Regular readers may remember that we have had numerous problems with our wood and coal burning stove. Since deciding it might be a good idea to have an additional heat source to avoid dependency on oil and electricity, we have had our ups and downs, to say the least. As the house was built with no chimney, we had to have a flue pipe extending through the living-room ceiling, up into the loft, and out through the roof. The end result was something resembling a wild-west stove, against the side wall of the bungalow, with a huge pipe entering the ceiling above. It was not the most attractive solution, but given that it was 2012, and not 1862, modern technology, a sealed glass door, and a smart black glass base, did give it a strangely contemporary look.
The real joy arrived once it was lit. It burned so hot, and so efficiently, the glass remained clear. We could bask in the direct heat, mesmerised by the glowing coals, or crackling logs. This was a throwback to a fondly remembered past, with none of the mess and potential danger offered by the previous alternatives. I loved adding more logs, adjusting the dampers, and feeling the room achieve an almost uncomfortable warmth. If it got too much, we only had to go into another room, and freshness was restored. Ollie slept in front of it, Julie dozed in its glow, and I passed out happily. Fire was restored, the primeval man inside me satisfied.
Then the wind changed. After a prolonged period of heavy rains, accompanied by a howling north-westerly, we awoke to find water on the fire casing, and on the base below. It had already started to rust the cast iron, after just twelve hours, and drips were still visible coming down the interior pipe. I thought it would be a good idea to light the fire, to dry it out. It wasn’t. A down-draught blew smoke through every tiny crevice, and out into the house. All windows were opened, and the fire had to be damped down and extinguished. The installer was contacted soon after, and the problem explained. He eventually sent someone to dismantle it, but they could find nothing wrong. Thus began a protracted argument between the equipment supplier and my installer, with me as piggy in the middle. When the fire had dried out completely, and no rain was forecast, I tried again, but the same thing happened.
I asked the installer to approach the supplier, and he told me that I had to see them, as they wanted to deal with ‘the customer’. An unsatisfactory meeting at their workshop, where I presented numerous photographs, left them laying all the blame at the door of the installer. As far as they were concerned, he had either assembled it incorrectly, or had not given them the correct specifications to start with. They told me to drop the ball back into his court, and washed their hands of it. I went back to him with these comments, and he was incensed to receive all the blame. So he went to see them. They argued that the chimney was not high enough to clear the roof-line, and that allowed the wind to enter the top of the flue. If it was raining as well, water could enter the system at the same time. All I knew, was that I could not use a very expensive fire, and that I had £120 of wood and coal unused. It was becoming little more than a costly cast-iron ornament.
More months passed, and after a further meeting, the installer advised me to purchase an additional one metre length of flue, to be added to the outside chimney. This would be held in place by two large clips, and was a few inches short of the regulations requiring additional, and very ugly, wire bracing. He also suggested that I buy matte-black paint at the same time, as we had previously left it in the shiny metal supplied. I went over and purchased the necessary items, and advised him that they were now in my possession. Unfortunately, the weather was too bad to consider working on the roof at the time, so more months had to pass, waiting for a change in the weather to allow this job to finally be completed.
The appointment was arranged for today, which fortunately turned out to be the warmest day of the year so far here, a sweltering twenty-nine degrees. My likeable installer arrived as arranged. First of all, he sprayed the sections to be added, then removed the existing chimney, sprayed that, and connected it all. Once it was all assembled he doggedly manhandled it back onto the roof, and after some adjustments, it was in place. A smoke tester was lit inside, and it seemed to be coming out of the chimney at the correct rate and angle. There was some smoke leaking from the seal inside though. Not to be beaten, he went off to a local merchant and bought heat-proof sealant, which was applied to any places leaking smoke. Job done.
Outside, we now have a two-metre chimney, plus cowl on top. It is still only just level with the roof line. Even sprayed black, it is enormous. It resembles a factory chimney, or the funnel of an old steam-ship. Although unseen from the eastern aspect, from the front and west side, it rises majestically, like a black-painted Egyptian obelisk. If I added a head, it might well pass as a sculpture by Antony Gormley. I have a feeling it may be visible from the air, and something tells me that it is destined to become a talking point in Beetley. It might even attract listed status in the future. The bungalow now appears to have been built around a black chimney, rather than the other way around. Imagine the barrel of a battleship gun, pointing directly skyward, and you will get the idea.
It was too hot to light a proper fire today, so it remains untested until the autumn. Let’s hope it works…