Stoves, and solid fuel appliances in general, work well – but only if you look after them.
Here’s my top tips to help keep you warm and safe:
Get your chimney swept! It may sound obvious, coming from a chimney sweep, but it is vitally important. A chimney sweep can check your chimney and flue is as it should be, and that there are no problems. Sometimes, these aren’t always apparent to the untrained eye. The actual sweeping process also helps prevent chimney fires and ensures deadly Carbon Monoxide fumes can escape safely. The frequency of sweeping will depend partly on what type of fuel you burn. NEVER light a fire in a home you’ve just moved in to. Get it swept to ensure it is safe to use. Mr Soot offers a full chimney sweeping service – book here.
Burn only seasoned (dried) wood: Never burn freshly-harvested wood which has a high moisture content. Not only is this inefficient (as the fire will spend all its time trying to burn off the moisture). it will also contribute to tar and creosote deposits forming in your flue – a large factor in chimney fires. Same goes for treated woods, or those with paints/lacquers on them.
Don’t pile up wood/fuels directly next to the stove: Yes, you see it in magazines – evoking scenes of a rural woodcutter’s cottage – and yes, it looks lovely, but the reality can be different. Did you know that Building Regulations state that stoves have to be fitted a certain distance away from combustible materials? The reason is that if it is too close, they would catch fire. The same applies to your stash of lovely-cut, dried (seasoned) wood. My advice is to store your fuels away from the fire, to ensure no accidents occur.
Don’t use it as a general waste disposer: Some people believe that any old rubbish can be thrown into the fire. Don’t do it – you could end up wrecking the flue or even blocking it, resulting in deadly carbon monoxide gases filling your home. Burn only what is recommended by the stove manufacturer and check whether you live in a Smoke Control Area.
Don’t be temped by ‘quick’ fixes: Every so often, you may find the fire isn’t ‘catching’ as quickly as you would like. While this can be frustrating, you have to persevere. Don’t go rooting in the shed for the barbecue lighter – it will damage the inside of the fire box and, depending on the volumes, could be highly dangerous. Stick with firelighters, kindling and then your main fuel of choice, and you won’t go wrong.
Always have a Carbon Monoxide Alarm fitted – and test it regularly! Not only are they required by law under Building Regulations, but they must be fitted in a certain place. Mr Soot offers a full Carbon Monoxide Alarm installation service – book here.
Make use of the air vents: These are great things which can help, when the fire is ‘in’, to help keep it burning for longer by restricting the air flow. Check your stove instruction book.
Cleaning the stove: Make sure you always follow the manufacturer instructions and don’t be tempted to use things like scouring pads for the glass. Also, empty the ash pan regularly to ensure a good air flow around the grate.
Clean the baffle plate every month: The baffle is a square piece of metal, usually found at the top of the fire box, which stops the flames going directly up into the chimney. Take this out and brush it down gently every month. Some baffle plates simply slot above the fire bricks. If you can move your firebricks, do so gently (as the vermiculite board-types can break if not handled correctly) before taking the baffle plate out. A mirror and torch are handy for smaller stoves so you can see what you’re doing.
Keep children and animals safe: You will be surprised how children can be charmed away from their electronic gadgets by the sight of a roaring fire. And children will almost inevitably want to touch the fire to see how hot it is. It goes without saying that children and pets should be kept well away from fires and supervised at all times. There are plenty of hearth guards on the market which are good value for money and will give you peace of mind.