One of the delights in owning a property in France is to be there in the cooler months and enjoy the warmth and ambience of a woodburning stove or an open fire, but they do come with responsibilities.
An incorrectly installed or maintained chimney or flue can lead to inefficient burning of fuel, an increased risk of uncontrolled fire and a build-up of dangerous gases. The regulations for keeping your chimney compliant are laid out in the Règlement sanitaire départemental with the majority of house insurance companies outlining their own specific requirements within their policy documents. It is standard for most house insurance companies to require certification as proof of chimney sweeping either on an annual basis at renewal or in the event of making a related claim. Failure to provide a suitable certificate can prevent coverage or invalidate a claim.
Even after the chimney has been swept it must be maintained and operated correctly, and it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the chimney, including liners, are securely installed prior to receiving the annual sweep. A professional, registered and qualified chimney sweep will be an invaluable source of information to you, offering advice on any maintenance required and how to maximise heat output in the most economical and environmentally effective manner.
Registered ramoneurs can be found by approaching your mairie, local stove installation company, or in the PagesJaunes or your local press.
If you notice performance deteriorating, call your sweep. Poor performance is frequently due to using insufficiently seasoned wood leading to an excessive build-up of tar and creosote in the chimney. Blockages caused by bird or hornet nests can also be issues, especially after a period of no use.
The use of chimney-cleaning logs (bûches de ramonage) on their own is not acceptable as these leave brittle flakes within the chimney that must then be swept thoroughly to remove. Be wary of the sweep arriving unannounced brandishing a stick and a bucket! The modern-day sweep needs to be booked well in advance and will have at their disposal a wealth of brushes and equipment including an industrial hoover, dust sheets and often CCTV.
Before leaving, the sweep will issue you with a facture and a certificat de ramonage confirming that the entire length of the chimney and flue has been swept mechanically by a brush slightly larger than the diameter of the chimney or flue, with all deposits removed and that the chimney complies with regulations.
Having your chimney swept professionally, more than once a year, if used heavily, is highly recommended for your safety, peace of mind and enjoyment.
This article was published in the May 2020 edition of Complete France.