Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Chimney…

Fireplace

When was the last time you had a professional look at your chimney or fireplace?

Blocked chimneys can cause chimney fires or carbon monoxide to build up in your home – so it’s not one of those maintenance tasks that you should put to the bottom of the to-do list and subsequently forget about.

The experts say that chimneys should be cleaned at least once a year but I’m willing to bet that for a lot of us it’s been a while since ours had a check-up – if ever, for others.

In our Autumn Home Maintenance Checklist we mentioned the importance of having a professional chimneysweep maintain your chimney and fireplace. Now that winter has reared it’s ugly head and our fireplaces are getting a good workout, let’s take a closer look at what needs to be done.

Chimney experts Complete Chimney Care answer our burning questions (sorry)…

Why do I need my chimney cleaned?

The chimney flue is essentially a household exhaust pipe – funneling away soot, hot ashes, smoke and gases from your home. An annual inspection and clean should be done at least once a year to check for cracks, holes or faults and to remove soot, creosote, birds nests and other blockages.
Chimney.jpg

Will my house insurance cover chimney fires?

Most insurance companies won’t pay out on claims caused by chimney fires unless the chimney has been swept by a professional chimneysweep and been inspected on an annual basis.

My fire is not drawing properly…

This is usually the result of a cold or obstructed flue or insufficient height relative to the ridge of the roof or an adjacent building. Large unnecessary voids at the base of your chimney may also stop the fire drawing properly. Or if you have double glazing or very efficient draught excluders around doors, it may prevent an adequate flow of air for the fire to work correctly.

My fire creates excessive soot…

This can be the result of a lazy and inefficient flue. Your flue may not be the right diameter for the fire or stove, or it may not be properly insulated, meaning fumes do not rise fast enough and soot deposits are created. Excessive soot and tar can be a real fire hazard, particularly if the chimney structure has deteriorated.

I’ve got mortar falling into my fireplace…

Bits of brick or mortar falling down the flue indicate a serious deterioration in the chimney structure. This deterioration normally occurs from the inside of the flue but it might also indicate weakness on the outside of the chimney.

My chimney breast feels hot…

This means that the chimney has deteriorated and may be dangerous. If stains also appear on the chimney breast this is a sign that tar or acids have condensed and are eating into the chimney mortar and brickwork.

I want my chimney removed. Should I do it myself?

Removing chimneys is dangerous work, so the simple answer is no.  A small chimney can weigh around half a tonne, whilst bigger ones can weigh up to eight tonnes. Chimneys built before 1900 are made with lime mortar much of which has now degraded to dust.  Weight is the only thing holding them together. Brick structures are expected to last for 50 years so any buildings older than the 1960’s should be inspected by a professional to make sure they’re safe.

Have you had any problems with your chimney? Did you know the importance of annual checkups or the dangers of a blocked chimney?
Let us know in the comments below or on our NZ and AU Facebook pages.
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Fire safety campaign: a wrap up, and some important links

We’re nearing the end of the final, climatic week of our fire safety campaign, so it’s time to wrap everything up into one neat little package.

If you’re new, here’s what we’ve done so far:

So what’s the deal with our smoke alarm giveaway? Where we explain why we chose Cavius’ smoke detectors to give away as prizes. Over these past four weeks we’ve given away 36 with just four to go. Entries close Thursday 5pm; if you haven’t entered yet, just head to our Facebook page.

Fire safety in the home: Four key ingredients What four products/gizmos do you need to have in your house to minimise the risk, and effects, of a house fire? Click the link and all will be revealed.

Balloons Over Waikato gets a Chief response Not a great deal of fire safety information here, but rather an interesting interview with the pilot of a hot air balloon tribute to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 11 September, 2001. This was one of the star attractions at this year’s Balloons Over Waikato.

We’ll use this last post to alert you to a few more, very important, fire safety links worth reading.

Make your own escape plan

The Fire Service website has a feature where you can design and print off an escape plan for your home or office. It’s nice and easy to use: draw a map of your place, put in the walls, furniture, doors and windows, and use the arrows to point out the best escape points.

Here’s one I’ve done for my office:

Fire escape plan office

And here’s one I’ve done for Big Ted and Jemima et al:

Escape plan for Play School

Come on guys, get Firewise

firewise

You know the jingle, now check out the official website. Get Firewise contains a whole swag of free stuff for teachers, from pre-school to secondary, to help educate students about fire safety.

The website itself focuses mostly on the Year 1 and 2 programme. Topics include how to call 111, handing matches and lighters to adults, and what sound a fire alarm makes. Sounds simplistic, perhaps, but think back to when you were five and six – would you know what to do if you found a lighter on the floor, or if your toaster caught alight?

Fire Awareness and Intervention Programme (FAIP)

If you know children who have difficulty answering the above questions, this programme might be for them. FAIP is designed for people under 18 who have tendencies to inappropriately light fires.

This usually voluntary programme is delivered in the home by a trained firefighter over the course of several weeks, and it has a massive 98 percent success rate.

The last publicly available statistics on youth fire-lighting are from 2008 and they are, frankly, a little confusing. What is clear, however, is there are enough such incidents to keep the programme busy.

If you know of someone who would benefit from the programme you can download the referral form here. It’s effective, and it’s free.

Cavius Smoke Detectors

Cavius smoke alarm in hand

We gotta put in one more good word for these guys.

Cavius’ world’s smallest photoelectric smoke detectors are fantastic if you’re sick of false alarms, tired of paying for new batteries every year or you’re after an alarm that isn’t a complete eyesore.

Check out their website for more information on the detector and details of where you can buy some of your own. Thanks Cavius, especially Peter and Steve, for your support.

One more reason to take notice

Fire in Hamilton after

This recent Hamilton fire is, alas, a prime example of what we’re trying to help stamp out, as these excerpts illustrate:

A lighter left handy for child’s play sparked a fire that ripped into a Hamilton family home today and damaged the entire building.

No smoke detectors were installed and it is understood a four-year-old raised the alarm.

…”All she said she saw was a little flame on a blanket and she went to the bathroom to get a bucket of water to put it out,” Mr Aldridge said.

”By the time she got back it was up in flames. It happened that quick.”

A small fire can take hold so very quickly. Smoke detectors could have alerted the family – who were outside at the time – sooner. If the four year old had panicked, or the fire had started while people were asleep, who knows how bad the outcome might have been.

If you do nothing else, please buy and install smoke detectors. If you’re serious about both fire safety and avoiding false alarms, buy the photoelectric kind – the Fire Service recommends them and so do we.

We’ve heard, over the past four weeks, plenty of anecdotes from readers and Facebook followers about friends and families who either had lucky escapes or lost everything due to lack of preparation.

At Open2view we spend most of our working week inside your homes, so home safety is something we all care greatly about. We certainly hope you enjoyed this series of articles and learned a few new tricks. And if not, this song shall serve as punishment:

Fire safety in the home: four key ingredients

So you’ve read our previous blog and decided to buy some smoke detectors for your home. Good stuff. But is there more you can do? Other than ‘buy another smoke detector’? The answer is most definitely ‘yes’.

The NZ Fire Service website has a list of stuff you can get to protect your home from all sorts of fires. Other than the good ol’ smoke detector they also recommend sprinklers, fire extinguishers and fire blankets.

I must be honest and admit I hadn’t heard of the last one. What is it exactly? A blanket made entirely from fire? A visit to the New Zealand Fire Service website quickly set me straight. While I was there, I thought I’d take a look at their other recommended weapons in the ongoing fight against fire.

 

Smoke detectors

Cavius smoke alarm

Every home should have them. In fact, by law, every residential property owner has to have them installed – so if you’re renting, your landlord ought to have taken care of that for you. If you’ve moved in and found the previous tenants have nicked off with them, tell your landlord immediately.

So what are the best detectors to have? We’re not giving away Cavius’ photoelectric ones for nothing. Well in one sense we are (enter now!) but anyway, these kind of alarms (as we said in the last episode) detect smoldering fires better than their ionisation counterparts. Smoke can kill long before the fire itself – so having smoke detectors that, you know, detect smoke, is pretty vital.

That is not to say the other alarms are no good – any alarm is better than none. If money is the issue, consider this: while photoelectric detectors are more expensive up front, you ultimately pay around the same overall as you need to replace the battery far less often than with an ionisation detector. If you have them ‘hardwired’ – that is, connected to the mains – there’s no need for batteries at all.

Once you have your alarms it’s good to know where to install them. The Fire Service suggests on the ceilings of “every bedroom, living area and hallway”, and discourage putting them in the kitchen or bathroom, unless they’re specifically designed for those rooms.

 

Fire extinguishers

John Cena fire extinguisher

Don’t try this at home.

Want to stop a small fire from becoming a biggy? Fire extinguishers are handy in such cases.

They are not miracle workers though, which is why the Fire Service suggests not using one until everyone is evacuated. Better to stay alive and lose your house than die trying to be a hero.

They can also backfire badly if you use the wrong kind for the wrong fire. Check out the chart on this page for which extinguisher is best for you.

In short, the most likely scenario you’ll encounter – the ones that account for around 25 percent of all house fires – is a cooking oil or fat fire in the kitchen. In these cases you’ll want to use a wet chemical extinguisher. If you want to guard against all kinds of fires, buy yourself a dry powder extinguisher too. Keep them in or near the kitchen.

 

Sprinklers

Sprinklers are, as the Fire Service says, “like having a firefighter in every room” of your house. Even better, they’re far lower maintenance – and somewhat less creepy – than having an actual firefighter standing in every room of your house.

How effective are sprinklers? According to research I waded my way through (hint: skip to page eight), the survival rate increases between 80 and 96 percent in dwellings where both sprinklers and smoke detectors are installed. They can also reduce fire damage from $42,000, in an average house fire sans sprinklers, to around $2,000.

It’s easiest to install sprinklers in houses while they’re being built, but they can be fitted into existing homes too. The Fire Service video below shows just how effective alarms and sprinklers can be in containing house fires. Check out their specialist sprinkler website for more info.

 

Fire blankets

Fireblankett_273-x-428

These are blankets specifically designed for covering – and thus putting out – small cooking fires. Should the worst happen and someone catches fire, you can also throw it over them. They’re usually made from glass fibre as well, so that settles that question.

These blankets act exactly as you’d expect – they cut off oxygen to the flames and smother them. They can also be used as a cover to escape through flames if need be.

Fire blankets can be bought from several outlets including Firewatch, Womald and Chubb.

 

Over to you

Buying and installing smoke detectors is a no-brainer. Getting at least one out of the other three can go a long, long way to saving you money and – most importantly, lives.

What would be first on your shopping list: sprinklers, fire blankets or an extinguisher? Let us know in the comments or over on our Facebook page!

So what’s the deal with our smoke alarm giveaway?

burning house

Hello there. Just thought we’d tell you a little bit about our fire safety promotion; specifically why we’re doing it and why we’ve chosen Cavius smoke detectors as prizes.

Didn’t know we were running a giveaway and you’d like to enter? If you’re reading this before 12 April and live in New Zealand, just head to the Open2view Facebook page, click on the ‘Win with Cavius’ app and follow the instructions. If you’re reading this afterwards, sorry – but check out our page anyway because it’s plenty interesting.

We enjoy giving away stuff to those who like us. But why, in this instance, have we chosen this particular prize?

Cavius smoke alarm in hand

Our primary business is real estate photography. This means we get to photograph and film thousands of homes up for sale every year. Home safety, therefore, is at the forefront of our collective mind.

Here’s some scary facts for you: every year the New Zealand Fire Service attends more than 3500 residential fires. Of these, over 80 percent of homes either had no smoke alarms fitted, or they weren’t working.

That? Is just staggering.

So over the next few weeks we’re going to do something about it – by sharing some fire safety tips, and by giving away some of these cool little smoke detectors.

Now, what’s so great about these particular ones?

First of all they just so happen to be the smallest in the world. They measure a tiny 41mm high and 49mm in diameter. They’re smaller than a field mouse and they only squeak when it’s really serious.

cavius dimensions

You design or arrange your room to be as attractive as possible, only to have to put up a large eyesore of a smoke alarm on the ceiling. Frustrating, right? Cavius smoke detectors are much more aesthetically pleasing than their standard larger counterparts so you can put one up and forget you even have an alarm for the next five years.

Oh yeah, that’s the other thing: these detectors’ batteries last five whole years before they need replacing. That’s far, far longer than your average alarm. When the batteries do start getting weak, they’ll alert you 30 days before dying.

Smoke alarms are the opposite of children: they should be heard but not seen. Like newborn babies, however, these alarms are tiny but very loud. At 85 decibels from a distance of three metres there’s no chance of sleeping through anything when one of these go off. Again, just like a newborn.

Finally, Cavius’ photoelectric detectors are much less likely to give off false alarms. If cooking dinner or having a shower causes your regular, ionisation smoke alarms to start beeping, you’re more likely to want to remove the batteries and leave them out. Not so great if the pan catches alight or the shower starts spraying fire.

Photoelectric alarms, like the ones we’re giving away, are activated by smoke entering the alarm’s sensing chamber and changing the electrical balance.  They are consistently better at detecting smoldering fires than their ionisation counterparts. These types of fires can kill before the flames even start flaming. In layman’s terms, they trigger fewer false alarms and are more responsive to real fires.

The New Zealand Fire Service recommends people install photoelectric fire alarms in every bedroom, living area and hallway in your house. Through our giveaway, we’re getting 40 of you started.

We already received some interesting messages via Facebook about the importance of fire safety. This one from Bex Dixon particularly stood out:

The last four rental properties we have lived in didn’t have smoke alarms so we have purchased some for each property and left them when moving out. A shame that landlords don’t seem to care enough to fit them!

A dreadful shame – and a great gesture from Bex that could potentially save lives.

We also received this comment from Trish Monk:

Our hall heater caught fire nearly 2 years ago mid winter. Turns out our then 18 month old posted a pen through the wide slots. Plastic melted… fire started slowly. Smoke alarm went off. Thankful as heater was in hallway on wall outside our son’s room.

We replaced it that day with a newer style panel heater. Old one was binned. Smoke alarms DO save lives.

They sure do – and we encourage you to not only enter our competition, but to install some Cavius smoke detectors in your homes – and check out our next few blogs for some fire safety tips.

Do you have a similar anecdote? Feel free to share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Or drop us a line if you’d wish to share but would rather remain anonymous.