Who Can Fit a Wood Burning Stove - Safety Advice

fireplace.co.uk advice sheet for who can fit a wood burning stove

Introduction from Jim Lambeth

This is the first of a series of articles on matters of relevance to the domestic heating market in the UK.  I hope you will find my contribution of interest and perhaps sometimes stimulating.  You may not always agree with my opinions but that will remain your prerogative. No doubt you will let me know through these pages.


A Cynical View

During a pre-Christmas edition of Celebrity Mastermind on BBC1, one of the contestants was introduced as Sonali Shah, a TV newsreader and one of the presenters of the BBC1 programme, ‘Escape to the Country’.  For those uninitiated to daytime television, the aim of the programme is to help town and city dwelling participants find their ideal country home within their budget.

During the introductions, John Humphrys asked her ‘what was the common aspiration on all client’s wish-list’ – to which the answer was ‘a wood-burning stove’A response which should send a tingle through all readers.

This programme is one of my wife’s favourite and occasionally I have been forced to sit and watch the presenter’s valiant efforts to sell the virtues of selected rural properties, most of which I must admit, are quite magnificent.

Needless to say, when they walk into the sitting room there is always a blazing stove set in a feature chimney piece.  Much oohing and ahing is followed by ‘won’t that be great come Christmas – just imagine…’.

It should come as no surprise to see and hear the reaction of these prospective purchasers as wood burning stoves remains as popular today as they have been for the last decade. This demand has been good for both stove manufacturers and installers alike, as well as the growing number of wood suppliers. The range of stoves available today has never been greater and wood sales exceed 5 million tonnes a year.

Coming back to ‘Escape to the Country’, I am astonished how many times I hear myself commenting to my wife about the standard of workmanship on view.

Who can fit a wood burning stove - safety advice log on stoveTypically, I see stoves fitted to fireplace recesses with insufficient clearance around the stove, superimposed hearths which are too small, combustible materials too close to the stove or flue pipe and flue systems fitted with 90° bends. However, my favourite horror is the habit of stacking logs up the sides and underneath the stove. Clearly, consumers seem not to recognise that wood, in the form of logs, are combustible and spontaneous ignition can result!

Of course, the programme producers are not to blame, they are not experts on stoves and chimneys. But if these jobs represent a cross section of homes throughout the UK, I just wonder how many other installations are non-compliant and dangerous.

It is a fact that an unacceptable percentage of installation work is undertaken by unqualified and non-registered individuals such as builders, gas fitters or odd-job men.  Such work should be notified to the Local Authority Building Control Office for inspection and certification, but I know that in most cases this does not occur.  Whether this is through ignorance or otherwise it is impossible to say, but the outcome is the same – a potentially dangerous installation resulting in either a house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

No doubt, many customers believe they can get a stove fitted cheaper by employing a non-registered installer or indeed DIY.  This is quite legal but, as stated, the job should be notified to the Local Authority for inspection and certification. Indeed few appreciate their house insurance would be invalid in the event of a claim.

The publication of the 2002 Statutory Instrument introduced the requirement to notify solid fuel, oil and double glazing work to Building Control or have the job self-certified by a Competent Persons Scheme Member. Unfortunately, it was poorly publicised at that time and has never been policed subsequently.  As a consequence it is not surprising that enforcement has proven impossible for oil and solid fuel work. On the other hand gas installations are covered by legal requirements aimed at forcing customers to only use a Gas Safe Registered Installer today, and CORGI previously.

To make matters worse I know that many Building Control Officers are unfamiliar with correct installation practice when installing solid fuel, which does not help much.

Of course, we should expect that members of Competent Persons Schemes would know better and only carry out work in compliance with Building Regulations J and Building Regulations L, British and European Standards and appliance manufacturer’s installation instructions.  I know of many HETAS and OFTEC solid fuel installers who are honest and only carry out work to the highest professional standards. 

Sadly though, there is so often a down-side to dampen the euphoria. It is sobering to discover that whenever there is demand for any product or concept, the cowboy is always lurking in the wings to take advantage of the situation.  Whether it be the scourge of counterfeit products, dodgy deals or poor workmanship, the consumer must be on their guard.  TV programmes such as ‘Rogue Traders’ regularly highlight such incidents.

Within any business sector there will always be a few ‘bad eggs’. Despite mandatory training courses available for installers to qualify for registration, it is a sad that some unscrupulous individuals feel the need to break rules, or at least bend them to the limit, despite training courses and manuals telling them otherwise.

A New Year Message a Cynical ViewRules are in place for the public good.  Their intention is to ensure work is carried out in a safe manner and presents minimal risk to the unsuspecting consumer.  Put simply, contractors have a duty of care to ensure the public are not exposed to any danger as a consequence of work undertaken.  Failure to do so may result in legal action and in severe cases culpable homicide. 

Remember also, if you are asked to carry out work on an unsafe and defective installation done by someone else and injury or death results as a consequence of those defects, you could be held responsible as last man on site.  If you come across dangerous workmanship you should warn the householder in writing that they must not use the appliance until all defects have been rectified.  If necessary call in an independent third party to verify your position.  Do not attempt to carry out temporary repairs, it will come back to bite you.  A dead customer cannot testify on your behalf in the Coroner’s Court!

 Wishing you a Happy and Safe New Year

Jim Lambeth


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