Most customers who greet me for the first time are surprised. They were expecting an older chap in a flat cap; the kind from years ago who would have come with just one brush and some bamboo rods, sheet over your fireplace, sweep the chimney and leave a load of soot everywhere for you to clear up. In and out in 15 minutes if that.
So you can understand why seeing me on the doorstep is a bit of a reality check.
Not only do modern sweeps use a vast array of equipment and vacuums to keep your home as clean as possible, we also do visual inspections of your fireplace, the lower part of the flue, the cowlings and chimney stack, check for ventilation, carbon monoxide alarms etc as standard. Some also do more intricate work such as CCTV surveys on flues and chimney pressure testing.
However, that role is now changing again – and everyone (even those who don’t have a solid fuel fireplace or stove) will be benefiting. I’m talking about educating customers on how to use their appliances and appropriate and fuel usage.
You can’t have failed to notice the headlines surrounding solid fuel fires in the past year or so. What the headlines fail to grasp is that Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) has actually fallen sharply in the past 40-odd years, as DEFRA’s own figures show. The media also hasn’t grasped the fact that excess emissions aren’t caused by the stoves themselves, it’s how they are being used.
Years ago, most fireplaces were an open grate and people were burning coal of some sort of another. Everything was fairly uniform.
Nowadays, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of different combinations of solid fuel installations. Morso stove on a twin wall system burning kiln dried logs…. wet Dunsley appliance on an unlined parged flue burning smokeless… Firefox stove on a flexible liner burning manufactured heat logs… they are all different. And crucially, the way they all work can be different.
And there’s the rub; customers are rarely shown how to use their appliance properly. Most haven’t grown up with a ‘real’ fire at home, and even fewer had a multi-fuel stove or woodburner. So this all-round lack of knowledge can lead to excess emissions because they, primarily, don’t understand how to use the air controls on their stove.
Put simply, a lack of air in the stove can cause fuel to burn at a lower temperature. Inappropriate fuel choice can impact as well. That releases particles which not only causes sooting up/tar in your chimney, but it can also cause excess pollution in your neighbourhood.
The good news however is this is being tackled because more and more sweeps are educating customers on how to burn as cleanly as possible.
As mentioned elsewhere on my website, I’m the co-founder of Burnright, a grass-roots campaign set up to educate stove users on ways to minimise the effects of their appliance.
We’ve set up a free website with ‘how to’ videos, and sweeps across the country are handing out Burnright guides to their customers. One by one, people are getting clued up, and sweeps along with other solid fuel professionals are at the forefront of delivering this advice.
Not only is this resulting in cleaner chimneys, but also cleaner air for everyone.
There’s still a long way to go, but things are heading in the right direction.
And that’s good news not just for stove users, but each and every person living in your area. Because, after all, we all breathe the same air…
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.