Chimney and flue sweeping part of fire safety
Regular sweeping of fireplaces, chimneys and flues improves a building’s fire safety. Under the Rescue Act, the owner or occupant of a building must ensure that such sweeping is conducted at regular intervals. Regular sweeping is necessary not only for fire safety reasons but also to ensure the fireplace heats effectively and there is sufficient flue draught.
Statistics show that approximately 15% of fires and fire risks in buildings are linked to fireplaces, chimneys and flues. Three hundred soot fires on average occur annually. This means that around one third of fires in fireplaces, chimneys and flues are caused by soot. Less than a hundred fires each year are caused by damaged fireplaces, chimneys or flues.
One of the objectives of the Government Programme is to halve the number of fires by 2030. Sweeping is a key method for preventing fires associated with fireplaces and flues. In addition to sweeping, fires can be prevented by using fireplaces correctly and by generally maintaining fireplaces and flues in a condition where they are safe to use.
Of the approximately 1.27 million properties in Finland that need sweeping services, 74% are residential buildings and 25% are holiday homes. The number of fireplaces that require sweeping is estimated to be around 3.5 million. Every year, more than one million properties should hire a sweeping service.
Chimney and flue sweeping has been opened up to competition
Rescue departments are no longer obligated to organise chimney and flue sweeping services in their areas of operation. Sweeping services were opened up to competition in 2019 and the former district sweeping system came to an end in the whole country by summer 2019.
With the end of the district sweeping system, sweeping service providers can offer their services anywhere, without geographical restriction and without price being regulated. The owner or occupant of a building can purchase chimney sweeping services from the provider of their choice and compare the services in their area, for example with regard to the price.
Sweeping services backlogged in autumn
Autumn and the end of the year when the heating season begins are the busiest times for sweeping service providers. In many areas, the demand for sweeping services exceeds the providers’ capacity, leading to delays and backlogs. This is not a new phenomenon. Chimney and flue sweeping services can be ordered throughout the year, and service providers say they can respond to the demand better in spring and summer.
People’s preparation for the increase in electricity prices, which began in 2022, has caused an exceptional situation in the demand for sweeping services. In addition to the normal autumn rush, old fireplaces and decommissioned flues have been re-deployed in unprecedented numbers. In many areas, it has taken several weeks, even months, for chimney and flue sweeping to be performed from the actual date when the order was placed.
A possible solution to problems with the availability of sweeping services is to find out whether it would be possible to bundle sweeping appointments with neighbours or others living in the same area. An order for sweeping services for several customers in the same area is more attractive to a chimney sweeping company than a single customer.
No more price regulation of chimney and flue sweeping
When the district sweeping system came to an end, so did the price regulation of sweeping services. Each chimney sweeping company can set the price for its services. It is advisable to ascertain the price, or at least the pricing criteria, of the sweeping services already at the order stage, as the price of sweeping services varies between areas and companies.
According to a chimney sweeping survey conducted by the Home Owners’ Association for its members, the price of sweeping one fireplace and flue in 2021 varied from EUR 20 to EUR 126. According to the Home Owners’ Association survey, the average price of sweeping one fireplace and flue in 2021 was EUR 53.60. According to a report commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior from the University of Eastern Finland, the prices of chimney sweeping services have not increased significantly since the legislative reform, taking into account general inflation.
Chimney sweeping services are usually sold through doorstep selling or distance selling. Chimney sweeping companies are obliged to inform the consumer of the price of the sweeping service before an order is placed, for example in an advertisement distributed in mailboxes or on their website. For sweeping orders placed through a website, the price list must be presented as part of the order process. Chimney sweeping advertisements distributed in mailboxes may indicate the price as a basic charge per fireplace and flue or refer to a price list on the company website.
Chimney sweeps cannot come without an order
Chimney sweeping service providers must comply with the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act in the marketing of their services. According to the policy of the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority, the term ’chimney sweeping notification’ cannot be used in marketing of chimney and flue sweeping, because the word ’notification’ misleadingly alludes to notifications by authorities and indicates that the consumer should obtain chimney sweeping services from the company behind the chimney sweeping notification.
The customer is not obliged to react to a sweeping appointment proposed in a chimney sweeping marketing communication. In addition, a chimney sweeping company is not allowed to go and perform chimney sweeping services without an order. The customer must confirm any chimney sweeping appointment proposed in a marketing communication; a chimney sweep can no longer come and provide sweeping services unless the customer has ordered them.
Chimney sweeping can only be done by a chimney sweep. A chimney sweep refers to a person who has completed either a further vocational qualification in chimney sweeping or a further vocational qualification in building maintenance technology under the competence area of chimney sweeping. Since the Rescue Act no longer contains a derogation making persons studying for the qualification qualified to work as independent chimney sweeps during apprenticeship training, their employer is always responsible for their work and work guidance. The Rescue Act does not lay down any other requirements for providers of chimney and flue sweeping services.
The Consumer Protection Act and the Competition Act apply to the provision and marketing of chimney sweeping services, as they do to other services provided in the customer’s home. The marketing and procedure of consumer services in a customer relationship in terms of consumer protection is supervised by the Consumer Ombudsman. In addition to ensuring consumer protection, the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority intervenes in business practices that are detrimental to competition.
Fireplaces in use regularly swept
The owner and holder of a building is obliged to ensure the regular sweeping of its fireplaces and flues.
The sweeping obligation is supplemented by an obligation to maintain fireplaces and flues in a condition where they are safe to use. In practice, this means that the fireplaces must be used in accordance with their instructions for use and that any defects and shortcomings that pose a fire hazard observed by the chimney sweep must be addressed. Maintaining ladders, roof walkway elements and roof safety equipment in a condition that enables safe sweeping is also an integral part of the chimney sweeping obligation.
The old provisions on sweeping intervals remain in force. Sweeping must be done often enough, taking into account the fireplace utilisation rate, structure and fuel used; fireplaces and flues must be swept as needed. There are also legal provisions for minimum sweeping intervals in residential buildings. In some cases, residential buildings may need sweeping more frequently than the law prescribes.
In buildings used for permanent residence, fireplaces and flues must be swept every year, and in leisure buildings, such as summer cottages, every three years. In the regulation on chimney sweeping intervals, the division into buildings used all year round and holiday homes now refers to how much the building and its fireplaces are used rather than to the purpose of the building.
If a fireplace and its flue are not used, they also do not need to be swept. A fireplace and flue that have not been used in more than three years must be swept before being re-deployed.
The chimney sweeping obligation does not apply to gas fireplaces or their flues. The cleaning and maintenance of ventilation ducts are regulated separately.
People may have postponed chimney sweeping due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, sweeping cannot be postponed indefinitely or left undone.
Sweeping certificates should be retained
The sweeping service will clean the fireplace and chimney/flue and perform a visual inspection of their condition from the fire safety perspective. The sweep always issues a chimney sweeping certificate. Since persons studying for the qualification are not yet chimney sweeps, the chimney sweeping certificate is signed by the chimney sweep under whose direction and supervision they perform the sweeping.
This will also itemise any defects and shortcomings found during the work. If the rescue authority comes to inspect your property, you can use the chimney sweeping certificate to prove that sweeping has been carried out appropriately in the building. The observations recorded by the chimney sweep on the certificate also make it possible to monitor and assess the development of fireplace and flue condition.
A chimney sweep is obliged to notify the rescue department in writing of any defects or shortcomings detected in fireplaces and flues that may pose a fire hazard during use or a safety hazard for chimney sweeps. The rescue department is not notified of all defects and shortcomings detected, only of those which the authority must supervise to ensure that the owner of the building takes the necessary measures.
The rescue departments guide and advise properties in fire safety matters. They also have a supervisory function to make sure properties meet their sweeping obligations. The Rescue Act does not contain provisions on oversight of chimney and flue sweeping service providers or of the services provided.