Soot, dust, birds and twigs – 4 things which can fall down your chimney at this time of year

You know there’s something going on but you’re not sure what. Yes, it’s that time of year when funny things start happening with chimneys.

For many, it’s quite unnerving as they’re unlikely to have experienced anything quite like it.

Here’s a few common scenarios, and the likely causes

Small Amounts of Dust and Soot Falling Down The Chimney

This is likely to be that the chimney is suffering from ‘reverse draw’. This is when air is flowing down the chimney from the outside air into the room, rather than air escaping from the room, up the chimney and away. 

The reason this happens is because flues work on differential pressure; air going from a high (warm) pressure area to a low (cold) pressure zone. Most of the time, the inside of a property is warmer than the outside, so air goes up, from a warm environment to the outside, cooler one. However, in summer, the air outside is usually warmer than the air inside a property, so it will pull back down the chimney. And this rush of air down the chimney to the cooler, inside area (i.e. – usually your living room) can knock off loose debris such as old mortar and soot, thus meaning that it ends up in the fireplace/room. This is particularly common for people with either gas or disused fireplaces as a) they’re not used to seeing debris in the fireplace; b) mortar dries out on gas appliances as it’s a ‘dry’ heat and c) those with non-solid fuel appliances don’t tend to have them swept regularly, so any naturally occurring debris doesn’t come down in a controlled manner

What You Should Do: Call a professional sweep in to inspect the flue and offer advice/guidance. Each scenario is different but generally I sweep the chimney so that any loose debris can be collected in a controlled manner. I would then, depending on the usage of the flue, advise on the best way forward.

A pigeon which had been rescued from a flue

Large Amounts of Dust and Soot Falling Down The Chimney

From experience, this tends to happen when something other than the natural air flow, as detailed above, causes turbulence in the flue. More often than not, this is because a bird – most commonly a pigeon – has fallen down the chimney. It will try to fly out, but can’t get the right trajectory, so ends up knocking off mortar and soot from the flue walls.

Birds tend to fall down chimneys during the spring and summer. It’s rare that a fallen bird indicates a fully formed nest, but it does mean they need removing, otherwise they will die. Not only is knowingly leaving them to die cruel, but you could – depending on where they are in the chimney – end up with unpleasant smells and flies in your living space.

What You Should Do: Call in your local, professional chimney sweep. They will have experience of removing birds from flues and hopefully will be able to free it with minimal issues. Do NOT try to light a fire as this could kill the bird also could put yourself at risk of a chimney fire, carbon monoxide poisoning and even a potential animal cruelty charge.

Twigs Appearing In the Fireplace

This happens when birds, such as Jackdaws and Starlings, try to build a nest in your chimney. Usually, the twigs at the bottom of a nest are quite large, as they create the foundations of a nest. If the twigs don’t catch in the flue, they’ll fall into the fireplace.

Not every nest is successful, so it may be that the birds have dropped a few twigs, found it hasn’t worked, and move on to another flue. 

What You Should Do:  Get a local, professional sweep to inspect the flue and advise on the way forward. Do NOT try to light a fire and remove any twigs still in the flue yourself as this is potentially dangerous in terms of starting a chimney fire. It could also give you carbon monoxide poisoning.

A bird’s nest should always be removed by a professional chimney sweep

Smoke Billowing Into The Room

This can mean there is some sort of blockage in the flue, such as a fully formed bird’s nest.

What You Should Do: Again, call in a professional sweep. By law, active nests are protected by law during the nesting season (March-September) so generally cannot be removed. Any professional sweep worth their salt will refuse to touch a live nest during this period. Please do not try to ‘burn out’ the nest as it will not work and could cause a chimney fire, not to mention the fact that you could be prosecuted for destroying a live nest. Wait until the correct time and then get a professional sweep to remove the next. Once that is done, it is wise to get a birdgruard fitted as birds are becoming increasingly territorial and, chances are, they will return next year.

So, as you can see, these situations are not uncommon, but you should always call in your local, professional sweep for advice. Do not make assumptions because each situation is different, and this is only a general guide. Get bespoke advice and it’ll ensure your situation is remedied as quickly and safely as possible.

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 07724 311 992.