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A Tale of Two Register Plates

Dangerous Chimney Installations

Two Register Plates?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the time of my pre-assessment chimney sweeps to become an accredited member of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS)!

As part of the 25 pre-assessment sweeps, I agreed to clean the chimney of some dear friends, who had a wood burning stove installed in the lounge of their old cottage.  A fairly simple and straight forwards sweep, or so I thought…

In the usual manner I prepared the work area to contain the soot/dust and swept the chimney with Rodtech rotary brushes.  All was well.  I understood that the chimney was not lined and only expected the flue pipe to go up to the register plate (These act as a barrier to the smoke, fumes and soot from the chimney, limit heat going up the chimney and ensure a good air flow through the appliance).

I could see that there was an access hatch and was braced for the messy job of removing the soot from it.  It is essential for the safety of the customer to remove this soot, for two reasons:

  1. Soot is in fact a fuel and will burn
  2. Soot heated to a certain temperature will produce a deadly toxic gas; carbon monoxide

Not removing the soot would be negligent!

Back to the register plate, gingerly I opened the access hatch, expecting a fall of soot. There was none. As I looked inside, I could see the flue pipe from the stove continuing upwards and was shocked to see a second register plate about 8 feet higher, which the flue pipe entered.  There was no way of accessing the plate, and for the above reasons, it was clear it was not safe to use. 

I had no choice but to issue a Warning Notice, in effect condemning the stove installation as unsafe to use and as I broke this news to my friends, I could tell they were not that delighted! 

I later learnt that the secondary plate was removed and a foot deep of soot was above it; a significant fire and health hazard.

We’ve joked about it since and my stance was vindicated; I saved their lives!

The moral; always have your stoves installed/inspected by “competent persons” (a person registered with a relevant self certification scheme and complies with Building Regulations), fit a carbon monoxide alarm and have your chimney swept by a trained sweep.