There’s a lot of myths and misconceptions about chimneys, from their construction, how they work and how they are cleaned. Most of these are simply based on assumptions, while others are because people have been badly advised or have listened to stereotypes in the past.
So here are my Top 10 myths which people ask me about on a fairly regular basis…
Myth 1: ‘My downstairs fire connects to the fire upstairs in my bedroom’
This is largely incorrect. Apart from some large country homes or cottages which were built well before the industrial revolution, most fires were/are served by one flue only and go into separate chimney pots. So in a normal house (built since the mid to late 1800s) where you have a fireplace downstairs and upstairs, they will normally have been fitted to 2 separate flues, each one separated by a bricks within the property and chimney stack. Indeed, if both fireplaces were connected to the same flue that would nowadays be classed as dangerous and remedial works would need to be undertaken.
Myth 2: ‘Chimney liners don’t need cleaning’
Wrong – in fact liners need cleaning very regularly. This is because they usually have a narrow, cross sectional area (usually from 5 inches to 8 inches in diameter) so soot up easily. Also, most liners are made of stainless steel, so over the years they naturally corrode. And because soot is acidic, it will speed up the rate of corrosion. Get it swept regularly, and you’ll get the maximum amount of life out of your liner.
Myth 3: ‘Because I’ve got a multi-fuel stove, I can burn both wood and smokeless coal’
I strongly advise against burning both fuels at the same time. This is because the moisture from the wood mixes with the sulphur in the smokeless fuel to create acidic deposits. Those deposits can cause rapid corrosion of your chimney liner. My advice is burn one fuel, and burn it hot. More advice can be found here.
Myth 4: ‘We had an open fire as children, so we’ll know how to use our woodburner. After all, a fire is a fire’
This is a common misconception They’re actually two very different beasts, much in the same way a typewriter is different to a computer. Your old open fire will have been connected to a masonry flue and you’ll probably have used housecoal on it. You’ll also probably have tried to keep the fire in for as long as possible by ‘banking’ it up with fuel. If you do these things with a stove, you’ll quickly wreck the liner which it is attached to, forcing you to shell out hundreds for a replacement. Read the manufacturer instructions and take advice from your local sweep. We see hundreds of appliances a year and we can help you get the best out of them.
Myth 5: ‘My chimney sweep will need to go on the roof to sweep the flue’
While it’s commonplace in Europe and parts of Scotland, top-down sweeping is pretty rare in most of the UK. The majority will clean your flue from inside the property, usually through your actual fireplace. Not only is this safer for the sweep in terms of not having to work at heights or getting a face full of soot from the up-draught, but it also helps them keep any dust in your home to a minimum.
Myth 6: ‘You can sweep a chimney with just a vacuum cleaner’
This is completely false. Simply sticking a vacuum hose up a flue for 10 minutes or even 10 hours will not get rid of the soot which is stuck to the inside of your flue. In order to get the soot and any other deposits off, brushes and rods/lines must be used. Anyone who says they ‘clean’ a flue just using a vacuum cleaner alone isn’t doing it properly.
Myth 7: ‘It’s best to get my chimney cleaned before I start using it’
In fact, in a number of cases, the exact opposite is true. If you have a stainless steel liner, I recommend they are swept at the end of the burning season, so around April/May time. This is to ensure that any soot deposits are out of the flue during summer, a time when natural moisture content levels in the air tend to be at their highest. Remember, stainless steel does corrode so the less time it is laying there, the better.
Myth 8: ‘It’s easy to get a chimney sweep at short notice, so I’ll wait until the last minute to book one’
Anyone who has tried to book a sweep from August onwards will testify to the fact that this is untrue. Indeed, by mid October, a number of sweeps are fully booked until the New Year. It may be a cliché, but the saying ‘Book Early To Avoid Disappointment’ is definitely true in this case!
Myth 9: ‘Anyone can shove a brush up a chimney – it’s an old, unskilled job’
Sweeping may be an old profession, but it is a skilled trade which requires years of experience and training to perfect. It is hard work and sweeps must be not only physically strong, but also be able to be proactive problem-solvers and deliver important safety information in a clear and concise way. I strongly advise that you only use the services of a registered chimney sweep, as they will have been trained to a nationally recognised standard. They’ll also carry the correct levels of insurance, unlike your mate down the pub with a set of drain rods…
Myth 10: ‘All sweeps look/sound like Bert from Mary Poppins’
Trust me, we don’t. And we rarely sing and dance either… unless it’s a Friday afternoon!
Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service in Wigan, Stockport, St Helens, Ormskirk, Chorley and surrounding areas. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.