Energy anxiety means a busy season for chimney sweeps

Take note – story published 1 year ago

September and October are usually the busiest months of the year for chimney sweeps. But this year is proving to be particularly hectic for the men with brushes as many people are reverting to wood-burning fires as a result of soaring electricity and gas prices.

One example is provided by Latvian Radio's report from the home of the Ruņģis family, near Rīga. Father Dainis has accumulated a stock of wood briquettes and firewood, so there is some peace of mind that the family will not freeze this winter. A wood-burning boiler is cozily burning.

This heating season will be different from the previous ones in the Ruņgi household. For years, they relied on the comfort provided by the gas boiler, but now they are rapidly reorienting themselves to a wood-powered boiler, which the previous owner of the building left behind but which was never previously used.

"The technician came, checked that everything was connected correctly, and said it needs to be lit. It was in the middle of summer. We lit it two weeks ago, everything seems to be working. The chimney sweep came to clean the chimney a month ago, everything is in order and ready for winter. including wood boiler chimneys. In the fifteen years that we have lived here, we have not heated with wood, because there has not been the acute pressure like now - the price of gas. In fact, I was inspired by a neighbor who has given up gas altogether and has installed a heat pump, a wood boiler and solar panels," said Dainis Ruņģis.

Māris Bambis, master chimney sweep of the "Vidzeme suburbs chimney sweep" company, who for many years led the chimney sweep association, confirmed this season's trend – many customers are trying to find solutions so that they don't have to use expensive gas or electric heating this winter.

"Starting with the end of summer, people lived in a semi-war mindset and started thinking about the alternatives they will have when the autumn season comes. Everyone wants to add something extra, some device, wood heating, a pellet boiler, a pellet fireplace. Customers call, and ask questions about thether they have the opportunity to install one. In apartment buildings, installation is quite difficult. It is necessary to survey the chimney along its entire length, entering other people's properties. It is easier for the owners of private houses," explained Bambis.

He also confirmed that there is still a desire to install energy-saving stoves in Soviet-era houses, the so-called Khrushchevkas. 

"Yes. It is happening. It requires a full inspection of the chimney, starting with the roof and ending with the basement. Only then is there a conclusion about the current condition of the flue. Modern legislation allows connecting one heating device to one flue. Unfortunately, in a multi-story building, it's the first person to get to it. 

"Times have changed. Once upon a time, we all lived in open-plan apartments with partitioned windows, half-closed doors. At the moment, it is no longer the case – all have double-glazed windows, there is mechanical ventilation that extracts air from the premises. When one [fire] is lit, the harmful flue gases can reach another property," said Bambis.

The current workload for certified master chimney sweeps, of which there are around 80 in Latvia, is enormous. The working day for the three foremen of Babis' company extends late into the evening hours. He can sign up clients only a month in advance. People are unaware that chimney sweeps also have to spend some of their time preparing documents.

But regular checks of heating appliances and chimneys are essential, as the statistics of the State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) show.

"In August, there were 14 fires in which soot burned in the chimney. Regarding calls when a heating device was used incorrectly, resulting in the formation of smoke in the room – in September there were already 44 calls. This means that in the cool period of September people tried to light their heating device for the first time, and, since the chimney was not cleaned or it was damaged, there was smoke that did not come out through the chimney, but went into the room," said VUGD senior inspector Viktorija Gribuste.

Last year's statistics show that 15% of house fires are related to heating problems. "The harshest statistic is that last year 27% of those who died in fires may have died directly in fires caused by the use of heating devices. Either dirty flues, or improper use of heating devices, or the use of damaged heating devices," said Gribuste.

In order for the logs to crackle comfortably in the stove and the owner of the house to have peace of mind, it is necessary not only to clean the soot from the chimney once a year, but also to respect the requirement stated in the fire safety regulations to perform an assessment of the technical condition of the entire heating system every five years. This should be entrusted to a chimney sweep or a certified construction specialist.

Unfortunately, the price of firewood and briquettes has also been increasing at an astronomical rate recently. That is why the employees of the State Fire and Rescue Service are worried that many people will not only be unable to invest money to fix worn-out stoves this winter, but will also use unsuitable fuel that produces a lot of soot, which will ultimately lead to more chimney fires and more tragedy.


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