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Emergency Calls – A Blocked Chimney in Castle Headingham

Posted By paddy

I’m doing so much safety work at the moment this week I will continue my blog with the theme of emergency call outs. Like last week this week’s emergency was a blocked chimney, although unlike last weeks blog the blockage was not so much in the flue but around the anti-bird cowl mesh. However, that is not to say that there was a significant amount of tar in the flue as well. As tar is most likely to be deposited in the colder parts of the chimney and a chimney becomes increasingly colder the higher up the stack and will be its coldest at the terminal, its not difficult to understand that the majority of tar will be deposited at the top of the stack and as in this case in the cowl/terminal. It’s a little difficult to see in the photograph, but in this instance, tar had totally blocked the mesh around the cowl so that the hot flue gases had no means of escaping the chimney. The result of this being that the hot flue gases were forced back down the chimney and out of the stove into the customers living room. Indeed, this is why the customer had called me; reporting that the stove was smokey and which was filling the room with smoke every time they lit the stove. As can be observed from the photograph, the stove is a Jotul 8 Wood-burning Stove.

The customers were an elderly couple who told me they lit the stove most days and they relied upon it for additional heat as they both felt the cold even on a warm day. I asked them about their burning practices, and they told me that in the evenings before they went to bed, they shut the stove down completely and let it smolder overnight. I explained to them at some length why this was far from best practice, describing how incomplete combustion through starving the fire of oxygen would lead to tar build up in their chimney and pollution being released into the atmosphere. I pointed out that this was probably the cause of the blockage in his chimney and I advised them regarding the correct use of their stove and optimum burning practices.

I was able to successfully clear the cowl of the blocking tar by using rotary power sweeping equipment with a small scrubber cleaning attachment. This attachment is formed from nylon strands that a spun around quickly on the end of special click rods by an 18-volt drill. The nylon strands of the small scrubber attachment have the effect of lightly flicking off the tar from the cowl and inside the liner without causing any damage to these structures. As can be seen in the photos, a significant amount of tar was removed from both cowl and liner, ending up in the bottom of the stove.

In these unusual times, I was able to safely carry out the work by practicing social distancing with the customers who remained in an adjoining room and I was able to speak to them through an open door. I wore full PPE including two pairs of gloves and a facemask with a 3M filter, both the customers also wore facemasks, so we were all able to stay safe and get the job done. The customer even paid online so that there was no exchange of paper! As people are saying, this is the ‘new normal’ and for the time being this is the way we will all have to work, as it does not appear that the Covid-19 Virus will not be going away in the near future.

Emergency Calls – A Blocked Chimney in Glemsford

Posted By paddy

Continuing this week with the theme of emergency call outs, I will be describing an incidence of a blocked chimney I cleared at a property in Glemsford. As can be observed from the photographs, the customer has a Hamlet 5 Multi-Fuel Stove and he was complaining about smoke coming from the stove into the room and that both his Carbon monoxide alarms had gone off. I noticed upon entering the room that the surrounding brick work of the fireplace above the stove, which was painted white, was stained black by smoke. I judged from this evidence and what the customer had told me, that his chimney was potentially blocked. I asked him about his burning practices, and he told me that in the evenings before he went to bed, he shut the stove down completely and let it smolder overnight. I explained to him at some length why this was far from best practice, describing how incomplete combustion through starving the fire of oxygen would lead to tar build up in his chimney and pollution being released into the atmosphere. I pointed out that this was probably the cause of the blockage in his chimney and I advised him regarding the correct use of his stove and optimum burning practices.

I found that he had managed to block the flue with a solid tar build up for the length of the flue from two and a half meters up the chimney right to the top. I removed this blockage using power sweeping equipment. I removed so much tar that I was able to fill an entire large heavy-duty waste sack with unburnt material. As can be observed in the second photograh the tar was solid and when broken up by the power sweeping equipment came out of the flue in large solid lumps. To ensure that the flue was completely clear of tar I checked the liner using my CCTV equipment and I concluded by completing a smoke test. The customer was happy that he was again able to use his appliance safely. I suggested if he was ever in doubt about what he was doing he could look at the ‘useful tips’ page on my website.

Emergency Calls – Old Birds Nest & Bluebottles in West Wickham

Posted By paddy

This week I’m continuing with emergency working due to the corona virus pandemic lockdown. This week as in previous weeks recently I have completed a number of urgent jobs for my customers. One notable job was in West Wickam where the customer had complained that he had swarms of bluebottle flies coming out of the chimney and filling the room along with an unpleasant damp smell. He told me that this had begun to happen since the weather had begun to become warm and that he had found and removed a number of twigs and other nest material from the fireplace that had been damp and smelly. To compound these difficulties, he said that the property was a rental property that he was just about to lease to a new tenant and that he didn’t want him moving into a house that was full of flies that potentially presented a hazard to health. I agreed to attend the address the following day and asked him in the meant time to go to the address and observe the chimney for a small time to ascertain whether the nest was active or not, which he agreed to do. I explained to the customer that under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981 all birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is thus an offence, with certain exceptions (see Exceptions), to: Intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird. Intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.

The following day I went to the address where again I spoke with the customer who informed me that he had not seen any birds going to the chimney. I too observed the chimney for a time and saw no bird activity around it. Taken with what the customer had told me about the bluebottle flies and the damp, smelly nest material he had found I determined that the nest was old and redundant and could safely be removed. I did this by using power-sweeping rods (Click Fastening Rods attached to a 36 Volt Cordless drill) and a metal nest flail. I found that the nest occupied the top two meters of the chimney and was relatively quickly removed. I then cleaned the chimney using a power-sweeping scrubber brush. All in all, I removed a large trugs worth of nest material from the chimney (See Photo), this consisted of twigs, decayed bird droppings, fur, bits of carpet, bits of string, and shredded plastic bags. All of this material was damp and rather smelly and had clearly been lying in the chimney redundant for some time – It was not hard to deduce that it was the source of the bluebottle infestation. Needless to say, the customer was very pleased that the nest had been cleared and the source of the bluebottle infestation removed.

Emergency Calls – Bird Down the Chimney in Widdington

Posted By paddy

 

Clearly, with the current lockdown due to the corona virus pandemic working arrangements are presently strange to say the least! I have been working, but this has been largely to do emergency appointments to correct problems where there is an identified safety issues/concern. When I have been working I have been taking all the government advised safety measures, including wearing full PPE (protective clothing, two pairs of gloves (Latex disposable inside industrial gloves) and 3M filtered facemasks), social distancing, clean dust sheets for each job, industrial wipes to clean hand and van interior after every job and washing all clothing and dust sheets at the end of the working day. The good news is that myself and my family remain symptom free at present.

So as I was saying I have done a number of emergency jobs recently, so I thought I would use one of these for this weeks blog and probably other emergency jobs for subsequent weeks blogs. This week’s blog is something I find myself doing a lot this time of year, removing birds from chimneys. It is that time of year that there are lots of birds about looking to perch on or build nests in chimneys; particularly Jackdaws and pigeons. It is only nature taking its course as the spring moves forward, and who can blame them, chimneys present a warm and easily accessible opportunity to build a nest or just sit and admire the world. The only problem is that birds being birds, they occasionally just fall down the chimney and become trapped! That is exactly just what happened at this thatched property in Widdington. The Jackdaw (see photo’s) had fallen down the chimney and had become wedged about 5 meters up the flue. The first thing the customers knew about it was when they attempted to light their wood-burning stove and their lounge filled with smoke. As can be seen I was able quite quickly able to sweep him out. Unfortunately for the Jackdaw, he was no more, he had passed on, he had gone to a better place, shuffled off this mortal coil, kicked the bucket, fell off the twig etc. At least the customers were happy that they could use their stove again!

 

Dovre Vintage 35 Stove – Clavering

Posted By paddy

An interesting stove for this week’s blog; a Dovre Vintage 35 Multi-Fuel Stove that I recently swept at an address in the Clavering area. I thought I would include this as one of my blogs as it is such an unusual looking stove. I thought it looks a little bit space-age, a bit like a tiny robot? It is certainly very contemporary as opposed to its name, vintage? The stove is new to the customer, having been installed a year ago, so this was its first sweeping interval. The customer is very pleased with the stove’s performance, saying that it burnt very efficiently.

Dovre are a Norwegian company; the company is actually named after a Norwegian mountain range. There UK head quarters are in Exeter: Falcon Road, Sowton, Industrial Estate Exeter, EX2 7LF – Technical Enquiries: 01392 261950

I hope you like the photo of this unusual little stove? I certainly think the surround and hearth have been done in such a way that they really complement the stove. What do you think?

A Taste of Spring – Boxing Hares in Little Thurlow

Posted By paddy

I thought I would lighten the mood this week, get away from all the gloom surrounding Corona Virus and have a taste of spring in the blog. Particularly as spring does seem to have arrived in the past few weeks with lovely long warm sunny days. So here is a picture of some boxing hares I took recently in Little Thurlow. For those who don’t know it Little Thurlow is a little Suffolk village about 5 miles north of Haverhill. It is a very attractive village with a number of thatched properties. The village is an estate village associated with the Soame family who lived in the local manor house. The village’s association with the family dates back to 1542, although the village is much older, with the parish church of St Peter’s dating back to the early 14th Century.

I particularly liked this photo of boxing hares, which seems to be a rather common subject for thatched animals in this area. But why do hares actually box with each other? Why does this happen in the spring, giving rise to the expression ‘mad march hares’? Apparently, Hares do this because they are now in mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season. The boxing usually occurs when a male is being too persistent with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate.

COVID-19: Current Working Arrangements

Posted By paddy

I’m sure everyone out there is as concerned about the outbreak; or giving its correct terminology pandemic of Corona Virus as I am and that we are all particularly concerned for our old and vulnerable relatives and friends. So, I thought today it would be useful to provide my customers with details of my current working arrangements and the relevant advice that is out there for us all to keep safe and well. Although this is with the proviso that the advice might and if last week’s events are anything to go by, probably will be subject to change at short notice.  

The current advice from Government and the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps is to continue to work wherever possible but to practice all the relevant safety precautions. The Government have a stated intention that wherever possible they want to keep the economy moving, for obvious reasons.

I have been following to the letter a number of Safety precautions during the past week as outlined by Government and NHS England. So, what are the relevant safety precautions when chimney sweeping? Surprisingly, with a few notable exceptions many of them are the same as those adopted as normal everyday working practice. They include:

  • Not attending any customers address where anybody in the household has symptoms of Corona Virus or are self-isolating for the advised 14-day period.
  • To practice self-distancing at all times; at least 2-3 meters away from other people at all times.
  • The wearing of full protective sweeping clothing whilst working and which is washed daily.
  • The wearing of a protective face-mask – I use an American brand that complies with the British Standard and that has an M3 filter.
  • The wearing of two layers of gloves – I use a thick heavy-duty latex glove inside a thick industrial glove. I change the gloves for each individual job.
  • The use of sufficient dust sheets and runners for the job in hand. Again, the dust sheets are used for one job only and are washed daily. I use a white cotton ground sheet and a black waterproof top sheet (Rodtech UK) for each individual job.
  • At the present I am requesting that wherever possible customers pay me by bank transfer, avoiding the need to handle cash or cheques.
  • At the end of the work I ask the customer to sign the sweeping certificate using their own pen and to then take their copy (the top yellow copy) – Again avoiding the need to handle the same pen and paperwork.
  • Following each job, I wash my hands using industrial strength, alcohol-based wipes and disposable paper towel.

It is therefore important to remember that at the time of writing, the government is not advising people not to work. It says you should only go to work if there is no other way you can do your job. It is also saying that if you are working away from your home, it’s your responsibility to practice the social distancing instructions and to follow all the other health advice. Personally I would add to this, that with regards to chimney sweeping it is ultimately the customers decision as to whether they want the work done at the current time or whether they wish to defer it to a later date when the present emergency has passed. Clearly, if the situation is an emergency (for example a blocked flue) or the customer resides in a Thatch property, they might not have the option to defer to a later date.

This all said, if the customer and their household are symptom free and content for me to come and do the work, then I will do so, but I will be following all the safety precautions I have listed above and conducting a telephone risk assessment immediately prior to my attending.

If anybody is in any doubt then please do get in touch with me, and likewise I will be calling all my customers and speaking to the personally before I attend any appointments.

For further advice and guidance please visit the following sites:

Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/  

Government: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults

ACAS (Very Informative Site): https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

An Unsafe Charnwood Stove in Little Sampford

Posted By paddy

To be honest it is rather a rare event to find an unsafe stove or installation and when it does occur it is usually because the installation or appliance are old and some of the component parts have degraded over time and become unsafe. It is even rarer to find a dangerous system because it has been installed incorrectly by an amateur or cowboy builder. In this instance it was the former reason as opposed to the latter, where a component part had simply deteriorated over time rendering the appliance unsafe.

Here, the appliance was a Charnwood Country 6 Wood-burning Stove which was one of two stoves installed in a rental property. Upon dropping the baffle to sweep the flue I was surprised to see exposed brick work instead of the back of the fire box – I realized that the rear blanking plate was missing from the back of the stove and found that it had actually dropped into the stove when I removed the baffle (See Photographs). The blanking plate is the circular metal plate which is used to cover an unused flue outlet from the appliance, i.e. in this instance the stove was flued out of the top of the appliance, so the blanking plate was being used to cover the unused rear outlet. The blanking plate seals the stove preventing noxious combustion gasses such as carbon monoxide entering the room and presenting a risk to life. Upon examining the blocking plate, it was clear to see why it had failed, both the retaining bolts had corroded away causing it to fall into the stove. I could also see that at some stage someone had unsuccessfully attempted to re-fix to the stove it using fire-cement.

Clearly, a stove in this condition would be dangerous to used, primarily because when in use carbon monoxide would be free to leak into the room causing a danger to life. In these instances, there is a set procedure to follow as laid down by the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, of which I am a member. I diplomatically point out the defect(s) to the customer, explaining why they are dangerous and how to go about rectifying them. I complete a Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps Warning Notice form listing the defects and how they should be resolved; whilst additionally warning the customer not to use the appliance in its present condition. I then ask the customer to sign the Warning Notice form and provide them with a copy. I next complete a red Warning Notice which I place on the appliance indicating that the appliance should not be used and then I take photographs of the appliance and the defects for record purposes. In this way I document what I have found and what is required to correct the defect; keeping the customer safe from harm and pointing them in the right direction to affect the necessary repairs.

Unsafe Charnwood Country 6 Stove with blocking plate in the foreground
Rear of the stove showing the missing plate
The blocking plate showing where someone has attempted to re-fix it using fire cement

Thatched Fox in Arrington

Posted By paddy

I thought it was time for another thatched animal – I took this photo on a frosty February morning at a house in Arrington where I was working. As you can see it’s a rather handsome fox. Confusingly, the thatch roof is immediately behind the tiled roof. The lady customer ‘rides to hounds’ as they used to say, in other words she enjoys fox hunting, albeit in its new modern form! Hence the fox on her thatched roof. Inside her house she had many other pictures and ornaments of a foxy, hunting theme, highlighting her interest in this country past time.

An internet search tells us that fox hunting is: An activity involving the tracking, chase and, if caught, the killing of a fox, traditionally a red fox, by trained foxhounds or other scent hounds, and a group of unarmed followers led by a “master of foxhounds” (“master of hounds”), who follow the hounds on foot or on horseback.

Fox hunting with hounds, as a formalised activity, originated in England in the sixteenth century, in a form very similar to that practised until February 2005, when a law banning the activity in England and Wales came into force. A ban on hunting in Scotland had been passed in 2002, but it continues to be within the law in Northern Ireland and several other countries, including AustraliaCanadaFranceIreland and the United States. In Australia, the term also refers to the hunting of foxes with firearms, similar to deer hunting.

A Frosty Thatched Fox in Arrington

Morso Squirrel Multi-Fuel Stoves

Posted By paddy

Todays blog is all about the Morso Squirrel Multi-Fuel Stove as I see so many of the on my travels around the Saffron Walden area. The one pictured is in an address in Saffron Walden, but I do see them everywhere, for example have customers with in Littlebury, Great Chesterford, Elmdon, Newport, Castle Camps, Clare, West Wratting and Cavendish to name just a few.  

Morso who are a Danish company, have a long history having been making stoves since 1853. They make stoves by appointment to the Royal Family of Denmark. I suspect from my customers that Morso have been making the Squirrel model for a very long time as many of the stoves I sweep are rather old. Having said this, customers report that they all still work very efficiently. Indeed, Morso make many different versions of the Squirrel model from the 1410 right up to the 1446 and including the 1442 Royal edition. These versions are all variations on a theme and all have the attractive embossed Squirrel on the side of the casting. Many of the Squirrels are Multi-Fuel versions, however some are purely wood-burning stoves.

In the last week I swept a Morso Squirrel 1412 Multi-Fuel Stove at an address in Haverhill. This version of the Squirrel is unusual as it has an additional component in the stove, a smoke hood. This smoke hood is a roughly semicircular cowl which fits into the roof of the stove above the baffle. It is removed and refitted it by twisting it. So when removing it is twisted anti-clockwise with the right hand hood lug emerging from the rear retaining bracket in the roof of the stove and the left hand hood lug emerging from the front of its retaining bracket. To refit the hood the opposite procedure is adopted, twisting the hood clockwise. Having not seen one of these smoke hoods before I contacted Morso Technical Department 01788554410 – Tony at Morso Technical told me that the smoke hood had been added to the stoves because an environmental requirement for the Norwegian market because of emissions rules in that country. It had been expected that the smoke hood would improve the performance of the stove and reduce emissions, when it actually did the opposite reducing the performance of the stove by reducing the draw of the flue. Some of these stoves have been introduced into the UK market and it was Tony’s advice to discard this unnecessary component and this would actually improve the performance of the stove.

Morso Squirrel in a house in saffron Walden
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