Christmas at Mount Stewart

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe scene is set the chimney swept and the fire lit. One of Northern Ireland’s favourite National Trust properties prepares for the festivities.

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We have worked with the National trust on many of their unique and interesting properties all over NI and Mount Stewart is one of our favourites. Only a few years ago we helped in the restoration of the Mount Stewart house and we relined a good few of the flues.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above is one of the gather hoods we installed in behind the grand feature fireplace.

This week we were called back to sweep the flue for the grand feature fireplace in the main drawing room, presumably to allow Santa good access next week, but also to prepare for a the TV cameras on Monday.  The filming will feature the grand fireplace lit for an up-coming Christmas special.

Working in a house like this, you are very aware that you are surrounded by irreplaceable pieces of furniture, art and decor. So we made a cabin that covers the fireplace and allows us to get in and do our work without contaminating the rest of the room

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Our man James drew the short straw.

The last part of the job is to perform a smoke test to make sure it is all set for the big day.

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For more details on what’s on in Mount Stewart this Christmas see here.

 

 

Carbon Monoxide

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The silent killer, Carbon Monoxide, you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. Without an alarm it is near impossible to detect.  Carbon monoxide is produced when carbon fuels like coal, wood, gas and oil are burnt.  So any device that has a naked flame in the home can produce it.  In fairly small doses, <10 parts per million (ppm), it is not that harmful.  Most alarms are triggered around concentrations of 20ppm and greater.

How does it occur? When you burn carbon fuels in oxygen, then ideally you make carbon dioxide and water, but in the instant a reaction occurs there is not always the correct amount of oxygen available and the carbon only fixes to half the oxygen needed to make the more stable carbon dioxide.

How is it poisonous to us? It is toxic because it saturates our red blood cells and stops our bodies transporting oxygen to our organs. Symptoms include

  • dizziness
  • nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting
  • tiredness and confusion
  • stomach pain
  • shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

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Get an alarm! If your home has an oil or gas boiler, gas cooker, a working fireplace or other device that burns fuel inside the dwelling you should have carbon monoxide alarms.  The best type are the sealed battery powered type.  These have an integrated battery that lasts for 5-10 years and notifies you when it needs replaced. Plug in types and non-sealed battery types can both let you down, either by power out or battery fault.

Where to fit an alarm? You should have one in the area of the source like in your living room if there is a fire or stove fitted.  If you have a boiler in your garage which is attached to your house then there should be one fitted near the garage door. Not inside the garage. Also at the top of the stairs or near the bedrooms to wake you should it go off in the night.

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What a lot of people don’t know is that there are right and wrong positions in the room for an alarm.  Corners can have poor air circulation and may not therefore give a good reading.

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In the busy winter heating season it is easy to forget about the possible causes, perhaps an un-serviced boiler or an un-swept flue.  Always make time to get your heating appliances serviced and your chimney swept, and test your carbon monoxide alarm regularly. It could save your life.

Test Your Smoke Alarm

 

 

 

 

My Mother and Other Strangers

1431764586862-bbc-ni-our-mother-other-strangers-filmed-in-the-national-trusts-kearney-villageA BBC period drama set here in Northern Ireland during the second world war. The five-part historical drama tells the story of the Coyne family and their neighbours in the fictional village of Moybeg.  The actual village where the series was filmed is a National Trust village called Kearny on the Ards Peninsula.  We do quite a bit of work with the National Trust on their buildings all over the country and we were only too delighted to help prepare Kearney for the cameras. To make it realistic we had to come in and remove any cowls and chimney caps that are not in keeping with the era. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Some of the flues were in use, but not all for fires.

You can read the full write up on the National Trust site here. There are loads more photos on their page plus details on how to visit.

The village is a delight and it’s easy to see why the BBC decided to shoot there.   We had to remove all modern chimney fittings carefully label them and store them away for the duration of the shoot before returning them afterwords.

Tune in for the latest episode on  Sunday night 21:00  BBC One.  Read more about the series and catch up on episodes already aired here.

Dreaded Damp

The dreaded damp is never good news. It’s bad for your home and its also bad for your health. The mold on the walls and ceiling are the indicators of a more serious cause. co3lexeweaavbvr If you get it on or near your chimney then it can suggest that there is a problem with your brickwork, the lead tray in your stack or your flashing.  It can happen even in fairly new homes,  if you have ever seen salt crystallising  on brickwork this can be an opportunity for damp to creep in. The salts leach out of the brickwork and as they form crystals these crystals grow and start to push the brickwork apart. image3 Sometimes a chimney with this problem will lean into the wind.  Have a look at the picture above that explains what is actually happening here.  damp-on-chimney-breast If you are up in your attic getting your Christmas decorations down and you see a chimney like this it is usually a sign that your stack needs attention.  Every brick stack should have a damp course built in to prevent water getting into the void and trickling down.  Sometimes it has perished or sometimes it has been left out altogether. On older chimneys the mortar is the only seal that keeps the flue gases in and the moisture out. img_5365 On this gable end you can not only see the leakages along the flue lengths but you can also see how much pointing has gone.

Your chimney is a specialist part of your house, it has to take some pretty extreme conditions, construction and care should really be done by a specialist company like Chimcoat, for over 25 years we have been building, repairing cleaning and maintaining chimneys all over Ireland.

If you need a quote or advice, you can get in contact using the form below.  We are always happy to help.

 

Nesty Business

The winter is here at last, the nights are long and cold, the leaves are gone and so have the summer visiting birds. However its not so much the birds, but rather, what they left behind that concerns us.bird-guards-cowls  Nests pose a problem when we go to start using our fires again at this time of year, that’s why it is wise to sweep your flue both at the start of the heating season and again in the spring.  They aren’t always as visible as this example in the photograph above. In the relatively brief sprung and summer months you would be surprised at how industrious they can be.

Gathering all sorts and stuffing it into your chimney. As you can see here in this photo there really can be quite a bit, especially if you haven’t used the flue in a rear or two.  Perhaps you just moved in to the house in the summer and you haven’t had a chance to get the flue swept.  _wsb_260x196_2014-09-3014-15-20Some of it falls down but some can just slide part the way down and cause a partial blockage and risk of chimney fire.

It is good practice to sweep your flue at the start of each season and every three months of use thereafter until the end of the season if burning wood or coal.  If you use gas, oil or smokeless fuel  you can get away with sweeping once a year.  The important thing is to get it swept before you use it especially after summer. It is not only birds have an eye on your chimney.  It is also a preferred spot for bees, wasps, bats and even rodents to make their home. Regular sweeping not only maintains your chimney keeping you and your household safe, but it also discourages these other seasonal residents taking up residence.

You can fit a bird guard  to your chimney top, however the grilles on these can also pose a threat, one such case was a plastic bag that got drawn up a flue in the draft only to stopwp40189f56_06 inside the birdcage and block off the flue, filing the room with carbon monoxide and smoke.  If you have a cowl with a bird guard mesh in place, always request that it is removed and cleaned during sweeping to ensure good clear flow.

 

We have great rates on sweeping at the moment.  Booking couldn’t be easier, fill in the form below and we will be in contact.

Wooden Beams

Wooden beams look great with a stove, there’s no doubt about that.  Done right a stove can be fitted  and you can use natural materials to compliment the look. However It has to be done right. imag1068 Here are a few examples of wooden beams using reclaimed timber to compliment the look. The beams on both are away from the stove. imag1110

 

 

The stove and the black pipe will radiate heat and as we all know the wood in the beam is every bit as burnable as the wood we put in the stove.  Building regulations state that combustible materials such as the wood in these beams must be no closer than three times the diameter of the black pipe. So If you have a 5 inch pipe it needs to be 15 inches away, or 18 inches if you have a 6 inch single skin pipe coming off the stove.  Insulated twin wall can also present a danger around combustibles like wood but the distance is usually much less than 3 times the diameter, the actual safe distance for your twin wall will be the last 2 numbers of it’s designation number.

Problems occur when people fit wood too close to the stove and we saw one case where the home owner could smell smoke when the stove was lit. wp_20160215_09_09_36_pro On closer inspection we found that not only was the stove lit, but the wooden beam was also alight. wp_20160215_09_28_00_pro

You can clearly see from the photo how long it had been smoldering away, giving off smoke and fumes well after the stove has gone out and the owners have gone to bed.  It really could have been a horrific situation.  Always install a  carbon monoxide alarm in the room where the stove is and trust it if it goes off.  Sealed alarms are the best ones, they come with the battery built in and last for about 7 years before needing replaced. They will make a sound when it is time to change.

There are ways to fit wooden beams or protect combustible parts of the building structure from hot flue pipes, a heat shield must be installed. There are specific building regulations regarding these shields so we would always recommend you get a trained professional to do the math and install it safely.

If you are wanting to install a stove or service your existing stove or make good a problem give us a call or drop us a quick message in the form below and we will get right back to you.

Sticks in the city

It’s fire lighting season again, and to many that ignites a hunger for that cozy feeling you can only get from a wood burning stove.  Stoves have become hugely popular over the last decade and because they are so efficient compared to an open fire will continue to be a very popular way of enjoying the crackling warmth of a wood fire.  Wood burners have become a bit of a status symbol, highly desirable and a design statement.

evo-seLike this lovely shot of a Broseley Evolution 5 SE Deluxe demonstrates, a wood burning stove complements the popular ceiling to floor glass look. Although it creates a great view of the outdoors, can can make the temperature feel a bit outdoorsy too, and that’s where the stove comes in.   They add a bit of localised warmth in the room without having to heat the whole house as well.  They will of course heat a bit more than the room they are in, but after they have warmed their immediate area first.

So yea they are stylish, handy and economical,however its not all plain sailing.  If you live in the city you may already be aware of the Clean Air Act.  This was brought in to reduce pollution from domestic fires, a major source of domestic heating back at the time. Most of the houses in Belfast at the time had back boilers, many still do. The legislation restricted the use of fuels that were not smokeless.  Coal and wood were instantly off the menu.   The only remaining choice was the more expensive and less interesting to look at smokless fuels.  With less of a flame and more of a glow the solid fuel choice was kind of bland and lacking the charm of the wood-fueled fires out of town.  Stove manufacturers saw this and set to work, because the legislation wasn’t against the fuels but rather the production of smoke, which is un-burnt fuel.  They found that if they can make a stove that can burn wood efficiently and crucially without producing smoke, it was game on, and so they did.  Smoke Exempt stoves or DEFRA stoves as they are sometimes marketed, came about. The options for those folks who love where they live but couldn’t have a wood burner suddenly looked better.

How does a Smoke Exempt stove work? Well in short it burns more completely.  When you set fuel alight it gasifies, or basically turns to gas, which is flammable.dru-air-supply

From the second it is made in the fire bed the hot gas sets off for the chimney pot, the stove needs to burn all the flammable gas before it leaves the stove to prevent smoke being visible from the flue.  So modern stoves usually have a few tricks up their sleeve.   When the air enters the stove is is diverted to three main areas, the primary feed from under the grate, the secondary feed which comes down the back of the glass, sometimes called airwash, this keeps the glass clear. Finally there is the third or tertiary feed this is introduced at the top of the stove where the gases are hot but low on oxygen.  The secondary and tertiary feeds help complete the burn and release the energy in the fuel as heat and reduce the amount of un-burnt fuel (smoke) being wasted before the gas leaves the stove.  This is great news for homeowners, high efficiency and good for the environment.

Great, but what has this got to do with chimneys? Well,  a stove and a chimney are a partnership and one will not work well unless the other is suited to its partner.  So its horses for courses. Stoves come in all shapes and sizes some have small flue outlets others have large ones.  Houses on the other hand have fairly standardised flue sizes, most being around the 8 inch diameter which is fine for an open fire.

How does a flue work? It provides a path for hot gases to leave the grate and exit the building. The flue does not suck the gases out, the gases leave on their own accord, because they are hot, and hot air rises. So then what has a flue to do to help the gases get out?  They need to keep the gases hot so they still want to rise. They need to provide a path in the same direction that the hot gases want to go, up! Lastly they need to be the correct diameter, large enough so that the flow is not restricted and small enough that the rate of flow is not too slow so the gases linger too long in the chimney.  Lingering is a problem, the longer the hot gas spends in the chimney the more heat it looses to the surrounding chimney, and the less it wants to rise. The problem you have is then poor draw. Most noticeable when the flue gases are cooler. When lighting the fire and when refueling the stove are too good examples of this.  Open fires, have large flues, they are also open so the gas in their flue gets to rise unimpeded because it draws air directly from the room to allow the hot gases to keep their momentum and exit the chimney.  Stoves are described as closed appliances.  This means all the gas in the flue comes through the stove. This means that there is not all that air entering the flue directly from the room like there is in those 8 inch diameter open fire flues. You can see now that the diameter of the open fire flue is not correct for the stove with its more metered flow. So what size does it need to be?

Should it be the same as the outlet on my stove?  Not necessarily, it cannot be smaller than the outlet on your stove. This would restrict the flow.  Building regulations document L for us here in NI or J for the rest of the UK say that multifuel stoves under 21killowatts should  be fitted to a minimum diameter of 6 inches or 150mm flue, unless the outlet on the appliance is larger than 6 inch. If it is then the minimum is the diameter of the outlet on the stove. What if my stove has a 4 inch flue? Well if it is a multifuel stove that can burn coal then it needs to be connected to a 6 inch minimum diameter flue.  Why so big? Multifuel stoves can potentially burn and produce smoke which layers up in the flue system, and even with an annual clean can still pose a blockage risk so that is why 6 inch is the standard. Why do suppliers sell 5 inch flue? 5inch flue is perfectly fine for gas and oil fired appliances because they burn cleaner anyway. With solid fuel, the exception to the 6 inch rule are the Smoke Control stoves. They have been tested to produce less smoke these are permitted to be fitted to a 5inch or 125mm flue, provided the outlet on the stove is 5inch or less. On the grounds that less soot will gather inside the flue system between cleans.

So you want to install a woodburner? if you live in a smoke control area you will need a smoke control stove.  You will almost certainly need to adapt your openfire flue to suit this, often by installing a liner, and yes if your smoke control stove has a 5 inch or smaller flue you can fit a 5 inch liner. Great, I’ve found a super cheap liner online… one-does-not-simply-copy Not always the best idea unless you know what you are looking at.  Not all liners are made equal, they can vary in thickness, grade of material and how they are constructed. Essentially they are made from a ribbon of stainless steel which is folded and crimped together in a spiral to make the tubing shape you recognise as a liner. The liners have an outer ribbed skin and an inner smooth skin.  The outer skin gives the liner its strength and flexibility the inner skin gives it corrosion protection and wear resistance.  A cheaply made liner will use a thinner ribbon and not fold the outer skin as deep making it not as strong and prone to collapsing and unwinding during fitting or cleaning.

Then there are grades of material.  316 and 904 stainless steel. Simply put they are blends of stainless with different percentages of other metals like Chromium in their mix. 904 has more chrome in it than 316. This makes it more resistant to acid corrosion than the 316 and that is why it should be the only choice for a multifuel stove that can burn sulfurous fuels like coal. The sulphur in the coal ends up in the soot and when it gets wet makes sulphuric acid, which, you can imagine is fairly nasty to the steel. So that’s why we specify 904 for multifuel.  Yes it is dearer than 316, but not by much and it is because of the chrome, nothing else.  The 316 is fine for woodburners, they have the same flue acidity. Installing the liner often costs more than the cost of the materials so it is always better to get the best quality of liner that you can afford. cheap-chimney-linerLiner failure means it will have to be removed and a new one installed. If you are lucky you will discover it when cleaning, if not then you could be poisoning the house with a silent killer, carbon monoxide. So for a few pounds more it really is better to safe than sorry.  There are so many outlets selling liners and it can be really difficult to tell them apart without knowing how they are made and what they are made from, and that is why we only fit liners that we are familiar with and we are satisfied with their quality and suitability for the job.  We cannot fit a liner sourced elsewhere as we have no guarantee that it is what it says it is.

Liners, like other flues will have a designation number that looks something like this T600-N-D3-Vml40010-G(25)  All the parts of this code refer to various tests and standards that the liner has met in official testing and a supplier should be able to supply this on request.The T600 means it has passed the test for an operational flue temp of 600°C, the G on the end means it has passed a test to withstand a simulated  chimney fire test for 30 minutes.  The other parts in the middle refer to material corrosion resistance, thickness and if it can be used in positive or negative pressure applications.

So to sum up, if you want a woodburning stove and you are in the city and have an open fire. You will need to adapt your flue by lining it.  You can fit a Smoke Control stove to allow you to burn wood, a multifuel smoke control one will allow you to use smokeless fuels too, but you can only fit a pure wood burner to a 5 inch flue (provided the outlet on the stove is no bigger than 5 inch).  Even smokeless fuel will need a 6 inch flue. Going for the wood only option? then 316 grade is fine otherwise we would recommend the 904.  We have been repairing and maintaining flues and chimneys for over 25 years now and our reputation is key extremely important to us and to some of our large clients like the National Trust, and this is why we insist on only using liner from trusted sources.  We work closely with our suppliers and because of our repeat business with them, we can negotiate preferential prices on top grade materials which we pass on to our customers.

Give us a call  if you are thinking of installing a stove or you want to service your existing stove. Happy stove season everyone.

 

How much to install my stove?

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The age old question, it sounds simple enough but the answer is sometimes a little more tricky to quickly put your finger on it. Some new stove owners get frustrated at the lack of a straight answer.  Simply put, not all houses or chimneys are built the same, or correctly for that matter.  So an accurate quote will depend on what work is needed to get the installation to pass building control, but the important thing is your hard work is done now that you have found us.

Buying a stove is a big investment, some stoves retail at over £2000 and that is just the stove, and to a certain point you get what you pay for.  Stoves that cost less will usually be thinner and simpler in their construction.  They will be 3mm thick steel or slim cast iron panels and usually made outside the EU. Always make sure you are buying a stove with full CE approval.  Look for the data plate on your stove. It is illegal to install a stove without one. As the price increases you will usually see an increase in the thickness of the stove body and the types of materials used.  You will also see an increase in life expectancy of the stove.

When considering a stove, people often overlook the flue when in fact the flue is 50% of the equation.  A good stove will never perform to its full potential unless the flue is right for it. Modern high efficiency stoves place even more importance on the performance of your flue, as these generally have a lower flue gas temperature. Flue gas temperature  is what makes the hot gases in the flue rise, as they rise they draw on the stove. If the diameter, insulation or path of the flue are not right then the gas will loose its heat and no longer want to rise. The result? no draw. So what you need is a well insulated correctly sized flue that rises at the correct rate to get the gases to rise away from the appliance get momentum and create that draw and leave the stack as quickly as possible without loosing too much of its heat.

When it comes to pricing up your install all we will need is;

  • the type of stove,and flue diameter of your stove.
  • what height the chimney stack is (if you have one) or where your roof is in relation to where the stove is.
  • some background info on the positioning, like are there any walls, trees or opening windows near where the flue will be.

Drop us a message and we will happily discuss your options