Chimney Detective at Work

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Not so long ago I received a call from a lovely lady with a problem with her open fire in the house she and her husband have lived in for many years in Parkstone, Poole. She wanted to know if I did “trouble shooting” and if I could help with their open fire issue.  So, with my Chimney Detective hat on I was intrigued to hear more.

Basically, they were suffering from smoke returning into their living room after approximately an hour of burning resulting in the fire having to be extinguished immediately and bringing a relaxing evening in front of the fire to an abrupt halt. This had been ongoing for a significant period of time and with the involvement of many chimney sweeps.

Fortunately, part of my essential equipment is a CCTV kit enabling me to get a detailed view of the interior of chimney flues and stove liners. So, with kit in hand I offered to go along and assess.

I had already done some homework on potential causes such as any changes to the property that may have effected the draw on the fire, air vents, double glazing, too big an aperture for the room and so on. On arrival I noted that it was a standard two story character detached house with standard chimney stack with an aspirator spinning cowl fitted to the chimney that had been fitted to assist with the draw from the fire. This was spinning in the breeze quite well.

Inside I saw that the owner had installed a unique antique raised French grate to raise the fire up towards the gather. A hood had been installed to further reduce the distance between fire and flue and the fire aperture was perfectly normal for the room size. No significant changes to the property to effect draw. Puzzling indeed.

So, I deployed the CCTV kit to see what was going on, if anything. On reaching the base of the chimney pot, I had to work extra hard to get the camera on the rods to negotiate the ledge leading up into the pot. At this point it’s worth pointing out that as a chimney sweep it’s good practice to always exit the chimney pot with your brush, to go outside and see it protruding so you know you’ve reached the end of the flue. Makes sense.

With many chimneys having cowls fitted to them these days this hampers things to a degree as you don’t want to exert too much pressure on a cowl fear of dislodging it and so using your ears and having a good awareness of your equipment is essential.

As the camera popped into the pot, as you will see from the attached video clips, all became clear. The lining of the pot was heavily contaminated with debris, soot, tar etc from what appeared to be many years of not being properly cleaned as I suspect the previous sweeps didn’t actually get their brushes into the pot and were catching on the ledge beneath it believing to be at or near the top. Consequently the framework of the cowl was significantly clogged too thus reducing the aperture around the base of the cowl and no doubt effecting the draw up the flue.

To combat this I decided to rotary power sweep the flue, and knowing how many rods up I needed to go into the chimney I knew exactly when I was into the pot and crucially, close to the cowl base, bearing in mind I didn’t want to knock it off the top. Post sweep I redeployed the CCTV. I hope you will agree the before and after images speak for themselves and that the aspirator cowl appears to spinning a lot more freely.

Most importantly, did it solve the problem? ………….  well I was held in suspense until the next morning when I was hugely happy and relieved to hear that it had sorted the smoke return issue. It was great to know I’d dealt with a problem that had been plaguing this lovely couple for so long and that their evenings in front of the fire could now be all they had wanted them to be. for so long.

When I think back to the original telephone call and the problem presented to following the journey through, asking the right questions, doing the research, making the best use of technology, having the right kit for the job, it just goes to show it’s worth ensuring you utilise the skills of  a professional Chimney Sweep and that it is most certainly not an occupation that “anyone’s old Grandmother could do”, a quote I recently heard after condemning an installation of a wood burner and the installer (under the threat of HETAS) had to return to the customer and make good their error.