Stoves in Ayrshire

Stoves in Ayrshire

As is normal for me i have been swotting up on several parts of the trade including how it operates in Germany , both our histories and i am considering undertaking some education in correct stove installation. I only need find a decent education on the subject and i am all in.

In Ayrshire we come across many varied types of stoves and sometimes, unfortunately, the installation quality can vary too. I have been led to believe that on occasion stoves and other heating appliances come in container loads of inferior and cheap quality. When you couple bad quality stoves with poor quality installation materials (such as the wrong choice of flue pipe liner) and the installation itself is also bad, then it is not only dangerous to the owners but can make life interesting for us too at times.Ultimately, the end result can be anything from monoxide poisoning to a chimney fire (see this video on how chimney fires work: Controlled Chimney Fire ) . The resulting damage can be catastrophic to your premises.  You know the old saying though?… you pay peanuts you get monkeys a.k.a you get what you pay for …is mostly true!

In fact, after a few run-ins with stoves that had 90 degree bends attached or T-bends behind flush to the wall (both of which are no-no’s) soon proved that normal good old bailey rods were unsuitable and i would have to explore other options. This was when i came across the term power sweeping and began to explore the alternative equipment available out there. Although we had to import our equipment from the USA with all the included taxes & postage etc, the power sweeping equipment has proved invaluable many times over, the rods are so flexible they can still rotate in a horseshoe position.

I have already looked at and mentioned HETAS elsewhere in my posts What is Hetas and when i last looked they seemed to be the up and coming body for England & Wales but at this exact moment i still think here (not looked lately) in Scotland there are as such no regulations yet i.e. monkey stove installers are running amok in many cases. Many stoves too are also being home installed themselves… which i generally don’t have many problems with if done correctly. Another thing we often find is lack of debris/register plates or they are fixed with materials like mastic instead of thick angle iron. Ideally, these plates that fill the gap around the flue pipe and the often rectangular gap of an old fireplace should have some kind of access hatch, especially if there is no liner. They should also be made from sheet zinc galvanised metal; not plasterboard or any flammable material.

This is just the status quo here in Ayrshire (and i’m guessing much of Scotland today still) and has been for a while. The diversity of stoves, fireplaces and various assorted heating appliances often present sometimes significant challenges which can be fun to solve but can also be occasionally impossible. Sometimes as they say you need to know when to just walk away. Even though time, fuel and money have been spent getting to the job; I still occasionally find it uncomfortable asking some people for a call out fee. This is the nature of the modern chimney sweeps job, we all have bills to pay.

 

Downloadable Document~J Building regulations for the installation of solid fuel heating appliances

The building regulations for heating appliance installations enforced in England and Wales according to document J,  can be downloaded for free here: >  Document J heating appliance regulations in England & Wales

 

 

A brief history of Chimney Sweeping

A brief history of Chimney Sweeping

Even in the Georgian period of history of chimney sweeping, it was understood that chimneys had to be brush cleaned. Back then the 17th century Master Sweep of the day would employ small boys to climb and scramble up chimneys. The task for these climbing boys was to brush clean the inside of the flue with small hand-held brushes and they also used metal scrapers to remove the harder tar deposits left by wood or log fire smoke.

The boys were apprentices and were bound to the trade as young as seven years old. A Master was paid a fee to clothe, keep and teach the child his trade. Sweeps’ Boys were usually parish children or orphans; though others were sold into the trade by their families. Some grew up to be Journeymen (assistants to the Master) and the remainder were put out to various trades to try to learn a new occupation. There was even a London Society of Master Sweeps with its own set of rules, one of which included that boys were not required to work on Sundays but had to attend Sunday School, to study, learn and read the Bible.

However, conditions for the boys were harsh and often cruel, they slept in cellars on bags of soot and were seldom washed. It was a dangerous and filthy job for the boys to do, especially without the protection of modern safety clothing and respirators. Years of accumulated soot and grime often produced chimney sweeps cancer (of the testicles).There are many recorded instances where these Climbing Boys choked and suffocated to death by dust inhalation whilst attempting to clean chimneys. Casualties were also often due to boys becoming stuck in narrow flues or falling from climbing rotten chimney stacks.

It took many years and campaigns before Acts of Parliament finally approved by the House of Lords outlawed the use of Climbing Boys. In 1864 Lord Shaftesbury brought in the “Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers” which established a penalty of £10.00 for offenders.

In the early part of the 18th century various types of chimney cleaning methods were being developed. An engineer from Bristol, Mr. Joseph Glass is widely recognised as the inventor of the chimney cleaning equipment which has become universal even to this day. His was the design and introduction of canes and brushes, which could be pushed and propelled up from the fireplace into the chimney above. Early canes were made of Malacca and imported from the East Indies and brushes were made of whale bones.

1800'sThe other method of cleaning flues that was developed originally came from the Continent – Europe (and was adopted in Scotland because of the historical contacts we had with Europe) was the ball, brush and rope system which was lowered down from the top of the chimney. The weight of the lead or iron ball pulls the brush down, cleaning the chimney. With the Industrial Revolution and ever greater demand for coal production, chimney sweeps grew in numbers. In Victorian London, there were over 1,000 chimney sweeps serving the area.
The continued expansion of coal as the main fuel for domestic heating ensured that the sweeping trade flourished. This was up to the early 1960s when gas began to be installed and replace coal as a source of domestic heating. The switch to gas continued in the seventies and many of the old-established family sweeps retired or gave up the business. Until this period, sweeps had traditionally cleaned only coal, wood and oil chimneys. Public awareness of the need for clean, safe and clear chimneys was almost non-existent but Carbon monoxide poisonings from blocked chimneys began to be noticed.

Above text copyright Martin Glynn, President of The National Association of Chimney Sweeps (Used & adapted without permission). You can read more here on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimney_sweep

The final 7 weeks of the season is here already

The final 7 weeks of the season is here already

It’s always comforting to know you are ready and safe to burn your fire through the winter season. There is nothing much better and cosier than curling up safely in front of your real coal fire or stove on Xmas day, whilst tearing (or watching your children) open the presents. We are now already into the final seven weeks of our autumn/winter season of 2014 and we officially close on the 19th of December.

'I remember the Smith's Housekeeping skills from last year.'

Our spring season doesn’t begin until the first week in February 2015 so please book now to avoid disappointment. Upsetting the man who brings the toys is never a good idea after all a potentially black bearded & angry santa leaving sooty footprints all over your rug is not a christmas to remember.  We hope & wish all our customers enjoy a happy , safe and cosy winter in front of their solid fuel appliances.

The Cost of Wood as a fuel

The Cost of Wood as a fuel

For the best results, wood should be left on a dry surface protected from rain but with the sides exposed to air and wind. It should be stacked not piled which will speed up the drying process. Chopping the wood down to size before storing it will also help it to dry quicker. Alternatively, you can buy ready-seasoned wood at a little extra cost. Remember , burning wet wood is the quickest way to a chimney going on fire!! so its wise to use a firewood moisture meter to ensure it is below 20%.

  • Freshly cut logs are cheap to buy at around £80 per cubic meter but have a moisture content between 60% and 90%. The heat output from freshly cut logs will be around 1 kWh per kg.
  • Ready-seasoned wood has around 40% moisture content and can usually be purchased for around £95 – £123 per cubic meter. Burning wood that has been seasoned will give you a heat output of about 3 kWh per kg.
  • Alternatively kiln-dried wood is more expensive, about £115-£145 per cubic meter but is highly efficient and can be used immediately. On average, it contains less than 20% moisture and burning it produces a heat output of around 4.5 kWh per kg.
  • If you have a specialised wood-pellet stove, you can usually buy wood pellets online or from a local supplier. Wood pellets are sold by the tonne and cost around £140-£190 per cubic tonne. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) recommends that you buy ENplus standard pellets, which have roughly 10% moisture content and will give you a heat output of around 5 kWh per kg.

Kindling can be sourced from pallets used for building suppliers and found in skips (just check with the owners first).It’s also worth considering if whether the wood has been treated with chemicals because it could be unsafe to burn.Also please remember to remove all nails.

Note: 500kg is around one cubic meter, so working out how much wood will cost for the amount you’ll use can be a little tricky. However, as a rough guide an average-sized house which uses a stove in the evenings and at weekends, will need about three to four cubic meters a year.

Although wood itself is considered a carbon-neutral fuel, transporting it uses CO2, so it’s best to try and find a supplier close to home.

Things the customer should consider burning wood when it comes to sweeping

  1. You should only burn seasoned HARD woods, the moisture content (easily checked with a cheap and commonly available moisture meter) should be less than 20%, ideally 15%.
    .

  2. The soot particles from burning wood are very often extremely reduced in size and akin to plant pollen. This means it can be very difficult to control the extraction of the residue because they form a floating cloud.
    Any change in air flow (e.g. opening of room doors or windows) during the extraction process can result in the escape of particles from the fireplace.
    Hence it is suggested that all immediate items around the fire are removed and suitable covers for furniture e.t.c. are put in place (using common sense) by the customer prior to the sweeping appointment.

Moisture Meters

Moisture Meters

A firewood moisture meter is perhaps the most important stove tool for helping you to get the most out of your stove.

Your firewood moisture meter can help you make sure that you are getting well seasoned wood. Although there are many firewood suppliers out there who know their business and when they say that their firewood is well seasoned it is. You may well find that some of these more professional firewood suppliers are booked solid; so you should try to get your orders in with them over the summer. Your firewood moisture meter will help to confirm that their wood is well seasoned and let you gauge exactly how well seasoned it is. Conversely; there are also firewood suppliers out there who supply firewood, claiming it is seasoned, when in fact it is far from it.

Without a moisture meter the first you may know that their wood is not dry enough may well be when you notice that your wood burning stove isn’t giving out much if any heat at all and that the window is getting tarred up.  It doesn’t just stop there;  burning unseasoned wood will tar up your chimney (increasing the risk of chimney fires) as well as reducing the life of your wood burning stove, liner and/or chimney flue itself. Burning unseasoned wood is inefficient and results in high levels of particulates, which is bad for your health and often makes NASTY problems for your chimney sweep.
In terms of how much heat you get out of your wood stove, the moisture content of your firewood is probably the single most important thing to consider, (the moisture in the wood has to be boiled off before you get the expected kilowatt per hour rating-which is based on dry wood) which is why a firewood moisture checker is so important.

Firstly it makes sense to check with the supplier what type of firewood you are getting (see wood burning properties here (Wood Burning Properties), it may be well seasoned, or the supplier may give you an assessment of the dryness of the wood anywhere from freshly processed to partly dry. If you have a firewood moisture meter then you can tell exactly how wet the firewood logs are, although of course there will be other tell-tale signs i.e. no cracks in the end grain and a ‘wet’ smell.

Buying Wood

Next time you get a firewood delivery take out your firewood moisture meter and before your supplier unloads, grab a couple of logs, split them in half with your axe or hatchet and take a couple of moisture readings. If the firewood is well seasoned then it should have a moisture content of 20% or lower, a few logs at around 25% isn’t too bad as long as most of the load is under that.

                                     testing firewood moisture
                                                Picture 1: Moisture meter 
To take a moisture reading, all you need to do is push the two pins into your chosen piece of firewood. As you can see above, this piece of firewood is at 17% moisture which is ideal. You should aim for around 16-17% moisture for firewood which is easy enough to achieve.

If the firewood is a lot wetter than this, then it is not actually seasoned firewood; it’s just a load of wet chopped logs that will one day be seasoned firewood after you have dried & seasoned them yourself 🙁 . If after having used your firewood moisture meter the wood turns out to be wet and the supplier is claiming that it is well seasoned, you should either pay less for the wood and store it up until it is dry, or send it back.

It is possible that some firewood suppliers are not aware of the issues, or do not know how to properly season wood for wood burning stoves.
They often come armed with a multitude of freshly prepared stories to get you to accept their unseasoned wood and might say that freshly felled wood is “Ok to burn straight away” (this is incorrect !! ) or that it has been a wet winter and it had been hard to season the firewood logs properly. However,  seasoning firewood properly and then delivering  it, is basically their job description and you should hold fast against accepting these fairytales.  

 Seasoning your own wood

You can also use the firewood moisture meter to see how well your firewood is seasoning, which stacking techniques work best, etc. When you are processing and seasoning a lot of firewood it really makes sense to do it in the most effective way possible. For example, it is possible using a small, a single log thick, stack of firewood on a south facing section of wall to drop the moisture from around 55% when first felled, to around 17% in around 4 months!

To take an exact moisture reading you need to measure the moisture on the inside of your piece of firewood: the firewood will be drier on the outside where the wind and sun have had their effects. So split a piece of firewood down the middle, push the two pins on the end of the moisture meter into one of the freshly split faces of the wood (not the end grain and not the outside faces of the wood) , ideally near where the middle of the piece was before you split it and press the On button. The moisture reading will appear on the screen as a percentage.
Just an example you can find Stihl Wood Moisture Meter Customer Reviews on Amazon here > http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B004NQ0RL4
Remember as linked to in paragraph 3 above some wood burning properties can be see here in another of our wood category posts here. (Wood Burning Properties)