How many of us will have looked up on a cold winter’s night and noticed the smoke being emitted from the chimneys of the houses in the locality? Chimneys were a necessary feature of every house in the past, when solid fuels were used to heat the property and its occupants. Indeed, the existence of chimneys goes back as far as the Roman period, when they were used to prevent smoke particles from infiltrating the bread that was produced in their ancient bakeries. Since then, chimneys have become a regular part of many houses, and, as we describe below, play an important role in preserving heat and reducing the effects of pollution in the house.
In the context of domestic buildings, chimneys first appeared between 1100 and 1200 A.D. These early chimneys were originally constructed from materials such as mud, wood or plaster and were relatively primitive, albeit they did have some impact on the amount of smoke that was allowed to accumulate in the house. As construction techniques and materials became more advanced, builders began to construct chimneys from brick or stone. These were built to extend beyond the level of the roof to remove the toxic fumes that were produced by the burning of carbon fuels such as wood and coal. Indeed, so prevalent was the smoke that was emitted into the atmosphere by industrial and domestic chimneys that many areas had to be designated as smoke control areas, where only smokeless fuels could legally be burned.
Residential chimneys in houses were predominantly constructed in a vertical stack. The fireplace of every room in the property would normally share a single chimney. Many homes would have two separate chimney stacks, so that it was possible to have a fire at both the front and the rear of the house. To provide additional protection to the occupants against poisonous fumes it became popular (and eventually necessary, as a matter of law) to install a secondary flue liner. These are commonly made from metal and can be added to an existing chimney relatively easily. As well as cutting down on hazardous fumes, these flue liners also protect the masonry from the side-effects of combustion.
Chimney pots, tops, cowls, caps and dampers can serve a variety of purposes. They are often employed as a relatively cheap and straightforward way of extending the length of the chimney. They can also increase the chimney’s draft and guard against back draft. Chimney cowls are often used to stop birds and small mammals from nesting in the warmth of the chimney and can also be use to guard against the infiltration of rain down the chimney and to prevent the emission of burning debris. If a chimney is no longer in use it can be capped in a way that permits continuing ventilation without allowing external substances to enter the flue. A chimney damper is a metal plate that is used to close off the chimney temporarily when it is not being used. It can be easily opened when the fire is to be lit.
A common feature of chimneys is that they accumulate deposits of creosote when wood is employed to fuel the fire. These deposits can interfere with the draft but can also catch fire. This necessitates regular cleaning of the chimney. The masonry work should also be checked regularly, as loose brickwork can result in the leakage of dangerous fumes into the house. Once again, regular inspection of any chimney that is on use should be carried out.
Because of the potential hazards associated with a chimney that is either dirty or is degenerating, it is important to ensure that it is kept in good order. A convenient opportunity to do this is to ask your roofers to carry out a chimney survey when they are performing any roof repairs. Alternatively, a professional chimney specialist could be asked to look at the chimney. Either way, if you are using your chimney, it is essential to ensure that it is working efficiently to protect you and your family from the fumes that are created by your natural, winter fires.
If you would like your local roofers to incorporate a chimney inspection into their roofing survey, why not ask our roofers in Torquay, Newton Abbot, Exeter and the rest of Devon to look at it. If you would like to use this service Contact The Roofers SW
Decoy Industrial Estate,
DEVON TQ12 5NA.
Tel 07515 393231 07710 621755 0800 0322213