Speaking and answering questions at shows generally doesn’t leave much time to explore the stands and see what’s new. This was the case at this year’s Homebuilding & Renovating Show but it soon became clear, from what visitors to the advice centre were telling me, that there was one product that I had to go and find out about – an umbrella, to be precise a chimney umbrella.
Reducing draughts and heat loss from an occasionally used chimney has always been a challenge. One solution has been a chimney balloon. These are inflated with a pump and then deflated and removed before a fire is lit. Some ventilation is essential to avoid condensation within the flue so it’s advisable to trap a short length of tube against the side of the balloon, preventing the chimney from being totally sealed.
The chimney umbrella from Chimella does a similar job but, it seems to me (I haven’t yet tried one), a lot more easily. It’s placed in the bottom of the flue and the umbrella is unfurled, as if the wind has blow it inside out, so it grips the walls of the flue while the small gaps around the edges allow sufficient ventilation to avoid moisture building up. This means it’s much easier and cleaner to use than a chimney balloon. What’s particularly clever is that it also catches any debris that falls down the chimney – when the umbrella is removed this debris can simply be emptied into a bag or bin.
Remember that bits of plaster, brick or stone that come down a chimney may indicate potential problems. Always have an old chimney swept and thoroughly checked before use, the National Association of Chimney Sweeps can provide details of local members. Also ensure the structure of the chimney stack is inspected from the outside at least once a year using binoculars to ensure the brick or stonework is sound and that the pointing or render is intact.
Specialist fireplace shops can advise on how to test a chimney for leaks using a smoke pellet. If problems are suspected, specialists like CICO Chimneys will undertake surveys using a video camera to inspect the flue internally.
Always fit a smoke alarm in the roofspace and carbon monoxide alarms in living areas. Ensure batteries are replaced regularly and that they’re frequently tested.
Images: Chimney balloon ©Roger Hunt and chimney umbrella ©Chimella