Saturday, 26 January 2013

Danger of Wood burning Stoves in the news

The Irish Times property section on Thursday 24th January featured an article on "Poisoning risk from poorly fitted stoves"  This was about the 350,000 or so solid fuel burning stoves that have become a popular feature in some 350,000 Irish homes may have been poorly installed. These could be putting people at risk from CO  (carbon monoxide poison). The report says that according to Patrick Cowan, the president of the Chimney Sweeps Association of Ireland - "When a stove is fitted in front of a fireplace you are changing the material use of the chimney"

On the home page of their website they say "Warning on purchasing multifuel stoves and inset stoves - Due to the down turn in the economy and the high cost of home heating fuels, householders are purchasing solid fuel stoves and inset stoves in unprecedented or record numbers. These appliances work extremely well when they are professionally installed to Building Regulations 1997 TGDJ HPA and the manufacturers installation manuals. However, if these appliances are not fitted to the above regulations or guidelines then the chances of a carbon monoxide intrusion and/or chimney fire is greatly increased. 

Please do not listen to Retailers who tell you that;" if your house is less than 20 years old it's ok"," just get a chimney sweep to sweep it before we fit it" Or, "I have one of these myself and my chimney breast wall heats up too, but it's ok"...Worst still retailers who charge you 100 Euro for a survey but do not employ a CCTV  camera to inspect the chimney or carry out a professional smoke test. The 100 Euro is simply a sales tool to secure a deposit on a stove or inset stove they are trying to sell you."

"If you are thinking of buying a multifuel stove or inset stove then I would strongly advise that your chimney be professionally swept and inspected by a certified member of the CSAI. If on the other hand, you have already purchased a multifuel stove or inset stove and want to ensure that your appliance has been fitted to the above Building regulations and/or manufacturers installation guidelines? A CSAI member will inspect the installation of the appliance and issue a certificate. If your installation is in breach of Building regulations and/or the manufacturers installation guidelines then you will able to address your concerns with the retailer/ installer or as in one of our customers cases, The High Court." Source CSAI

According to the Irish Times article "a full inspection costs €300. If the survey finds that the chimney needs to be lined and the fireplace removed to better fir the stove it can can cost upwards of €3,000"

On the same day this article appeared in the Irish Times, I received an email from one the UK's specialist Solicitors Pain Smith who deal in residential lettings landlord and tenant law from their blog.

"Wood burning stoves and what agents need to know.

Over the past few years wood burners and open fires have come back into vogue. Most people agree that sitting in front of a fire on a cold winter evening is something they like to do. Open fires and wood burning stoves bring there own complications.

As part of the structure of the building landlords have an obligation to keep the stove and the chimney in good repair. Landlords should also check what the requirements are of any building insurer with regards to the same. 

We have recently received questions asking whether landlords need some form of certificate; and can tenants be required to clean the chimney?

With regards to any fuel burning appliance installed after October 2010 it must comply with appropriate Building Regulations. This means that any such appliance must either have been installed by a HETAS approved engineer, who can then self certificate, or specific Building Regulation consent should have been obtained. A homeowner should ensure that such certification is kept in a safe place as this may be required.

Under these regulations a carbon monoxide detector will also have to be installed which the landlord will have to check is in good order. The landlord will then be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and repair of such a stove whilst it is in the property. For appliances installed before this there is no specific requirement for certification save that landlords should be satisfied that they are safe and as part of this they would be well advised to ensure that a carbon monoxide detector is present.

We would always recommend that landlords carry out regular inspections to check what, if any, repair or maintenance issues may exist. There is however currently no statutory requirement to obtain some form of annual certification.

Generally such stoves require for general safety that the chimneys are swept at least once in every twelve month period. Many tenancy agreements contain a term that the tenant should ensure that this takes place. Some commentators seem to indicate that this is an unfair contract term relying on the guidance issued by the OFT in 2005. We disagree.

In our opinion provided a landlord can show that the chimney was swept before the start of a tenancy it is not unreasonable to place an obligation upon a tenant to ensure that the chimney is swept at regular intervals provided there is no obligation for them to return the property with the chimney in a better state than it was given to them. This can only apply to having the chimney swept and any maintenance which may be required from time to time would be the landlord’s responsibility. We are not aware of any specific challenges made by tenants to such terms and if anyone is would welcome hearing from them.

To summarise our view is that a well advised landlord will check if the installation was after October 2010 that they have a copy of the certificate. They will prior to any tenancy have the chimney swept (or make sure they have evidence that this happened) and also make sure that in any pre-tenancy inspection they check no repair or maintenance issues arise. We would always suggest that if in doubt a reputable professional is employed to undertake a check and the prudent landlord will ensure that their property has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors fitted." Source Pain Smith blog

Going back to the Irish Times article, they say that "a carbon monoxide alarm is essential  - Homes should have a minimum of two one in ceiling of the sitting room and second at breathing level in a bedroom.  Apparently the Department of the Environment in Ireland is looking   at making carbon monoxide detectors and alarms mandatory in certain circumstances. Maybe this will be first of all in rental properties in Ireland.

Unfortunately unlike the UK you did not have to have an annual gas safety check (Natural or Calor gas type cylinder) done on a rental property in the Republic of Ireland in a rental property as you do in the UK and France (Possibly other countries as well).

Hopefully the appropriate Government Department will introduce this safety check as it is a lot more important than the EU wide energy certificates - BER - EPC for rental properties.   

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