Identifying Unsafe Stove Installations, Building Regulations

Whilst contemplating my next feature for this publication, I was flicking through the latest copy of our How to identify an unsafe stove installation 5local County Magazine. Typically, it was filled with advertisements for the best of fashions, furniture, expensive homes and lifestyle features. However, my eye was drawn to an advert placed by a local Builder’s Merchant who also has interests in fuel distribution. The main image on display included an insert showing a modern Scandinavian style stove from unknown manufacturer, complete with logs stored beneath the fire-box. More alarming was the method of installation illustrated. From the top of the stove is a length of flue pipe, possibly 600m in length. This is connected to a 90° bend from which a further 600mm horizontal length connects to another 90° bend where it enters the masonry.  One must assume that a further 90° change in direction exists at the base of the chimney.

How to identify an unsafe Stove Isntallation 1The stove is shown standing on a polished wooden floor with no hearth apparent beneath the stove, nor in front of the fire-door. (for a guide to building regulations regarding fireplace hearths view: Hearths: A Guide to the Building Regulations)

Now, I am not naïve in believing this shot was taken in someone’s home.  Advertising shoots are often undertaken in showroom situations, but as the fire appears to be alight, it is not unreasonable to assume that unsuspecting readers would be fooled into believing this installation method is kosher.

To the knowing eye, it breaks every rule in the (UK) book and would be condemned as a dangerous installation, however I suspect the image was supplied by the stove manufacturer who is perhaps illustrating common practice which is deemed OK in the country of origin. Who knows? (Find out more about who can safely fit a wood burning stove in Jim Lambeths previous article "Who Can Fit a Wood Burning Stove - Safety Advice")

How to identify an unsafe Stove Isntallation 2Such irresponsible actions are not uncommon as I have seen similar images featured in other advertisements and catalogues supplied by stove manufacturers. Unfortunately, I believe such images mislead customers by illustrating dangerous installation practice. In addition, as mentioned last month, it provides opportunity for ignorant fitters to undertake dangerous work for unsuspecting customers – and, of course, without any official notification to local Building Control (LABC).

Firstly, Three 90° bends in the flue pipe is dangerous. They impose too much frictional resistance to the flue gasses in any natural draught chimney and are contrary to Building Regulations guidance. To be generous, perhaps the ‘showroom’ set-up pictured benefits from a chimney fan to induce the draught – I do not know, but as illustrated this flue configuration appears to be impossible to sweep.

Secondly, assuming the base of the fire will not increase the floor temperature above 100°C, ADJ still requires a 12mm superimposed hearth of non-combustible board or tile to protect the floor surface below.  After all, customers will not thank you for allowing hot fuel/embers to fall on a wooden floor surface to leave scorch marks or worse cause a house fire.

To be pragmatic, Approved Document J of the Building Regulations is often regarded exception. Certainly it will provide guidance on how to comply with current standards and should result in a satisfactory installation. However, as stated previously, it is a ‘guidance document’ and sets out to offer acceptable ways in which appliance and chimney installations can be undertaken in a safe manner.

Of course, we all know there is no such thing as a standard house design and most installers will have come across How to identify an unsafe Stove Isntallation 3situations where ADJ cannot be followed to the letter. In such cases one would be wise to carry out a ‘risk assessment’ to determine how best to proceed.

Sensibly, if there is a risk that the final job is likely to end up unsafe, one should walk away as those involved would be held legally responsible.

However, assuming work can be carried out safely there is a little known clause to be found within the opening pages of ADJ which acknowledges the above circumstance.  It reads – ‘If guidance in an Approved Document is followed there will be a presumption of compliance with the requirement(s) covered by the guidance. However, this presumption can be overturned, so simply following guidance does not guarantee compliance. For example, if one particular case is unusual in some way, then ‘normal’ guidance may not be applicable. It is also important to note that there may well be other ways of achieving compliance with the requirements. There is therefore no obligation to adopt any particular solution contained in this Approved Document if you would prefer to meet the relevant requirement in some other way.  However, persons intending to carry out building work should always check with their Building Control Body, either the local authority or an approved inspector that their proposals comply with building regulations.’

How to identify an unsafe Stove Isntallation 4Should you follow this ‘alternative approach’ be aware it could be open to challenge. Be sure to establish an audit trail in order you can explain to others the reason for the deviation from ADJ guidance and what steps were taken to ensure the finished job meets the highest safety standards. Records of research and results are essential to illustrate best practice, especially where a chimney is concerned. Building Control are likely to demand such evidence is made available in order they can make a valued judgement. Competent Persons Scheme members can only self-certify work which is compliant with ADJ, unless LABC have agreed to any deviation.

Where chimney issues are involved, flue draught readings must be recorded together with the conditions prevailing at that time. Virtually every appliance manufacturer publishes the minimum and maximum draught required for their product to operate safely and efficiently.

Unfortunately, I would guess that anyone foolish enough to fit a stove in the manner I describe in the advert above are not going to consult Building Control anyway!

Jim Lambeth
Jan 2017

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