In terms of ‘wow factor’, real fires can be a massive selling point when buying or selling a house. It’s said that homes with solid fuel appliances can add an extra 5-10% onto the asking price.
So why are thousands of homes sold each year with fires which are not only not fit for purpose, but are also a massive safety risk?
I’d say that, for every 100 new homeowners who book me to sweep their flue, I end up condemning 50% of them. Why is this happening? How can a house be sold with such a danger?
The truth is that most people will rely on a Homebuyers’ Report or Survey. These are, in my experience, fairly meaningless when it comes to commenting on the suitability or otherwise of a solid fuel appliance.
There’s a whole host of reasons why an installation may be faulty. Here’s some of the more common scenarios:
Original Open Fires
These have usually been in the property since the day it was built. In many circumstances, the fireplace itself is perfectly fine, but the dangers can lurk in the flue. For instance, an old flue may leak, or have been ‘broken into’ at some point to fit utilities such as water or gas pipes. I’ve also seen fitted wardrobes in some. There’s also been a number of times when the fireplace is in tact but the actual chimney stack has been taken down! So never assume that all is well until you’ve had it checked.
Retro-Fitted Open Fires
These are fires which may look original, but are either from the same period, or replicas. Generally, I find the quality of installation of these quite poor for various reasons, such as incorrect terminals, pipework in the flue and so on. It’s rare for the flue to have been tested before a fire has been fitted, or it may simply have been installed purely for decorative purposes.
Woodburners and Multi Fuel Stoves
Such is the seeming simplicity of stove installation that some will attempt it as a DIY job. Others may work in other trades, such as builders or gas engineers, and will install a solid fuel appliance for the customers. All of these are usually undertaken by unqualified persons and, to a trained sweeps’ eye, it shows. Incorrectly fitted liners, lack of sweeping access, inappropriate register plates, hearths and terminals are all common hallmarks of the ‘have a go hero.’ Of course, there’s nothing heroic about installing a solid fuel appliance in this way, as they are potentially deadly.
Wear and Tear
Of course, an appliance which was fitted properly can, over time, become dangerous because of simple wear and tear. Expecting a flue to last forever is unrealistic. They need regular service, maintenance and occasionally replacement/repair. Remember that chimneys and flues are usually the most neglected part of a property.
So what can be done to ensure homes aren’t sold with dangerous/faulty fireplaces?
In my view, estate agents have a big part to play. As soon as they are instructed to sell a property with a solid fuel appliance, they should strongly advise the vendor to have the installation swept by a registered sweep who can provide a Certificate of Sweeping
Solicitors should also be seeking the above to get up to date information about the state of an installation so that information can be used as part of their paperwork. A Certificate of Compliance will only show that the installation was fitted to building regulations, it won’t give a more update précis on the condition of the appliance/flueway
When all else fails, prospective buyers should request that an installation is swept prior to purchase so they can have an understanding of what, if any, works may need to be done to bring an appliance/flue back into use
It’s massively frustrating for sweeps to see people’s hopes of having a roaring fireplace turn to dust just because some basic checks haven’t been carried out before the sale was completed.
More needs to be done to stop this from happening. If you are buying or selling a house, or maybe are involved in the property sector, you can play your part. It’s time to wise up.
Thankfully, a number of new homeowners have the good sense to have an appliance swept before they light a fire. But too many of these are done on the assumption that all it needs is a sweep and then it can be used. That’s not always the case and sometimes new owners are faced with either the a massive repair bill or simply have to ditch the idea.
These in a sense are the lucky ones. There’s still many out there who never even think about this, simply light the fire and carry on; blissfully unaware of the danger which is lurking in their living room…
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.