Chimneys, open fires and log burners
Log burners and open fires are a great way to stay warm and create a cosy atmosphere at home. But if you don’t know how to enjoy them safely, they can quickly get out of control. Read our advice to make sure you avoid having a chimney fire.
Having a fire safely at home
If you’re burning wood it’s important that it’s well-seasoned. This means that it has been left to dry out for a long time and all the moisture has evaporated from the wood. Burning wet wood can cause water vapour to combine with other gases and particles. Unless the chimney is kept warm, this can create condensation, which then makes a substance called creosote that hardens to form tar. This is extremely flammable and can lead to chimney fires.
It’s dangerous to use liquids like petrol or paraffin to light your fire. Only use kindling or firelighters. Never put paper or rubbish on your fire once it is burning. It can create floating embers that can land on things in your home and start a fire. They can also cause chimney fires.
Keeping your fire under control
Using a fireguard or spark guard in front of the fire will stop any sparks or embers from catching flammable materials like carpets, rugs and furnishings, leading to an unplanned fire.
You should always put the fire out completely before going to bed or leaving the house.
We attend around 300 domestic chimney fires a year. They are the leading cause of thatch fires too, so it’s important to follow these steps to maintain your chimney.
How to keep your chimney clean
Getting your chimney swept regularly is vital to keeping you and your family safe. How often depends on the fuel you use to burn your fire, but as a general rule of thumb you should follow these guidelines:
- Wood – every three months
- Smokeless fuels – at least once a year
- Bituminous coal – at least twice a year
- Oil – once a year
- Gas – once a year
Don’t clean your chimney yourself. You might be tempted to get the vacuum cleaner out, but always use a professional, accredited chimney sweep. They will be able to inspect your chimney properly and give you a certificate when they’re done.
You can find a qualified, reputable chimney sweep on the following websites:
- The National Association of Chimney Sweeps
- Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps
- The Association of Professional and Independent Chimney Sweeps.
As well as getting your chimney swept, you should also make sure that it is structurally sound, well-maintained, and able to cope with the demands of modern heating appliances.
If it isn’t already, we recommend getting your chimney lined. Only a qualified and certified chimney engineer should install any lining. They also carry out regular inspections too. Some chimney sweeps are qualified to fit linings too, but you can check their credentials on the recommended websites.
Chimneys in thatched properties
There are safety precautions you can follow to reduce the risk of a fire if you have a chimney in your thatched home.
Other ways to keep your home fire safe
- Have working smoke alarms in your home. We also recommend installing interlinked smoke alarms if you have loft space. For more information, take a look at our advice on smoke alarms.
- Make an escape plan in the event of a fire. See our advice on escape plans.
- Make sure any devices for your chimney are cleaned regularly. We don’t recommend spark arrestors for chimneys, but if you have them make sure they are cleaned every three months by a professional chimney sweep.
Signs of a chimney fire
These tell-tale signs could indicate a chimney fire.
- A loud roaring noise, which happens when air is drawn in.
- Sparks and flames shooting like fireworks from the chimney top.
- A glowing, shimmering, or vibrating appliance outlet or connector.
- Flames visible through tiny cracks in the outlet or connector.
- A noticeable smell of smoke in other rooms or attic spaces.
- A hot chimney breast or flue pipe, both in the same room as the fire and rooms that the flue passes through.
What to do if your chimney catches fire
- If your chimney is on fire, close the door to the room and get everyone out of the house.
- Stay out of the house.
- Call the fire service (999).