Chimney fire warning as temperatures drop

By Jamie Hill - 13 October 2020

Community

As temperatures drop, homeowners in the South West are being urged to keep their chimneys in check to prevent the devastating impact of a house fire and safeguard their home, belongings and families.

As the pandemic means many people are spending more time at home, specialist insurer of rural, thatched and listed homes NFU Mutual is concerned that the additional heating needed could put people in danger of harm from serious house fires occurring during the cold Winter months.

In 2019, NFU Mutual received £8.4million worth of damage claims for house fires which began in the fireplace, ranging from damage to carpets and furniture through to full-scale fires spreading through the property and costing millions of pounds to repair and causing risk to life. The number of fires typically increases dramatically in October and continues throughout the Winter and Spring seasons.

Further compounding the issue, members of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps have reported that bookings for chimney sweeping appointments have dropped because of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Phil Cooper, Home Insurance Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Each year, October marks the beginning of a spate of hundreds of claims for house fires which start in the chimney. More people are remaining at home this year, so we’re extremely worried about the impact of the additional heating on chimney health and fires which can cause great risk to homes, personal belongings and lives.

“The real cost of a fire is the danger to life and the emotional impact. Many homeowners are unaware of the distress that can be caused in needing to re-build a property, which can take months or years of skilful work by specialist restoration teams depending upon the level of smoke contamination and scale of the damage, particularly if it is a listed building. Even smaller fires can have long-lasting effects such as the smell of smoke or upset from the trauma of the event. At NFU Mutual we do everything possible to limit the disruption suffered by our customers and help them to safely return to their properties as soon as possible.”

“To reduce the risk of a fire If you have a multi-fuel stove, wood burner or open fire - if it is safe for you to do so in line with government advice - then we would urge you to ensure the chimneys and flues are kept clean, well maintained and swept on a regular basis by a professional chimney sweep, particularly if they are being used more than usual this year. Make sure you check for birds’ nests, and do not over feed the fire, which are also common causes of fires which start in the chimney.”

NFU Mutual has also warned that wood burning or multi-fuel stoves reach very high temperatures which can also increase the risk of fire with thatched properties as they send more live sparks and embers out of the chimney.

Phil continued: “Statistically thatched homes are no more likely to catch fire than those with conventional roofs; however, if a thatched roof does ignite, the resulting fires are rapid and devastating.”

Owners of wood burners, stoves and open fires will also no longer be able to buy house coal or wet wood, under a ban to be rolled out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2021 in a bid to reduce air pollution. Homeowners should also avoid burning waste paper on the fire and ensure that they only burn seasoned, correctly stored hardwood and use the stove according to manufacturer instructions.

Phil concluded, “It is important that people follow simple fireplace safety guidance and check their buildings and contents are properly insured so that support and assistance is at hand if the worst should regrettably happen.”

NFU Mutual has provided a checklist to keep your home safe:

  • Chimneys should be routinely checked or surveyed to ensure that they are structurally sound, well-maintained and able to cope with the demands of modern heating appliances;
  • Your chimney should be swept by a professional chimney sweep at least twice a year if it is in use frequently or all year round;
  • Your chimney lining (if you have one) should also be insulated and regularly inspected, where possible, and renewed when needed, especially when the main fuel is wood, as tar deposits are highly combustible and corrosive.  A qualified chimney sweep should be able to identify potential problems at an early stage;
  • Only burn seasoned hardwood or materials according to manufacturer specifications;
  • Fit a bird guard to deter birds from building nests in your chimney;
  • If you’re moving into a property that’s already got a stove, ensure that it was fitted by a HETAS registered installer. There should be a small metal plaque (usually kept in or near the house fuse box showing the details), if not, then seek professional advice on your options
  • Check the electrical system throughout your home;
  • Speak to your local fire safety officer for further advice about fire prevention.

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