Chimney sweep cautions! These are the biggest mistakes people make when using furnaces

October 13, 20216 min reading

Interview with master chimney sweep, Teet Võhandu, who talks about risks and teaches correct ways to use a furnace.

Sense of security is the foundation of life and this is exactly what light and warmth make us feel. But warmth doesn’t come that easily, especially in buildings where the source of heat is live fire. So, what to do to make your home a cosy, warm and safe place when it’s dark outside? We got hold of Teet Võhandu, master chimney sweep at OÜ Korstnatont, a company operating in Tallinn, and we asked him how to consistently maintain heating devices.

According to Võhandu, a chimney sweep with 17 years of experience, the biggest mistakes people make with their furnaces are related to burning rubbish and oxygen deficiency. It is a known fact that the burning process needs oxygen and if there isn’t any, there is also no draft. Oxygen deficient fire chambers may prove a problem above all in renovated and well insulated houses. In that case it would be wise to crack a window near the heating device when lighting a fire because that will provide enough air.

Oxygen deficiency and burning rubbish is a dangerous combination

People burn all sorts of stuff in their fireplaces or stoves. Unfortunately, burning rubbish produces a lot of soot and other residues that tend to stick to the walls of the heating system. If you add oxygen deficiency of the fire chamber to this combination, the consequences are sad. “In 2 to 3 months the chimney may already be flammable,” says the chimney sweep who has seen all sorts of oddities. “Some use expanded polystyrene as heating material or throw material left over from insulating the house into the fireplace.”

Keeping the well-being of heating devices in mind Võhandu recommends using proper wood to make fire. It is also common to use wood briquettes but the quality varies across the market. “Wood briquettes sometimes result in pure pitch in the heating system.” So you should choose your wood briquettes carefully and prefer the quality products of acknowledged producers.

How do wise people heat their furnaces?

“It is hard to say what the middle ground is,” admits Teet – heating material used also depends on people’s financial capabilities. “I only use split firewood myself,” says Teet, adding that quality split firewood creates less soot.

  • Keep the chimney damper in an open position. If the damper is open half way it creates turbulence that causes soot.
  • If possible, buy proper firewood.
  • Light from the top and use ignition blocks. This will keep the furnace and chimney cleaner.
  • You may only close the damper once the blue flame (carbon monoxide) has also died. Leave a crack just in case to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If you store your firewood in a proper shed you need not bring the firewood inside too early. In the shed, wood humidity should be around 13–14%, max 20%.

Chimneys should be swept once a year

The law provides that chimneys must be swept once a year. “In private residences it is allowed for people to sweep the chimney themselves for four years and on the fifth year a chimney sweep holding a professional certificate must be called,” says Teet; in that case the chimney must also be swept properly for those four years. In an apartment building a certified specialist is required every year.

Võhandu stresses that one should also review the terms of their insurance contract which states the mandatory safety requirements for home owners. If an expert finds that a fire started from a heating system, including a chimney, that had not been properly serviced and was unfit for use, the amount of compensation may be reduced according to the extent this violation may have contributed to the fire being started or to the extent of the damage. For example, getting insurance for older buildings may be conditioned on a report issued by a chimney sweep.

How to prepare for a chimney sweep’s visit?

“Please do not make any fire on that day,” says Võhandu with laughter; this is the first thing to keep in mind. Secondly, you should locate access points. “Only 25% of the clients know the location of the cleaning hatches,” says Teet. We need space to work, which is why the chimney sweep recommends removing all objects that prevent movement from the vicinity of the cleaning hatches and fire chambers. You should remove carpets from the floor and vases from the mantelpiece. You should also cover all light coloured objects nearby that may be damaged by the soot.

“Building manager must ensure safe access from the ground to the chimney,” stresses the specialist, because roofs are different and the chimney sweep shouldn’t have to go from place to place carrying a ladder. The ladder should be provided by the client.

How is the chimney sweep’s fee formed?

“The service fee is based on the respective site,” says Võhandu; all depends on the number of fire chambers and their condition. It is impossible to say over the phone how much exactly something will cost. Only the approximate range can be established over the phone.

The chimney is not a waste bin!

During his time as a chimney sweep Teet has found from chimneys bread bags, juice cartons, Coca-cola bottles, beer cans, a lot of cigarette butts and once even a mobile phone. “The chimney makes a great large waste bin, just throw stuff in,” says Teet with irony and adds that a large portion of chimney rubbish gets there through the hands of workers. Let it be said that rubbish does not go in the chimney and items thrown in it, when igniting, can do a lot of damage.

People say that turning a chimney sweep’s golden jacket button will bring good luck and success. Actually one might say that we are lucky without touching any buttons because thanks to one good man we can be sure of the safety of our home and its warmth for another year and all occupants can enjoy the sense of security this brings.

When taking out home insurance we suggest you consider an all-risk insurance, which offers the widest insurance cover to ensure the best protection against any loss event.