The buy-to-let market is on the rise. With soaring demand for housing and low mortgage rates on offer, becoming a landlord is an increasingly tempting proposition for many people. But, before you take the plunge, it’s vital that you are fully aware of your responsibilities regarding a rental property’s stoves, open fireplaces and chimneys (if it has them).
What are a landlord’s fire safety responsibilities?
When you rent out a house to a tenant, you’re not merely responsible for keeping the house in a livable condition; you’re also responsible for maintaining the fire safety aspects of the property.
As a bare minimum, landlords are obligated to:
> Provide a smoke alarm on each storey of the building.
> Install a carbon monoxide alarm in any room which has a solid fuel burning appliance (such as a wood burning stove).
> Provide fire alarms and fire extinguishers if it’s a house in multiple occupation (HMO).
> Ensure that any furniture and furnishings in the property are fire safe.
> Ensure that tenants have access to appropriate fire escape routes at all times.
> Ensure that any gas appliances (such as a gas fireplace) are safely installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer. A registered engineer must also perform a check on each gas appliance on an annual basis.
As a landlord, these are the fire safety actions you will be expected to undertake as a bare minimum.
However, as a responsible landlord, it can be wise to take additional steps to ensure the fire safety of your property.
When thinking about fire safety in the context of any of your buy-to-let properties, keep the following principle in mind:
“The overriding principle when it comes to tenant safety is to make sure that if anything does happen, you can prove to your local housing officer or to a court that you did everything that could reasonably be expected of you to protect your tenant”.
What landlords should do if they have an open fire or solid fuel stove in their buy-to-let property
So, with all of the above in mind what, as a landlord, should you do if you have an open fireplace or solid fuel burning stove in your rental property?
As we’ve seen, you’ll be expected to do ‘as much as you can’ to ensure that the home remains safe from fire.
With that in mind, if you have an open fireplace or solid fuel burning appliance in your rental property, here are some of the things that you’ll want to do to keep your tenants safe.
Install carbon monoxide alarms
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Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. But what exactly is it?
Carbon monoxide (or CO, to use its formula designation) is a poisonous gas which is produced when fuels that contain carbon - such as wood, coal, oil or natural gas - burn incompletely.
CO can build up when a stove or fireplace isn’t receiving enough oxygen - such as when there is insufficient chimney draw, there are problems with the stove or fireplace, there are blockages in the chimney, or the incorrect fuels are being burnt.
You can’t necessarily guarantee that your tenants will know how to properly maintain an open fireplace or stove. Plus, they may use them regardless, not realising the dangers.
So it’s absolutely vital that you install carbon monoxide detectors in your rental properties.
Purchase a wood moisture meter
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Wood which is insufficiently seasoned (or ‘dried out’) is one of the leading causes of creosote and soot build up in chimneys - which can lead to fires.
You can reduce the likelihood of your tenants burning insufficiently seasoned wood by asking them to use a wood moisture meter.
These are handy little devices which provide a minimum and maximum moisture reading on an LCD display. They’re easy and straightforward to use and will ensure that your tenants select the right wood to burn.
Ensure that your stove or other heating appliances have been properly installed
If you’ve got a wood burning stove in your rental property, are you sure it has been installed properly?
Correct installation of stoves can avoid all sorts of health, safety and fire risks further down the line.
Whilst there’s nothing stopping you from installing a wood burner yourself, we would strongly recommend using the services of a HETAS-qualified professional. Yes, you may be tempted to save money, but it’s not worth it if it puts your tenants in danger.
You can find a HETAS-qualified installer on the HETAS website here.
Ensure you have installed a chimney liner
Do you know if your chimney is suitably lined? Before you rent out a property with a stove or open fireplace, you should check to ensure that there is a chimney liner in place.
Chimney liners not only improve the function of fires and stoves, but they make them safer too. They improve factors such as chimney draw, make the fire easier to light, encourage a proper burn (thus reducing the chances of CO build up), and more.
Under the Building Regulations you are also obligated to ensure that your chimney is in good working condition. The best way to ensure this is by installing a chimney liner.
If your chimney isn’t lined, then you’ll need to invest in the correct chimney liner to accompany your stove or fireplace.
There are two main types of chimney liner:
- 316 grade - this is a liner which is suitable for use with wood burning stoves.
- 904 grade - this liner is for use with hotter burning fuels such as smokeless fuel or coal.
Ensure you buy and install the correct grade liner for the chimney in your rental property. You will also need to ensure you purchase the correct diameter flue liner too.Remember, should anything go wrong, you will have to demonstrate that you took all reasonable precautions to ensure the fire safety of your property.
Guide - read our guide to buying the right type of flue for your chimney here.
Have your chimney inspected and swept on a regular basis
Even with a chimney liner installed, it’s highly recommended that you have your chimney inspected and swept on a regular basis.
If your tenants will be using the fireplace or stove on a regular basis, then professional chimney sweeps recommend that your chimney should be swept every quarter.
Alternatively, if your fireplace is being used irregularly, then there are a few signs that’ll tell you it’s time to call the sweep in:
> Your fireplace surround is turning black.
> There is soot accumulating in the fireplace or on the top of the stove.
> You can hear birds or other small animals within your chimney cavity.
> Fires aren’t burning well when lit and are producing a great deal of smoke during the burn.
> There’s a very strong smell of smoke in the room following a burn.
When there’s an open fireplace or stove in your property, having the chimney swept really isn’t an optional extra. Failure to have your chimney swept can lead to chimney fires and worse.
Guide - for more information on chimney sweeping, read our complete guide here.
Ensure your property is sufficiently ventilated
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Open fireplaces and wood burning stoves only operate at their best when they have a sufficient supply of oxygen.
Ensuring that the fireplace or stove in your rental property is able to burn properly is an important way of reducing the risk of CO build-up or other issues.
You can ensure adequate ventilation of the fireplace or stove by installing appropriate air vents in the room in which the fireplace or stove is located.
If you’re not too sure what types of air vents you require, or how many, read our complete guide to air vents below.
Guide - for more information on fireplace and stove air vents, read our complete guide.
Check your insurance policy
Before you put your property on the rental market, you should not only ensure that it is properly insured, but that the policy covers the use of an open fireplace or stove.
Some insurers will flat out refuse to cover a rental property if it has an open fireplace or stove, whilst others will provide cover only if the fireplace/stove and chimney are properly and regularly maintained.
Should the latter be the case for your insurance, then you’ll need to make sure you’ve got regular chimney inspections and sweeps scheduled in.
Consider buying a new up-to-date stove
Whilst stoves do last a long time, they don’t last forever.
Over time the continual expansion and contraction of the stove’s firebox as it heats up and cools down can cause the metal to fatigue - leading to smoke leaks and poor function of the stove.
Other parts of a stove can also degrade over time. For example, the stove door, being continually opened and closed, and also experiencing heat expansion and contraction, can become loose, leading to leaks and impaired stove performance.
Whilst a new stove may seem like a big investment, it really can be worth it from a fire safety perspective. By providing your tenants with a fully-functioning stove that burns perfectly, you will drastically reduce the likelihood of things going wrong.
Explore Trade Price Flues’ complete range of stoves here.
If you’re a landlord with a property with an open fireplace or stove, we hope you’ve found this article helpful.
However, we must stress that this article is purely for informational purposes and shouldn’t be viewed as the final word in rental property fire safety.
Regulations change on a continual basis and we cannot guarantee that this article will be updated concurrently.
As such, we would refer you to the UK Government website which is regularly updated with the latest safety responsibilities required of landlords.
Get your chimney fit for purpose
Do you need to install a new chimney liner? Perhaps you need to pick up some carbon monoxide detectors? Or you need to install some new air vents on your property?
Whatever it is, if you require something to improve the chimney on your rental property, you’ll find it at Trade Price Flues.
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For more chimney, stove and fireplace advice, explore the Trade Price Flues blog…