It’s one of the biggest misunderstandings in the world of chimneys, fireplaces and solid fuel in general.
Customers routinely think it; as well as solicitors, local councils, architects and even some product manufacturers.
I’m talking about the so-called *need* for HETAS paperwork to have your fireplace installed or even swept and serviced.
There’s quite a few different parts to this, so I’ve broken it down to make things a bit clearer…
Do I need to have a HETAS registered person to install my stove or woodburner?
The short answer is ‘no’. You can of course have a HETAS registered installer do this for you if you wish, but there are other options.
Firstly, a bit of background. The installation of a solid fuel appliance in a dwelling in England is governed by Building Regulations. Each installation should satisfy Approved Document J of the regulations and be signed off accordingly.
Once signed off, your installation (stove/woodburner/open fire etc) is registered with your local council.
However, the government has adopted a ‘self certification’ process for solid fuel burning appliances in the home. This is delivered by various Competent Persons Schemes (CPS), as appointed by the government.
This means that if you are a member of an officially recognised Competent Persons Scheme, you can ‘sign off’ an installation you completed without the need for a local council inspector to come around and check on it.
HETAS is one such competent persons scheme for solid fuel installations.
But – crucially – there are SIX others as well.
At the time of writing (January 2021) these include OFTEC, APHC, BESCA, Certsure, NAPIT and Stroma.
So anyone who is a registrant of any of the above schemes can also install and subsequently sign off your installation.
They are all the same in terms of building regulation sign offs and carry equal weighting.
It’s literally that simple.
I’m selling my house and my solicitor says I must have HETAS paperwork for my fireplace. Are they right?
If your solicitor means that they need a copy of the Certificate of Compliance, and that was issued by a HETAS registered installer at the time of installation, then fine.
If they’re implying that an OFTEC, Certsure, NAPIT etc certificate isn’t good enough, and it must be a HETAS certificate, then they are wrong. Because, as stated, a Certificate of Installation can come via ANY of the above CPS routes.
If, however, your installation doesn’t have a certificate from any of the CPS schemes because it was never signed off, then it can’t be done retrospectively.
If you’re unsure whether any paperwork was issued, check with your local council because they should have received a works notification, depending on when the fireplace was installed.
Do I need a HETAS Approved Sweep to sweep and service my stove/woodburner/open fire?
Absolutely not. Unlike installing, chimney sweeping and servicing is not governed by building regulations.
Therefore, none of the CPS schemes has any jurisdiction whatsoever over chimney sweeping and don’t speak for chimney sweeps.
HETAS does run an Approved Sweeps scheme, but it has no legal standing in terms of eligibility for being able to sweep or service a solid fuel appliance. As far as I’m aware, none of the other CPS schemes have an Approved Sweeps scheme.
So why do people keep saying you need HETAS paperwork?
It’s partly down to a lack of marketing, comparatively, from other CPS schemes. It’s also partly down to a general lack of awareness of how the solid fuel industry operates. Many think it’s just like gas with one organisation covering the whole industry, such as Corgi (as was) and latterly Gas Safe.
There’s also security in familiarity, and HETAS is a reasonably well-known name among consumers in the solid fuel world.
But that’s all it is. As demonstrated earlier, it certainly isn’t the sole option, as some believe.
And like absolutely any and every organisation, simply being a registrant or member isn’t an automatic guarantee of quality.
So, if I’m wanting a stove fitted, who can do it?
Technically, anyone can do it – but it should be installed to building regulations and signed off.
Some local councils do sign offs, usually provided they’ve been involved and been able to inspect various stages of the installation. But, without trying to be disparaging, some of their knowledge of solid fuel is patchy at best. At worst, it is clueless.
Some also try to fob you off by telling you to get a ‘HETAS engineer’ (groan!) to sign it off, but CPS scheme registrants can’t do this. Moreover, sign offs are actually part of a council’s statutory duties, under the Building Act 1984, and therefore a service they ought to provide.
All that being said, this route is more the exception than the rule these days, and it’s generally recommended that a solid fuel installation is installed by a registrant of one of the available Competent Persons Scheme.
Not only will they be able to supply you with relevant paperwork (crucial if you ever come to sell the property), but also some installation work can be very tricky.
Also, get it wrong and it can cause untold damage and loss to property and to life. Sensibly, many believe it’s not worth the risk.
With that in mind, you can choose registrants from ANY of the following seven CPS schemes for solid fuel:
Who can I use to sweep my chimney and service my stove/fireplace?
The honest answer is, unless your insurance company or landlord specifies a certain organisation or qualification, then absolutely anybody.
Again, sweeping and servicing of solid fuel appliances is not covered by building regulations so the same ‘rules’ don’t apply.
That said, there are a number of options available for those who want a professional to do it.
– Qualified Sweeps: These are holders of the only formal chimney sweeping qualification. Details can be found at https://www.chimneyskillstraining.co.uk/nvq-sweep-locator
Or members of any of the following chimney sweeping associations (list is not exhaustive)
⁃ Association of Professional, Independent Chimney Sweeps
⁃ Chimney Sweep Academy
⁃ The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps
⁃ Institute of Chimney Sweeps
⁃ National Association of Chimney Sweeps
⁃ National Chimney Sweeping Safety Association
⁃ Sweep Safe
Alternatively you could use a HETAS Approved Sweep. They may or may not be a qualified sweep, and may or may not be a member of one of the above sweeping associations.
Or you could legally choose someone who is not a member of any of the above. Most industry professionals wouldn’t advise it, but it’s entirely up to you.
It goes without saying that you should retain proof that your chimney has been swept, should you ever need to present it for any reason, such as an insurance claim. Always check with your insurers what they would deem acceptable proof.
As you can see, things aren’t always as they first seem. But a myth has sort of grown up and therefore it’s quite hard for the customer to decipher what’s the correct thing to do.
For my own part, I’m a:
⁃ Master member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps (because I trained with the Guild and find them a very supportive association of broadly likeminded people. The Guild is also a member of the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps, which speaks for our part of the industry and is a strong advocate for us with government and other public bodies).
⁃ An NVQ Level 2 Qualified Sweep (because it’s a lifetime qualification and – unlike others on this list – doesn’t rely on annual memberships)
⁃ An OFTEC registered solid fuel installer (I find their support and helpline very friendly and useful, and they make work notifications a breeze)
⁃ A HETAS Approved Sweep (because it’s a recognised brand and for some contracts, this is what some organisations stipulate. I also found their H003 installer course – one of the routes to becoming a HETAS Approved Sweep – really useful and enjoyable).
There has been talk of the need for the solid fuel industry to have one body covering installation and servicing, a bit like the Gas Safe Register.
I don’t personally think this is necessary or desirable. For a start, chimney sweeps actually sweep gas flues, oil boilers and even disused chimneys.
Sweeps don’t need to be Gas Safe registered to sweep gas flues, or oil registered for oil boilers, so I fail to see the connection.
Also, the amount of shoddy and downright dangerous gas work I see out there really brings home how waving a magic wand is no guarantee of increased standards.
All it needs really is for industry professionals like myself to get across the message to consumers about what choices they have.
Choice is no bad thing and, once made clear, enables customers to be able to pursue different avenues.
I like to think of myself as someone who is fair minded and wants to give people the full picture. This in turn allows them to make up their own mind. This is what I’ve tried to do in this blog.
If you do decide you personally want HETAS paperwork then fine. There are some great HETAS installers and HETAS approved sweeps to choose from.
But at least you’ll have done that knowing they aren’t the only game in town…
Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a fully qualified sweep and a member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps based in the Manchester and South Lancs area