Chim chim cherooo…

…in which Zaria and David attempt to stop the flow of air out of their chimneys.

When thinking about chimneys I sometimes smile at the idea that Father Christmas, traditionally assumed to be a corpulent gent, is supposed to come down chimneys while until not so long ago only young children were thought little enough to get up them to clean them. I wonder if this contradiction every occurred to any Victorian chimney-beneficiaries when they may have watched their underclass contemporaries shin up to clean them (presumably whistling cheerful Mary Poppins ditties).

The open fireplaces was one detail which drew me to our Victorian house. We have two functioning chimneys on our ground floor, and here’s the smaller one, most used by us of a chilly evening. There’s nothing quite like it for cosiness….


I grew up in one and I have almost embarrassingly twee memories of the thrill of toasting crumpets, etc.As an adult homeowner, however, I’m troubled by how much warmth is actually lost up chimneys when they are not being used, and indeed they are in effect simply a large hole leading from warm rooms into the cold outside. They are one way in which Victorian houses bleed heat into the atmosphere. Futhermore, I’ve discovered that while burning they change the air dynamic in your house, by consuming oxygen in already-heated air, thus pulling warm air out, so making the rest of the room slightly cooler as the fire in the fireplace radiates its local heat. One expert organisation has claimed that 40 cubic metres of air are sucked out of a room every hour that the fire is lit. Altogether, an open fire is not a sustainable thing to have in your home but as ours are focal areas of the rooms they grace their loss would really change the look and feel of those rooms, we’re prepared to keep them and try and make them as green as possible.

So, stopping up a gaping hole in your house should be one of the more immediate tasks of making your home more energy-efficient, but it turns out not to be so easy. Some people simply stuff newspaper up their chimneys but we wanted to be a bit more thorough than this. Our first attempt involved an inflatable balloon called a Chimsoc. The theory was that you stuff it up the chimney uninflected, then blow up a tube to inflate it in its final position about 50cm above the opening into your fireplace. It thus takes the shape of your chimney (they vary quite a bit) and traps a balloon of warm air quite low in your chimney, separating it from the cold air above. The massive design flaw in this, however, is that of course as soon as the warm balloon cools a little, say, when the heating of the house is turned off at night, it shrinks enough to slide down the chimney, losing its snug fit and leaving  gaps for the heat to escape through when the room warms again. Finally it simply flops down into the cold fireplace, epic fail. See below.







David, my lovely partner, looking unimpressed. We regretted the £35 we’d spent on it.

Second attempt was a bit more successful: the Chimella. We bought one after seeing a demonstration at Ecobuild 2015 [youtube link]. As it says on the packet…..


The Chimella, while sounding like something indeed out of Mary Poppins, is in fact a kind of umbrella. You put it up the chimney closed, then open it like a normal umbrella with a button, and then wiggle it to position it inside the chimney. The youtube presentation is much clearer, and see below some more pictures of my glamourous assistant demonstrating:


The chimella closed







And open, achieved through pressing a button on the stem. Note, David looks a bit happier about this…











David demonstrates the length of the chimella stem: it’s extendable for very long chimneys! Suspect he’s contemplating an out-of-character Mary Poppins singalong moment…

















Putting the Chimella up was a bit more of a faff than we’d thought: it involved David putting the upper part of his body right up the chimney, like a latter-day chimney sweep. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES






So far, however, we’re happy with this: it seems to have done the trick, although not having turned the heating on yet, we’re still withholding judgement.

The last method of stopping the chimney has a fabulous strap-line: ‘there’s a sheep up your chimney’. It’s a sheep’s wool pad, on a long stick, which you simply ram up the chimney. See below.
























This is all very amusing, but actually sits on the very fault line of the problem of retro-fitting. How do you take a house designed for another era and equip it for a future in which energy will be possibly expensive and limited, and limited lifestyles will be the norm?







An alternative idea is that in the future all energy generated will be clean and free, so possibly losing heat up the chimney will not be such a problem. However, the government is threatening to remove the subsidies that support and stimulate the fledgling renewable energy industry, making this now a sadly more distant prospect.

Next, to the more demanding prospect of insulating and also continuing the draft-proofing the brick colander. We’ve survived a winter with a new baby, and her second winter is coming….

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