of his , “roof men” all had their turns at falling off. Fortunately , as far as I can remember nobody was unlucky enough to get seriously injured. Their stories of how lucky they were impressed on me enough to ensure I never fell myself.

Perhaps the best old school stories were of some of the customers themselves , you get to meet all sorts of people in the course of sweeping chimneys. There once was an old lady who had every electric socket in her house filled with plugs and went to great pains to ensure we immediately replaced her plug once our hoover plug was removed…. in case the electric escaped into the house? This was the 1970’s and she was very old at the time so we guessed she must have thought electric worked something like gas.

Despite the many changes in modern society itself and the sweeping profession , some things never change. Soot is still carcinogenic , we still get dirty even with double gloves , PPE3 face masks and face wipes. I will always be impatient for the decontamination shower & scrub clean at the end of the day. Even after a whole weekend off I still blow the odd black snot out my nose ; trying hard not to imagine how much I have absorbed or what the death dust is doing to my anatomy.
Nobody can factor the health risks we undergo into the modest fee we receive for sweeping a flue and keep its occupants safe…. there is also much more to running a business , just the admin alone itself takes up a considerable amount of time & energy.

Oh well , another year has passed dad…. I will Always love and miss you.

Staying safe during isolation

Fireplaces have many functions, but they were and still may also prove to be a lifeline, e.g. during a power cut, they can provide the main source of heating and cooking. Having a traditional fire in adverse situations gives a sense of security as an independent heat source and for some people who are on their own for long periods of time, it can be almost like a companion.

Over the next few months, given world events, stove and fireplace usage could rise above normal levels and full lock down could mean no sweep visits are possible.
So are you and your appliance ready to rise to the challenge?

The key to having a consistent and effective supply of heat from your fireplace depends on YOU.

Here’s 5 ways YOU can ensure your appliance is in the best shape possible.

  1. Book A Chimney Sweep NOW

At this point in time sweeps can’t stress enough the importance of getting your appliance swept now. Even if it was done a few months ago, a chimney can still get blocked or become faulty quite quickly, they all have their own stories but over 12 months and it definitely needs a sweep.

Even having the best appliance, the best fuels and the best burning practices, they are all pointless unless the chimney is working. Make that appointment today!

2. Make Sure Your Stove/Fireplace has been Serviced

Basic maintenance of any appliance that is or has been in use, means it simply won’t work properly unless it has been serviced. Air channels get blocked, efficiency can decrease, performance can be hampered and dangerous situations involving carbon monoxide can arise.

All bricks, rope seals, vents etc should be in good order, as these all help make for a well-functioning appliance. It is better to get a professional to look at these and many sweeps do this as part of their checks anyway.

3. Always Use Appropriate, Quality Fuels

Good fireplaces and chimneys need good fuels – plain and simple.
Do NOT burn anything like household rubbish, treated wood, plastics etc. These will not only cause pollution, damage your appliance, potentially cause a chimney fire but are most probably exposing you to noxious fumes.

If you are using coals, it is always better to choose Approved Smokeless Fuel which is dry. If the coals come out of the bag wet, put them in a box to dry out before putting on the fire. You should only use dry wood with a moisture content below 20% – double check with a moisture meter.

4. Don’t Slumber/Burn Overnight

It can be very tempting to try to ‘keep the fire on’ if you’re using it over a prolonged period of time but this is a very bad idea. Firstly, as a consumer it is actually a waste of money. You get next to no heat, yet you will still use fuel.

It also causes a massive amount of pollution – increasing the risk of aggravating respiratory illnesses and potentially cause a chimney fire. The best way is to simply light a new fire each time you want to use it. Burn your fuels hot (a stove pipe thermometer will help getting the correct temperature) so you will get the best from your fireplace.

5. Check Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm

It’s not just really important that you have a Carbon Monoxide alarm but that it also works and is positioned in the correct place.

Generally speaking, alarms should be in a fixed position on a wall or ceiling but you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on this because they may vary slightly from one brand to another.

Please Remember…

This is only a brief guide and there are many more things which may be relevant to you and your unique situation but that advice can only be given by a professional sweep when they are in your property, doing their checks.

Real fires can be a lifeline in certain situations, but they can also be deadly if you neglect to have them swept and serviced, .

Stay safe, stay warm – get it swept!

Condensation and other issues that show up in cold weather.

At this time of year when the weather gets cold enough to start affecting your fire or stove you may be surprised or even shocked when things don’t seem to work the way they normally do.

Appliances have Running Temperatures

Stoves have a running temperature and take time to reach this point , you may find they won’t start up so easily and/or are Smokey for the first 10-15 minutes. This is due to the cold air dropping down the flue but once up to running temp the hot air rising displaces the cold air as it pushes its way up and out the chimney. You may need to try heating the metal baffle plate with a blow torch before attempting to light your fire or if it is not metal , you could try the Scandinavian method of building your fire upside down i.e. paper on top> kindling>wood/coal.

Tar or Black Liquid

Today a customer called worried about black liquid tar coming down into their stove. You too may have found a sticky , black liquid in your wood-burning stove and you might have spotted it running down the inside walls of your appliance or settled somewhere in the firebox. The consistency reminds you of tar because that is exactly what it is.

If you have seen this black liquid, it indicates that you are not operating your stove correctly and in particular , burning unsuitable (damp) fuel.

Usually tar is created as a by-product of burning logs on a wood burner when the moisture level of the wood is too high. Since energy is being wasted evaporating water, the stove doesn’t get up to high enough temperature, which leads to cooler gases going up your chimney. Since they are cooler, they are prone to condense when they touch the cold metal of the flue liner.

The condensed gases will either solidify on the inside or the flue or start to drip back down into the stove in the form of the sticky liquid. Whenever the tar does get the chance to solidify it will turn into creosote. A build-up of highly flammable creosote in your stove system significantly increases the risk of chimney fires. This is especially true if you burn soft wood such as pine , the resin being the main culprit.

How to stop the black liquid appearing in your wood burner

There are a few ways to stop the black liquid appearing in your wood-burning stove. The first is to ensure that the only logs you burn are ones that have been correctly seasoned and have low moisture content (<15-20%), this is easily achieved by using a moisture meter.

Ensuring there is a strong draw up your chimney, operating your stove at full capacity and burning it with the air intake fully open for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day will blast off the vapor and burn any sediment that settles on the flue. You can also try using some table salt on the burning wood to try to help absorb any water that is created. Finally , not slumbering your stove over night and also ensuring your room is well ventilated (especially if you keep damp logs in the room too) will minimise the chance of flue gases condensing in your chimney.

It is also important to get your chimney swept regularly as this will remove any residual creosote that has built up in your chimney and prevent it seeping back down your chimney and into the stove. Regular sweeping will also protect your liner from corrosion and eventual destruction.

Rodtech training course : Chimney Sweeping and Advanced fault finding

I had been talking about going on a training course for a few years and I finally went down in May 2019 for three days and got my City & Guilds accredited , “Chimney Sweeping and Advanced fault finding” certificate via Rodtech at their Heats Centre training facilities in Hingham , Norfolkshire.

I wasn’t sure how much I would know it being based on English rules & regulations but I was glad to find I had already self taught myself the majority of the written course information via the internet , so it wasn’t too much of a struggle. It was however , voluminous and the class room day was a long one , for all concerned… the trainer too bless her cotton socks. I thought she was very good and confident , so was surprised to hear her admit to a wee bit nervousness.

The second day I found very useful , I found lots of holes in my own knowledge so it was great to fill them in. The trainers being themselves a family of very active & dedicated sweeps , were a great bunch and really decent people. Picking their brains was in itself invaluable , as was being allowed to play with clean stoves (with no fear of breaking them or getting dirty) so I hit an exponential learning curve hahaha. I also met sweeps from England and Estonia , which I think is the first time I can safely say I have set eyes on other ‘real’ chimney sweeps.

The third and final day was the day of reckoning and exam conditions.. yes I did get a wee bit nervous on the practical and I don’t know why ? In the exam , I think I only dropped 2 or 3 questions so it went quite well. The best part for me by far though , was the advanced fault finding. I dropped only one flaw in that part but wow it was a great learning process too… I am by nature quite analytical so I learned a lot in the problem solving. Somethings you must learn by doing and having the competent trainers brains to pick was just a fantastic cherry on top.

All in all , a very useful and worthwhile time spent. I would have most certainly also enjoyed going back to do their Oftec stove installation course too but as they don’t do it anymore (2020) , I will be looking much closer to home for my stove installation training.