With just a week until Father Christmas visits, we take a look at some chimney maintenance tips plus what’s behind the growing trend for fireplaces in homes.

Soaring energy prices and the popularity of property TV shows have fuelled the resurgence of working fireplaces in homes across the UK.

In previous years, chimneys were pretty much ignored and new homes tended not to feature one. In the majority of older homes they were neither maintained nor restored.

But with the recent energy price hikes adding 10–15% to gas and electricity bills across the UK, many homeowners have reacted by turning off their radiators and starting up the (smokeless) wood fire, or installing a wood burning stove.

Whilst wood stoves can cost £1200 – £3500 to install into an existing chimney – they could save you up to 25% on your heating bills. In addition wood burning stoves are considered a highly efficient form of heating – even more so that solar panels. The wood is renewable and it also produces much lower carbon emissions than fossil based fuels.

Functional, open fireplaces with chimneys can add both an aesthetic and practical value to a property. Right now the trend is that a fireplace is a more popular focal point for a living room than a large TV!

Fireplaces offer a cheerful place to gather around crackling flames with family and friends, or to pull up in a favourite chair and read a good book.

Another advantage is when the winter storms hit and electricity supplies are often knocked out. If you have a fireplace, you can still keep warm and have plenty of light. Whilst people without fireplaces remain freezing cold and have to wait until the utility company restores power.

However, because they take up valuable space and add extra cost to the design of a property they may be considered to be the preserve of the upper end of the market.

The role of a chartered surveyor

An experienced chartered surveyor can advise and guide you on the need to balance the requirements for energy efficiency with ventilation, and practicality with aesthetics.

Homeowners should not make the mistake of creating properties so airtight that they cannot breath – this could lead to condensation and damp issues.

A well maintained chimney and open fireplace can be a bonus all year round, not just a welcome asset at Christmas time.

A health check for chimneys

• Sweep your chimney at least once a year – this should cost around £40 – £60.

• Check the stability and condition of the chimney stack from the outside of the building.

• If the chimney is not in use, put a protective cowl on it.

• Ensure your chimney is properly ventilated to prevent a build up of deadly carbon monoxide (sometimes at too low a level to trigger an alarm but high enough to cause possible health problems)

• If you’re in a city or a heavily built up area, The Clean Air Act 1993 applies so usually only smokeless coal can be burnt indoors on an open hearth.

• If you don’t have a live fire (gas or solid fuel) consider keeping the aesthetics of an open fireplace to enhance the appeal of your property.