As a Landlord you will know that let properties come in all shapes and sizes. An increasing number of let properties will have a chimney and it is important that both you and the tenants are taking appropriate precautions to reduce fire hazards which could lead to potential claims under your Landlord Insurance policy.
Let properties can be unoccupied between tenants or used sparingly causing months of inactivity. Using a fireplace for heat without first inspecting and maintaining it can be dangerous — even deadly.
Because fireplaces and chimneys in rented property often stand idle, it is important to have a regular maintenance programme, ensuring that the chimney is regularly swept and inspected by a certified professional to be sure that it is safe to use.
Risks of Chimney Fires
Chimney fires can be lethal. Temperatures can reach 1,100° C and emit radiant heat through the chimney walls, which is especially dangerous for buildings with wooden or thatched roofs. Chimney bricks can even get hot enough to cause nearby flammable materials to catch on fire, such as thatch or wood products.
Chimney fires usually occur for four main reasons:
- Infrequent sweeping and cleaning
- Burning unseasoned wet wood
- Improper sizing of the appliance
- Burning or smouldering wood in wood burners for long periods or overnight
Neglecting to perform regular maintenance and inspections on your chimney could cause a devastating fire that destroys your entire building. As a landlord, it is highly likely that you will be directly responsible for arranging chimney maintenance and thus could be liable for any fires started due to insufficient chimney maintenance and lax safety.
Responsibility For Tenant Safety
As a property owner you owe a duty of care to the safety of your tenants. Should a tenant suffer injury as a result of your negligence, you could be held directly responsible and be subject to compensation claims.
While such incidents can be insured under the Property Owners Liability section of your buy-to-let insurance policy, prevention is always better than cure, also avoiding long-term premium increases.
Sweep Your Chimney and Check Your Flues Regularly
Your chimney and flue need to be swept to remove deposits that build up from burning carbon-based fuels such as wood, gas, oil and smokeless fuels. Chimney sweeping ensures that there is a safe and clear passage for the gases that result from using your fireplace, reducing your chance of a chimney fire. Sweeping a chimney also removes objects such as nests, cobwebs and loose or broken brickwork that could obstruct airflow.
Chimneys and flues can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if they are not regularly swept and inspected, since carbon monoxide is produced when carbon-based fuels are burnt. If your chimney or flue is not clean, the fuel will not burn as efficiently and dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate. This dangerous gas can leak out of the chimney and poison people nearby.
Best Practice Tips
Keeping your chimney and flue clean is essential to stopping fires before they start. It is also important that your tenants have a full and clear understanding of safety best practices and we would suggest you make these part of the new tenant starter pack.
Use the following tips to keep your chimney and flue clean and safe all year long:
- Sweep the chimney regularly.
- Only burn wood with a moisture content of less than 17 per cent.
- Use an appropriately sized appliance for the room with the fireplace.
- Do not overload the grate or appliance.
- Build smaller, hotter fires that burn completely—they produce less smoke.
- Never burn cardboard boxes or waste paper in the fireplace.
Detecting a Chimney Fire
Chimney fires are extremely dangerous, but there are some signs and symptoms that can help you and your tenants recognise when one is forming before it causes major damage. Some of these signs and symptoms are listed below:
- A loud roaring noise from the fireplace opening
- Sparks and flames shooting from the chimney top, resembling fireworks
- A glowing or shimmering outlet or connector
- Flames visible through tiny cracks in the outlet or connector
- A vibrating appliance, outlet or connector
- Noticeable smoke or smells in adjoining rooms or the loft space
Unfortunately, a chimney fire can happen without exhibiting any of these characteristics—which is why regular maintenance is so important.
What To Do If a Fire Starts
If you have a chimney fire, call the fire service immediately. After contacting the fire service, follow these four steps:
- If the fire is in a wood-burning stove, shut all air vents and flue dampers to reduce the fire’s oxygen supply. Do not pour water on the fire.
- Move any flammable materials, furniture or decorations away from the fireplace.
- Check if the chimney breast throughout the house is getting hot. If so, move furniture away from it.
- Clear the area around the fireplace and chimney so firefighters can access it.
After a chimney fire has been extinguished, the chimney should be inspected as soon as possible by a certified chimney sweep. Do not use the chimney until it has been examined and any necessary repairs have been completed.
Maintenance Programme Can Save Lives
It is recommended to perform flue and chimney maintenance throughout the year and after each change of tenancy, this simple programme can protect your investment from going up in flames and may even save someone’s life.
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