LONDON’S AIR QUALITY – Using Wood-burning Stoves Correctly


Wood-burning stoves have been the subject of various hostile reports in the past few years, more recently the London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote to Michael Gove, the environment secretary. The mayor has asked to amend the Clean Air Act to give him the powers to create zones where the burning of solid fuels such as wood is restricted.

Researchers at King’s College London have found that wood-burning in the capital accounts for up to 31% of the city’s particulate pollution, up from 10% in the past. The tiny particles, known as PM2.5, are the most harmful type of air pollution and exacerbate lung and heart conditions.

Correct use can reduce the impact of wood-burning stoves by a whopping 80%!

There is a problem with air quality in  London which can cause health issues for all of us.  Wood burning stoves and open fires are responsible for a part of this problem but if we understand why, we can make a big difference.


All larger towns and cities have Smoke Control Areas, often called “Smokeless zones”. If you use a wood-burner or open fire in a Smoke Control Area it is important to know the rules.

In an open fire – You are only allowed to burn smokeless coals or anthracite.

You will be committing an offence if you burn wood logs, wood products or normal “house coal”. You are however still allowed to start the fire with small wood kindling etc. Not only is it an offence to burn unauthorised fuels, but you’ll be introducing a large amount of damaging pollution in to your local neighbourhood. If we ignore these rules, it’s bad news for air quality.

Any stove installed in a Smoke Control Area must legally be an “exempted appliance”, often referred to as Defra EXEMPT.

“A big problem here is a lack of enforcement of the Clean Air Act,” said Dennis Milligan of the Stove Industry Alliance. He said that burning unauthorised fuels on open fires, were the real problem contributing to London’s dirty air.

You can check if your property is in a Smoke Control Area by contacting environmental services at your local council. Many councils will have this information on their websites.

Our schools, homes, recreational areas and our workplaces are often within a Smoke Control Area. If you use a wood-burner or open fire in a Smoke Control Area, there are some important rules to keep us all safer.


London's air quality - using wood-burning stoves correctly

  • Exempted appliances are designed to burn the fuel more efficiently and so reduce potential air pollution. Even so, they do vary a lot from one make to another so it’s still very important to use them correctly.
  • If the temperature inside the stove is not high enough then the wood cannot burn efficiently. If the wood is not burning hot and efficiently then more of the damaging particles will pass up the chimney and out in-to the air we breathe.
  • Bring the stove to operating temperature quickly and try to keep it there.
  • Using dry wood is very important. It should contain 20% moisture or less. But, even if your wood is very dry, you will still create a real problem if the air controls to your stove are closed too much.
  • Never try to “slumber” your stove for long periods / overnight with the air controls closed off too much. Loading up the average stove to slumber for a long period can easily produce more than a kilo of tiny damaging particles which then pass out the top of your chimney and in to the air we all breathe.
  • Logs should not be too large – 5 inches wide ( 125mm) will give the best result. Using large logs to make the fire last longer will usually result in a lower burning temperature, more wasted fuel and more pollution.
  • Sweep your chimney regularly – A professional sweep can give lots of useful extra advice.
  • Don’t buy a stove which is too big (too powerful) for the room. You’ll get too hot and be likely to shut the air controls too much. The burning temperature will drop, fuel is wasted and pollution increased.
  • Use a thermometer, moisture meter and stove fan to help improve efficiency, save money and reduce pollution.
  • Don’t burn plastic waste or treated waste wood. It stinks and it’s toxic 


  • If you have an older or inefficient stove or one that’s too powerful, consider replacing it with a modern efficient model. You’ll instantly begin to save money and burn cleaner.The Ecodesign Ready scheme has been put into place to ensure new British wood burning stoves meet high environmental standards. The stoves of tomorrow are here now.
  • Ecodesign Ready stoves can reduce PM emissions by 90% compared to an open fire.
  • More efficient use of heat in living area.
  • Modern wood burning stoves are virtually carbon neutral.
  • Ecodesign Ready stoves are banded A+ at 80% efficient.
  • Stoves are not just a fashion fad, they are a serious form of home heating.
  • Ecodesign stoves are part of the solution to PM emissions.


  • A regularly maintained appliance will ensure that it is always working safely and efficiently. A professional chimney sweep is trained in all aspects of solid fuel this is where the knowledge and experience can make all the difference.
  • A clean flue will ensure the gasses from combustion can travel quickly and unrestricted. A clogged flue will cause the gasses to slow down and cool, creating more particulates and soot.
  • We recommend inspecting your rope seals annually. A damaged seal can cause your stove to draw more fiercely and over-fire. A sweep will be able to replace this for you if necessary.
  • Visual inspection of the terminal – an incorrect terminal can cause large soot deposits.
  • Is the chimney the right size and height? Is the ventilation to the room sufficient?
  • Are there conflicting problems with other fires or extractors in the building?
  • Check fuel storage and moisture content
  • Sometimes a fire or wood-burner can be correctly installed but there are issues with poor function, smoke to the room, lack of heat, black glass etc, etc.

Check our blog regularly for more in-depth information relating to all aspects of solid fuel. If you would like to make an appointment or have any questions, please feel to contact us on either 02083517164 or

Is it safe to burn your Christmas tree?

It’s that time of year again, we are all packing our Christmas decorations away. The big question is –  How you’re going to get rid of that over-sized tree standing in your sitting room? If you have a wood burning appliance it may make sense to chop it up and burn it during a cold January.

Is it safe to burn your Christmas tree?…………no!

As a professional chimney sweep it is very common for us to see a few chopped branches of a Christmas tree sat next to the fire ready to be burnt but burning the tree can have very dangerous consequences.

Christmas trees were probably only felled a maximum of two months ago, added to which you may have been watering it to keep it alive, meaning it is not nearly dry enough to be burnt. The sap from fresh trees can sometimes create a fire hazard in your chimney and the flammable turpentine oils can cause flare-ups or even chimney fires.

The wood from firs, pines and spruces can produce a lot of creosote, causing a build-up on chimney walls. Creosote is a flammable and corrosive substance created from the gases that are produced when burning wet wood. The dried needles can burn in a flash, causing a fierce fire. The needles can produce sparks that can fly into your room or go up the chimney and cause any creosote deposits to ignite, resulting in a chimney fire.

Recycling is a safe and environmentally way to dispose of your tree. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points or special collections of ‘real’ trees in early January and advertise the dates this will take place with any other changes to collections over the Christmas period. Check your local authority website for more information. Remember to remove all tinsel and decorations and any pots or stands.

Below is a video from YouTube that shows how dangerously fast a Christmas tree burns.



Birds’ nests in chimneys

It is the time of year when birds are nesting; they find chimneys an ideal place to set up home owing to the warmth and shelter that they provide.

Over the past few weeks I have received numerous calls regarding the removal of a potential bird nest. Under the Wildlife and Country Act  it is an offence to destroy or remove a nest during the nesting season which lasts from March to August.  It is necessary to wait until the end of August before checking that the nest is empty and can be removed.

Having birds’ in your chimney can lead to dangerous blockages, chimney fires, infestations and damp.  Even if you don’t intend to use your fireplace – you should still remove a nest. A nest will completely block your chimney,  this can cause damp issues in the form of condensation build up. The chimney should be vented at both the top and the bottom as air is still allowed to flow through the chimney.

  • If you start to find twigs and other debris in your fire grate then there is a strong possibility that nesting activity is taking place.
  • If you see birds flying back and forth dropping material into the chimney pot.
  • If you normally hear pigeons cooing or traffic noise and then the sounds stop there mat be an obstruction in the flue.
  • A fly infestation is often a sign of a collapsed nest or a dead bird in the chimney.



If you think you have a bird nest in your chimney – DO NOT light a fire.  This might seem obvious but some people try to burn the nest out.  You run the risk of setting fire or filling the whole house with smoke.

From the end of August through to March a sweep can remove the nest – this involves specialist equipment and can be quite time consuming depending of the size and material.  A CCTV inspection is carried out to ensure that all the debris has been cleared.  Finally a smoke test is performed to confirm the correct draw is available to the fire.  A successful test means that there is a smooth combustion in your fireplace or stove, with the nest no longer serving as an obstruction.



Once you’ve had your chimney cleared, you should consider having your chimney fitted with an appropriate bird guard.  Jackdaws, Rooks and Starlings, often birds to blame for nests in your chimney, usually try to return year after year to the same nesting site when they come back form their annual migration.


If you have any questions regarding a bird nest or your chimney in general, please do not hesitate to get in touch. – Contact us.

New Legislation for Landlords

From the 1st October 2015, regulations require both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in rented residential accommodation. The Regulations apply both to houses and flats. Failure to comply can lead to a civil penalty being imposed of up to £5,000. Check the new legislation here.


Nicole Ciantar, is a property investor and agent, and owner of Voguere. Having been a licensed agent for almost 20 years, she offers the following advice on the new regulations for landlords: “when it comes to alarms, the tenants of the property don’t need to do anything. The landlord must have them checked each year, either by themselves or by a third party.

“I have many landlords and i have them all ensure that their properties are covered in the event we have a fire. As an agent, the risks are so great that if my owners will not comply with this, then I won’t take them on as a client.”

Jordan Korfiatis, Assistant Property Manager at rRent Property Management. When asked about how they ensure their landlords are compliant, he says: “We have a dedicated serviceman who goes to properties annually to replace the batteries on smoke alarms and check that they are functioning properly. As part of our bi-annual general inspection of the property, we also give tenants a form to complete that ask whether they have checked their smoke alarms and if they are working. This is part of the service we provide to landlords if they choose to use it, otherwise the landlords must sign a waiver saying it is their own responsibility to maintain smoke alarms. 99% of landlords let us look after it for them.”

Jo Yates, Owner at Home Design Sydney, adds: “I pay my property manager to manage all aspects of the houses I own. They have set me up on a yearly inspection programme for fire alarms, which means that they go out and inspect the fire alarms and replace them if necessary.

“If the property manager hadn’t recommended I do this, I would never have thought about it once I installed the alarms. I think a good property manager will recommend a programme like this to protect the landlord, the tenants and themselves.”


During any period beginning on or after 1st October 2015 while the premises are occupied under a tenancy (or licence) the landlord must ensure that a smoke alarm is equipped on each storey of the premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation. This means that a smoke alarm must be provided in working order on each storey. As regards individual flats located on one floor then there will have to be at least one alarm within the flat itself or alternatively are provided outside the flat on the same floor of the building, i.e. a communal alarm.


During any period beginning on or after 1st October 2015 when the premises are occupied under a tenancy or a licence a carbon monoxide alarm must be provided by the landlord in any room in premises which is used wholly or partly as living accommodation which contains a solid fuel burning combustion appliance. This applies to any kind of wood burning stove or an open coal fire. It will also extend to equipment such as a solid fuel Aga in the kitchen. This is already a requirement with new installations of solid fuel burning combustion appliances. This is now extended to any existing appliances already in place before Building Regulations imposed this requirement.


The Regulations do not stipulate what kind of alarm is required. Ideally it should be a hard wired alarm system. It can, however, be a single stand alone alarm. Landlords are recommended by the to fit ten year long life non-tamper proof alarms, otherwise there is a problem of batteries being taken out and not being replaced.


We fit carbon monoxide alarms in compliance with building regulations, just tell us when booking an appointment.

Stove Installations

SweepSmart is now a registered HETAS installer. HETAS is the governing body for solid fuel appliances.

As a chimney sweeps, we inspect stove installations everyday which put us in the unique position of seeing the condition of the different stoves and materials years after they are installed.

Along with a thorough and complete installation, we can also offer an annual service, sweep and general maintenance.

If you would like more information, you can call us on 02083517164 or leave us a message on the contact us page.

Why do I need my chimney swept?

Why do I need my chimney swept?Chimney Sweep Enfield

As the days become colder and the nights longer, more and more people will start lighting up their fireplaces or stoves.  Get your chimney swept and relax in front of your fire with peace of mind that your chimney is clear and safe.

There are 3 basic reasons why you should get your chimney swept:

  • 1. To protect your health – Breathing fumes from gas or solid fuel fires can cause serious damage to your health and in the worse cases prove fatal. Having your chimney swept regularly by a will make sure that the flue is sufficiently clear to allow the fumes to escape freely and safely out of the chimney.
  • 2. To avoid a chimney fire – Having your chimney swept regularly will drastically reduce the chances of having a chimney fire. Chimney fires can cause property damage – the least usually being a cracked or broken chimney pot, which will need to be replaced and the worst being you could lose your home! Fortunately, the more extreme outcome does not happen very often, but it does happen.
  • 3. To avoid smoke damage – Each time the fire is used, soot will accumulate up the chimney. Gradually, this will decrease the size of the flue which, in turn, will lower the draw of the smoke upwards. If the chimney does not have enough pull, the smoke will enter into your room, not only causing irritation to you, but can also blacken your fireplace or the decorating above.

Some Insurance companies will no longer pay out for chimney fire damage unless the flue has been swept and maintained by a professional chimney sweep who can issue a valid certificate of sweeping recognised by the insurance companies themselves. Guild sweeps are required to issue these certificates for every chimney cleaned.

Also, if the fire brigade is called out due to a chimney fire and it is proven that the chimney has not been maintained, the local council can bill you for the call out and this has been known to be up to £2000 per fire crew.





Take a second every Tuesday to test all your smoke and CO alarms. Push and beep the button.

The Silent and Invisible Killer.  Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell, making it impossible to detect without an alarm. Carbon monoxide alarms must be audible – they make a loud noise if gas is present.  Install one for each fuel-burning appliances within your home – including stoves, fires, boilers and water heaters.

According to Department of Health figures, every year about 40 people in the UK are recorded as having died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  A further 4,000 or so attend A & E, Hundreds more suffer ill-effects as a result of exposure to carbon monoxide: sometimes they are permanently disabled. Carbon monoxide can be emitted from faulty domestic heating and cooking appliances. For the latest data see

As an extra safeguard buy a CO alarm to European Standards EN50291. Remember a smoke alarm is NOT a CO alarm. When we burn any solid fuel and CO is produced this is not normally a problem as all the smoke and gasses should pass harmlessly out the top of the chimney. If however the chimney is blocked or leaky, the appliance is faulty or if the ventilation to the fire is inadequate, CO gas may enter your property. This can happen in a different room from the location of the fire. Please be carbon monoxide aware!


Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

showing carbon monoxide alarm

The early symptoms of CO poisoning are usually similar to common ailments such as upset stomach, tiredness and flu. The common symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness or Collapse
  • Chest and/or stomach pains
  • Erratic behaviour and/or Visual problems

Actions to take in a CO emergency 

  • If you suspect fumes are escaping from your combustion appliance into your home, or your carbon monoxide alarm goes off.
  • If your appliance is automatically fed with fuel, turn the appliance off.
  • Open doors and windows to ventilate the building.
  • Leave the building immediately and don’t return until your appliance or boiler has extinguished and the air in the room is clear.
  • If you feel unwell go to your Doctor, call NHS Direct on 111 (where available) or,  if it is urgent phone 999 for an ambulance. Tell them you feel your symptoms may be related to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Before you reuse the appliance, have it serviced by a HETAS Registered Installer and the chimney swept.
  •  Do not use the appliance until you are told it is safe to do so.

Protect yourself from CO 

CO alarms should be regularly tested and should not be regarded as a substitute for regular maintenance of the appliance and chimney.



Brief History of Chimney Sweeps

It was the early Romans who first constructed the chimney and flue, to allow the passage of smoke to exit through the roof. During the next few centuries, a central wood fire burning on hearth stones in the Chimney Sweep historymiddle of the room was more common. By the 16th century a fireplace and chimney became more widespread, and in the 17th century citizens were even assessed by a hearth tax. The size of a house determined the amount of tax paid, and was calculated by the number of chimneys present.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, coal became the main fuel for domestic heating. When overcrowded cities began to produce foggy smoke from chimney fires. The job of a chimney sweep was essential to avoid fires erupting in the home. When the interior of a chimney became choked or partially blocked with a build-up of soot, chimney fires could occur. Coal creates a sticky soot which often does not come loose easily, and chimney edges need scraping where soot builds up.

People needed sweeps to keep their chimneys clear. They had brushes with long handles to which the sweep screws extension poles as the brush goes up the chimney. But sometimes the brushes got stuck! The best way was to send little children or ‘climbing boys’ to dislodge the soot. The smaller the boy the better because some chimneys were very narrow – some as small as 8 inches square. Master Sweeps would buy young children from orphanages and take in young homeless children from the streets. These were between the ages of 5 and 10, although most were under the age of seven, and some were even as young as four. These boys were used to climb up chimneys to clean out deposits of soot. The chimney sweep master taught them the trade while being responsible for feeding, clothing and housing them.

Working conditions for thChimney sweep boyse climbing boys was harsh and cruel. It was a dangerous and filthy job for the boys to undertake, especially without the protection of safety clothing and respirators. Many suffered from job related ailments, such as twisted spines and kneecaps, deformed ankles, eye inflammations and respiratory illnesses. Many also suffered from the first known industrial disease ‘chimney sweep’s cancer’ caused by the constant irritation of coal tar soot on the naked skin. Sadly there are recorded instances where these climbing boys choked and suffocated to death from inhaling the chimney dust or from getting stuck in the narrow and convoluted chimney flues. Casualties were also frequent as many boys were maimed or killed from falling or from being badly burned.


In 1842 Parliament passed a law prohibiting sweeps from employing children to go up chimneys – but this did not stop them using their own children to do this horrible work. Some used their own children (both boys and girls) as young as four or five years old to go up chimneys. Finally in 1864 after many years of campaigning an Act of Parliament finally approved by the House of Lords, outlawing the use of children for climbing chimneys. Lord Shaftsbury’s Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers established a penalty of £10 pounds for offenders. The Act had wide spread support from the police, public and courts which finally signalled the end of ‘climbing boys’.

ALERT! New homeowners and tenants.

If you have just moved into a new home and are looking forward to using your decorative fireplace or stove, please have it checked before you attempt to light a fire.image showing chimney pots

The previous owner/tenant could have capped the top of the chimney, had building work carried out which has compromised the integrity of the flue or simply not had the chimney swept for a long time. There could be a number of potential problems within the chimney/installation which could cause a chimney fire or the release of dangerous gasses.

Some Insurance companies will no longer pay out for chimney fire damage unless the flue has been swept and maintained by a professional chimney sweep who can issue a valid certificate of sweeping recognised by the insurance companies themselves.  Also, if the fire brigade are called out due to a chimney fire and it is proven that the chimney has not been maintained, the local council can bill you for the call out, and this has been known to be up to £2000 per fire crew.


We issue these certificates for every chimney cleaned and checks will be performed from the fireplace opening to the top of the pot.  Your chimney will be swept and cleared and a smoke test will be carried out to ensure that your fire is safe and clear to use.

If you have any concerns or would like any advice, please do not hesitate to call me on 0208 3517164 or alternatively e-mail at

Why should I get my chimney swept?

Sweeping should be an essential part of home maintenance.Chimney sweep Winchmore hill

It is always important to get your chimney swept. A chimney acts as your households exhaust pipe – funnelling away soot, smoke, gases, hot ashes and sparks. Regardless of which appliance you use the flue needs to be checked to ensure that dangerous gasses can escape your home freely.  A chimney sweep will ensure that your flue is safe and unclogged by bird nests, soot build-ups and any other debris that might have dropped down your chimney.

A good chimney sweep will also have the necessary training and experience to notice problems which might lead to chimney fires or inefficient burning and will be able to bring these problems to your attention.

At SweepSmart we will also inspect your chimney for potential problems from the roof.  Even if you have an idea about what to look for, it might be problematic, or even dangerous for you to attempt this yourself.  It is also unlikely that an untrained eye would notice more subtle problems.  If a problem is noticed early, it will probably, be easier and cheaper to fix.