General Info

 

Smoke from wood heaters and fireplaces is a major source of air pollution. Not only is excess smoke a sign you're wasting money, but particles in this smoke have been linked to heart and lung disease.

If your fire is too smoky, there are five things you can do:

 

  • Use dry, seasoned, untreated wood. The logs should make a 'crack' when struck together not a 'dull thud'

  • Stack wood under cover in a dry ventilated area

  • Use small logs and place them in your heater in a way that ensures air can circulate freely

  • Burn the fire brightly. Run the heater on a high burn rate (air control fully open) for 5 minutes before and 15 to 20 minutes after adding logs

  • Don’t let your heater smoulder overnight – keep the air control open enough to maintain a flame. A well insulated house will stay warmer longer

  • Other good wood heating practices:

  • Keep your heater and flue clean to ensure good air flow

  • Be aware of the source of your wood – firewood harvesting is destroying some of our most threatened remnant vegetation and animal habitats

  • When buying a new wood heater, choose one certified to Australian Standard AS4013 with a low emission factor, and make sure it's the right size – a big heater burning slowly produces more smoke than a small heater burning fast

  • If you use an open fireplace, only use it on special occasions – they are less efficient than wood heaters

 

Chimney Cleaning

 

If you're a fan of Disney movies, then the idea of a chimney sweep might conjure up romantic notions of the film, "Mary Poppins." However, once the sounds of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" fade, you might start to remember how dirty Dick Van Dyke's character Bert and all his chimney sweep friends were after finishing the job. Of course if a soot suit isn't your idea of fun, you can use a professional service to clean your chimney. 

Cleaning a chimney is im­portant to prevent chimney fires -- and potential house fires. Therefore, the cleaner must be thorough and comprehensive in carrying out the cleaning. You're not just clearing out the soot and dust, but you need to scrape and remove creosote that has built up on your chimney walls.

There are four basic methods for cleaning a chimney, each of which require some special tools. 

There are four basic methods for cleaning a chimney. 

  • Rod Method, Top Down - This method requires that you be on the roof. After inserting it into the opening of the chimney, you will use the chimney brush to clean the inside walls of the chimney by raising and lowering the brush. The brush will be connected to flexible metal rods, and you will add rods to extend the length of the brush as you get further down the chimney. Many people prefer this method because it results in the least amount of cleanup inside the house. You can close off the opening to the fireplace within the house, which will help contain the suit and debris.

  • Rod Method, Bottom Up - This method is similar to the top down rod method; however you work from the fireplace opening within your house, working from the bottom up to the top of the chimney. Though safer since you do not need to get on your roof, it's very messy since you cannot seal off the opening of the fireplace. Be sure to use plenty of tarps and drop cloths to keep nearby flooring and furniture clean.

  • Weight Method - This method follows the same setup as the top down flexible rod method, but instead of attaching your chimney brush to flexible metal rods, you use rope, pull rings and weights. You'll assemble the rope and pull rings, adding a weight of at least 20 pounds (9 kilograms) to the brush, raising and lowering the brush to scrub the internal walls of the chimney. With this method, you can also close off the fireplace opening to your house, allowing for a more contained clean up.

  • Dual Line Method - This method takes two people. A rope (and pull ring for holding onto if you like) is attached to both ends of the brush. One person takes the brush and rope setup onto the roof and, while holding on to one end of the rope, drops the setup down the chimney. The other person, who is in the house at the fireplace opening, grabs the other end of the rope. Each person takes turns pulling the rope, in order to work the brush up and down to scrub the internal walls of the chimney. Since the fireplace opening cannot be sealed for this method, it can be quite messy. Be sure to use tarps and drop cloths to keep nearby flooring and furniture clean. 

     

 

HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CHIMNEY SWEEP

 

 

In the famous musical Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews, an Edwardian Dick Van Dyke danced and sang 'Chim chim cher-ee', to great applause, forever immortalising chimney sweeps as happy-go-lucky grafters. But the life of a Victorian chimney sweep was much darker and more brutal, relying on child labour and often causing horrific injury and the possibility of an agonising death.

It was the early Romans who first constructed the chimney and flue, to funnel-off smoke from log fires out of the roof. However, the practice was not widely adopted. During the next few centuries, a central wood fire burning on hearth stones in the middle 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, Queen Victoria ordered all flues or chimneys to be swept on a regular basis. With royal approval the chimney sweep trade flourished.

Victorian working-class children were often required to supplement the family's income. It was more important to bring home a wage, than to get an education. Child labour was vital to Britain's economic success. In 1821 approximately 49 per cent of the workforce was under 20. Many children, some as young as four, worked long hours for menial wages. Child labour was cheap, and many were employed on farms in 'agricultural gangs', or in factories. Young children crawled beneath huge machinery to clean it, and many were crushed or killed in the process. Children also worked underground in coal mines, opening and closing ventilation doors, while older children pulled carts of coal to the surface.

In 1844 parliament passed a law which required children working in factories to attend ragged schools for six half-days a week, thus providing poor children and orphans with a free basic education. Then in 1870 the Forster's Education Act required that all parts of Britain provide schools for those aged between five and 12. However, not all schools were free, and many could not afford the 'school's pence', each week. It was only in 1891 that the possibility of free schooling for all was finally introduced.

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. Since the Georgian period chimney sweeps climbed up inside the chimney and brushed the flues clean with a hand-held brush. They also collected soot and sent it to farms as fertiliser. Chimney sweeps wore top hats and tails – generally cast offs from funeral directors – or a flat cloth cap, jacket and trousers with a belt.

Master sweeps employed young boys (and girls) as young as five or six, to train as apprentice chimney sweeps. Master sweeps were paid a fee to feed, clothe and teach a child the trade. Some parents sold their children to the trade, but they were often orphans taken from the parish workhouse. Child labour was cheap and readily available, and when chimney sweeps (or climbing boys) became too large or ill to climb chimneys, master sweeps returned to the workhouse for more apprentices to exploit. They earned considerable amounts of money from chimney sweeps, who were poorly fed, slept on a bag of soot in a damp cellar and often beaten. A child chimney sweep would get up in the middle of the night, climb and clean their first chimney at about four o'clock in the morning, then clean another six to eight chimneys a day. After each visit a servant would offer the chimney sweep and his apprentice a pint of ale.

Sweeping chimneys was a harsh and dangerous occupation. Chimneys were as narrow as nine feet square and sixty feet high. Small boys forced to climb barefoot inside large chimneys, often choking with soot, their sore hands and feet bleeding as they climbed higher. If boys cried out in fear of the cramped darkness, the master sweep would light a fire beneath them, making them climb quicker up the chimney. Many children suffered horrific injuries, suffocated, became trapped in narrow flues or fell to their deaths from a rotten stack.

In 1775 the first cancer resulting from exposure to a particular chemical was discovered by Sir Percivall Pott, a British surgeon. He found that coal tar in chimneys led to cancerous 'sooty warts', cancer of the testicles. The 1788 Act for the Better Regulation of Chimney Sweepers, stated that master sweeps could not make their apprentices work on Sundays, and that they had to wash off their soot before going to church. The act limited master sweeps to six apprentices, all of whom had to be of at least eight years of age. However, it was not enforced by the police, so had little effect.

The harsh conditions suffered by young chimney sweeps began to gain public sympathy. Prominent members of society protested that young lives were being wasted for cheap labour. Reformers argued that longer, more expensive brushes could do the job just effectively as a child.

Joseph Glass, a Bristol engineer, is generally recognised as the inventor of the type of chimney-cleaning equipment still in use today. His system relied on canes and brushes formed from whale bones being pushed up into the chimney from the fireplace below.

In 1800 a friendly society for the protection and education of chimney sweep boys was established. Finally in 1840, a law was passed making it illegal for anyone under 21 to sweep chimneys. The Chimney Sweep Regulation Act of 1867 tightened controls further, with Lord Shaftesbury a main proponent of the bill. By 1875 all chimney sweeps had to be licensed by law, and licenses were not issued to master sweeps who employed child chimney sweeps.