weekend by the fire Heather Stillufsen

Heather Stillufsen

Many older homes and cottages have real log fires and log-burning stoves. But it’s important to keep them safe, because however cosy they are, they do of course have some risks. But as long as you follow a few safety tips, all should be well. Getting your home insulated means you need to use the fire less.

  1. Use a firegfuard to protect against hot embers and sparks (this is for pets too, despite images of cats gazing at open fires). Also keep fabric and flammables (including clothing) away from fires and log burgers.
  2. Keep your chimneys and flues clean and maintained, and use a qualified chimney sweep once a year (twice if burning logs). Keep surrounding area well-maintained, and line your chimney.
  3. Burn well-seasoned wood to avoid water vapour combining with gas. This can create condensation which creates creosote that creates flammable tar. Only use kindling or firelighters, never paraffin or petrol, and don’t put paper onto burning fires as it creates ‘floating embers’. 
  4. Ensire fires are completely out before leaving the room or going to bed. Install smoke alarms and check regularly, including interlinked ones for loft space. Ensure everyone knows an escape plans.
  5. If you do have a chimney fire (sparks and flames, loud roaring noises or smells/flames), close the door and get everyone out, and call 999.

are thatched buildings safe with log fires?

Many listed buildings have thatched roofs, which are pretty safe if you mend cracked bricks and follow log-burner fire safety advice. Experts say to line your chimney and add a chimney pot (at least 1.8 metres above the thatch) to prevent creosote build-up. Get stoves checked yearly by a Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme and again get chimneys swept at least yearly. Keep fire blankets/extinguishers nearby, don’t use blowtorches and heat guns and don’t light bonfires, nor release fireworks or sky lanterns.

Also use fire-resistant covers for light fittings (including downlights) and fit an outside tap, so a hose can quickly reach around the building. Signs to look out for include stained walls or dark deposits on chimneys, crumbling chimneys, scorching to wood lintels or soot on cobwebs. Some builders now offer fireproof barriers between the roof timbers and thatch layers, with a vapour check barrier between the ceiling and loft space.Find more help at National Society of Master Thatchers.

got birds nesting in your roof or chimney?

Many birds nest in chimneys, so don’t install insulation until you’re sure they have moved on. Crows like to nest in the same chimneys each year, and some can fall to the ground or die of heat (it’s illegal to light fires if you know crows are nesting, so use a qualified sweep at end of each summer). Experts recommend chimney cowls and chimney caps which also help prevent smoke blowing back into your home. Install correctly so oxygen can circulate. 

Bird spikes deter some birds, but clever crows often take them away to use as material for building nests. Signs of nesting crows in chimneys include twigs, grass, leaves and hair falling into fire grates. Use gloves if removing bird droppings.

To deter unwelcome crows from gardens (stealing eggs, making a noise) know this is nature. If you don’t want them (say you have cats), keep food and rubbish sealed to avoid scavenging. And keep feline friends indoors at dawn and dusk.

Found a baby crow or raven? Like all birds, observe for up to an hour, as likely parents are watching and still feeding chicks. If not, place young crows in a high tree and observe. If the bird is injured or the parents don’t return (or if the bird has few/no feathers so is too young to stay in the tree), call your local wildlife rescue.

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