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Problems with Chimneys
Problems with Chimneys
The following problems are some of the most commonly encountered problems with chimneys, stove flues and open fireplaces. Many of these problems are the result of inefficient, poorly maintained or deteriorating chimneys.
The fire is not drawing properly
This is usually the result of a cold (flues take a little time to warm up and work correctly) or an obstructed flue or it may even be because of an insufficient height compared to the ridge of the roof or an nearby building. Sometimes double glazing and very efficient draught excluders around doors, etc, may prevent an adequate flow of air for the fire to work correctly. If no other work has taken place and the fire suddenly does not draw properly you should have the flue checked for obstructions and probably swept at the same time.
The fire creates a large amount of soot
This usually means you have an inefficient flue. This may be because the flue is not the right diameter for the fire or stove, or may it not be satisfactorily insulated so that the fumes do not rise fast enough and therefore create soot deposits on the inside. Excessive soot and tar can be a considerable fire hazard, particularly if the chimney structure has deteriorated or where, on the older house for example, the floor joists have been built into the stack,. In this case the whole house can be at risk. Again, the first step would be to have the chimney swept and ask a qualified chimney installer to check the flue - possibly by carrying out a smoke test to make sure that the fumes will rise swiftly and efficiently.
Mortar or brick is falling into the fireplace
Bits of brick or mortar falling down the flue indicate a serious deterioration in the chimney structure. Such deterioration normally occurs from the inside of the flue but if there is any indication of weakness on the outside of the chimney then attention is obviously necessary. You should use an experienced builder to check the structure of the chimney, preferably one that is used to working on chimney construction and not a general jobbing builder.
There are fumes or smoke in the room
These may not be easily detected on closed appliances such as stoves although if, with an open fire, the chimney smokes back into the room they are then obvious. Fumes contain carbon monoxide and are dangerous (Carbon Monoxide fumes from a blocked chimney may be fatal). Where there are leaks in the chimney the fumes can find their way into upstairs rooms and attics. Sometimes a tell-tale smoke stain around the edge of a carpet shows the presence of fumes. The presence of Carbon Monoxide can be checked for by buying a CO tester (either a strip or an alarm that resembles a smoke detector).
The chimney breast feels hot
This means that the chimney has deteriorated and may be dangerous. A hot wall in the room above the fireplace may be a similar symptom. If stains also appear on the chimney breast this is a sign that tar or acids have condensed and are eating into the chimney mortar and brickwork. As with the comments about mortar falling into the chimney, you should use an experienced builder to check the structure of the chimney, preferably one that is used to working on chimneys and not a general jobbing builder. It may be possible to line the existing flue with a new flue liner rather than have to knock out the whole chimney stack and have it rebuilt.
If you think that you have problems with a chimney in your house - always get it checked out especially if the problem suddenly happens, the risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning is very real.
Smoking Chimney image ©Zoe D'souza : www.houseofzoe.co.uk
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