Birds nesting in my chimney – what should I do?

We definitely know it’s Spring, because yesterday we had four emergency cowl fitting requests in one day!

If you have birds actually nesting in your chimney (as in: there’s chicks), there’s not a lot you can do until they decide to leave. Once they have left though, you can swing into action.

If the birds are nesting in an unused chimney, you can make sure they’ve left (along with any fledglings), then cap-off the chimney (adding a vent, to prevent damp problems).

If however, the birds are nesting at the top of a chimney you do use (a live chimney), then the first thing you need to do is get a good chimney sweep. Birds (especially rooks) can use an enormous amount of twigs, and practically fill an entire chimney. It can take hours to clear, but if it’s not all taken out, it can represent a serious fire risk.

Once the chimney is clear, you need to put on a bird-proof cowl. We use stainless steel bird cowls, as we’ve seen birds rip off chicken wire in about three minutes flat.

If your chimney is lined with a metal liner, it is unlikely that birds will nest in it, as they don’t seem to like the hanging pot cowl used to secure the liner. If you have a bird go down your liner, we’d recommend you have a smoke pressure test to check the liner is still intact.

We charge a fixed fee for supplying and fitting cowls – do call us for a price: 01295 738 144.

JackdawA handsome Jackdaw – big fan of living in chimneys!

(Photo from


Suppliers We Like

We like to work with local businesses where possible, using British-manufactured products. Our recommendations are below.

Burgess Reclamation Yard

This is where we buy our slate and lintels. The team at Burgess are a friendly lot, and always do their best to track down what we need. Their slate is good quality, easy to work with and looks great as a decorative hearth.

Their number is 01869 346 347

They also do a great line in reclaimed railway sleepers…a lovely place to potter around on a Sunday afternoon!


FN Pile and Sons

This is where we send a lot of our customers who want to see an Aga Wenlock in real life, rather than on the internet. They also have Stovax and Yeoman stoves on site, and Ray, the stove chap up there, is always hugely helpful.

We prefer buying our stoves from an actual shop, rather than on-line, as it seems much less stressful to sort out details such as delivery, or if stoves have any missing handles or whatever (which is rare, but does happen). We’re happy to collect stoves (free of charge) on behalf of our customers who buy their stoves from FN Pile’s, but we always prefer our customers to deal with the shop directly when it comes to payment.

The telephone number for FN Pile’s is 01295 211 790.


Red Horse Vale

This is where we buy our coal and sometimes our wood from (I say sometimes, because we often cut and log our own). There’s a great team at Red Horse, and have been known to send their coal man out on a special trip just to save houses who’ve run short.

We’ve had them deliver to us for ten years now, and the quality of the fuel has always been spot on. The delivery chaps also don’t mind carrying the coal right round our house to the bunker, which means we don’t have to do any shovelling.

The phone number for Red Horse is 01926 642 832


Iron & Wood

One of our favourite stoves manufacturers are Clearview, simply because their stoves are so easy to use and control (we actually have two in our own house). The Clearview dealer for North Oxfordshire is Iron and Wood, in Banbury. We’ve know the chap who runs it, Simon, for almost ten years, and his shop is stuffed full of beautiful baskets and fireplace accessories as well as stoves. As with FN Pile’s, we’ll collect a stove from Iron and Wood free of charge and we can liaise between you and the shop. Simon does run his own fitting service, and we always make sure we can offer the same services at a competitive in price.

Iron and Wood’s telephone number is 01295 253 936


Gem Tool Hire

We love GEM! They have a great team who always go the extra mile to make sure we’ve got what we need for the job. We hire cherry pickers, tower scaffolding and various tools from them, and they have never let us down. Everything we hire is in decent, working order, and they make it easy to collect and drop off things.

GEM’s phone number is  01295 253 135


We couldn’t do what we do without such great suppliers behind us, so thanks very much all, we appreciate you!

Our van, all ready to go for the day.
Our van, all ready to go for the day.


Creating A Brief For A Wood-Burning Stove Installer

A brief can be as long or short as you would like it to be, but it’s helpful for both you and the installer if you have it written down and agreed before the installer puts together an estimate.

We work to all kinds of briefs, from people who have vague ideas about ‘a fire in this room, somewhere, please’, to those who present us with folders, spreadsheets and a mood-board. We really don’t mind which type of customer we work with, as long as we all understand each other.

Points To Include In Your Brief

  • Your rough budget. There are invariably different ways to do things, and you can have cheap options or expensive options. If the installer doesn’t know that you’d rather go the economy route, then he might not suggest it. There are many ways to cut costs on a job (using less expensive materials, or shortening labour time). People are always reluctant to actually talk about figures, but it will save you a lot of time and misunderstandings if you could. Installers are unlikely to give off-the-cuff estimates, simply because it’s quite tricky to price a job and requires thought and a calculator.
  • Your time-frame. If you want it in right this very minute, then the installer needs to know. We quite often fit on a Saturday, but we won’t mention it unless we know you need it. Equally, you might want it fitted in accordance to an existing building plan, again, the installer needs to know. Even if it’s four months away, he may have commitments to other customers.
  • The fireplace appearance. The fireplace might need remodelling. The installer will suggest various looks and finishes, but you need to make sure you’ve chosen the one that complies with building regulations and that you actually like, and that fits with your budget.
  • The function of the fire. If you’re using the fire 200 days a year, the installer may suggest something different from a fire you’ll use just for the odd dinner party.  Think about whether the fire will also be linked to your heating or hot water system, and where you’ll store fuel.
  • Other Trades. You may need a scaffolder, plumber or builder to work with the stove installer. Make sure the installer is aware that extra scheduling restraints might be applicable, and extra telephone calls or site meetings.

NB: It’s advisable to get three estimates from three different installers. If you change the brief between the installers visiting the site, make sure the competing installers are told of the changes.

Our van, all ready to go for the day.
Our van, all ready to go for the day.


What’s A Smoke Pressure Test?

A smoke pressure test is designed to test the integrity of your chimney or liner. Without the test, you don’t know whether your chimney needs work (or lining), or if your liner needs replacing.

How Does The Test Work?

The test is very simple. A bung is fitted to the top of the chimney and smoke pellets are lit in the appliance. We then follow the chimney through the property, looking for signs of smoke. The pellets reek terribly, and have very black smoke – certainly can’t be missed if they escape into the house.

Who Does The Test?

Anyone could do the test assuming they could get on the roof to block and unblock the chimney. However, only a building inspector, certified chimney sweep or HETAS-registered installer could sign the chimney off as safe and complying with building regulations.

How Much Does It Cost?

If you’re using us, that depends. We smoke pressure test any property in which we’re installing a stove without a new liner. If you call us out specifically to smoke-pressure test a chimney, and not install a stove on the same day, our prices start from £100, depending on the amount of fireplaces, height of a property (bungalows are cheaper than four-storey town houses!). Some properties we may not be able to test at all without scaffolding (depending on roof line, height and position of chimney top).


  • The chimney really should be swept before testing. If there is a blockage preventing the smoke from reaching every inch of the chimney or liner, then breaches in the cement or stone work might not be detected.
  • A Smoke Pressure Test is not a Draw Test. For further information on Draw Tests and what they’re used for, please feel free to contact us.
  • A chimney that has passed the Smoke Pressure Test may still need lining or re-lining and insulating, if you are having problems with draw, damp, sooty smells or soot leech.

Further Information can be found at the following places

British Flue and Chimney Manufacturers’ Association

HETAS pamphlet for flues and chimneys


The smoke pellets Stevie uses - not to be confused with marshmellows!
The smoke pellets Stevie uses – not to be confused with marshmellows!

Planning A Wood-Burning Stove? Choosing Your Fitter

With the average stove fitting project costing from between £1,000 to £3,000, it really is the sort of thing to get right first time. With that in mind, here are a few pointers to help you make decisions.

How To Find Your Stove Installer

Ideally, you should always get at least three quotes from three different installers. Do expect prices to vary, though if one is a lot more or a lot less than the others, go back to them and check they’ve understood your brief.

The best way to find reliable stove installers is by word of mouth. However, if you don’t know anyone in your area to ask, you can go on the HETAS website, which lists all of the HETAS engineers in your district. Some stove installers will work outside their area, and may or may not estimate for a fuel allowance. They are more likely to charge a fuel allowance during the busy winter period.

Many wood-burning stove showrooms also have a fitting service. Whilst this means you only then deal with one person, it does mean that the shop is likely to add a percentage to both the labour and flue and fittings costs. However, most independent stove installers can also source stoves, and will usually have a flue and fittings supplier that they prefer. As they don’t have the overheads of a shop, both stoves and flue and fittings should work out at a better deal for you.

Once You’ve Found Three Installers

Make an appointment to see them separately, preferably along with anyone else who will have a say in the fireplace design or choice of stove. If you live alone, consider asking a friend or family to join you for the appointment.

Estimates should always be free. However, if you’re asking an expert opinion on a project (following an insurance claim, for example), you should expect to pay a call-out free. We charge a call-out of £50, which includes the first hour’s labour, or a written report.

Follow your instincts. If you don’t like someone, don’t use them. The installer should be with you for a minimum of twenty minutes, and take the time to understand your project. He should also take relevant measurements, check your hearth, fireplace and chimney stack, and understand what it is you hope the stove will do. If the stove is to go in an occasional room and to be used just when you’re entertaining,  it is probably best not to have an expensive stove. Or, if you want a stove to stay in through out the night, you will need at least a mid-range brand that can be easily controlled (Clearview seem to do the best stoves for ‘keeping in’).

Questions To Ask A Stove Installer

You will already have an idea how you would like your fireplace and stove to look, but it’s worth asking the fitter his opinion. He may be able to give you several options along with a price for each idea.

We work about four weeks in advance between April and September. In the Winter, our lead time for installing stoves can stretch to sixteen weeks. It is well worth bearing lead times in mind, particularly if you’re hoping to have the stove fitted in a general building schedule. We do use weekends for extra capacity, although only if the customer is really desperate. We do not charge extra, but others might.

Your chimney may or may not need lining. At the moment, building regulations only ask for a chimney to be lined if it fails a smoke-pressure test. Without doing the test, you won’t know. We charge from £100 for a smoke pressure test, which you can read about HERE.

You will need to know what type of hearth (both constructional and decorative) that you will need for your stove, according to size, leg height and design. Each stove has a down-draught rating, and  building regulations will dictate the minimum hearth you will need. Make sure you ask the installer to include the costs of any works to be done to your hearth. If you’re doing it yourself, make sure you understand what the fitter will need you to do.

You may want to change your fireplace – make it bigger, or put in an oak beam, or stone mantel. Make sure that your stove installer has the skills set to do the work you need. If he seems hesitant (stone mantels are particularly tricky) ask if he has a builder he would rather work with. If he would rather use a builder, contact the builder to arrange an appointment for him to view the job. Establish with the fitter whether the fitter will be responsible for the builder (including guarantee of works, competency and payment). If he will not be responsible, then you will be, so do the job properly – get comparison quotes, check references. Here at SJL Services, we are happy to work in either type of set up. We usually do building work ourselves (and plastering), but we use a Gas Safe engineer for any sort of gas work.

Your fitter may be able to source the stove you want at a better price available than you can find. It is always worth asking for a good deal, and to check that basics such as delivery, VAT and handling are included in the price.

Always ask for a fixed price. If the fitter is unsure (he may have to dismantle a fireplace to understand the job), make sure that you have a good idea of likely scenarios, costs and a cut-off point. If you tell your fitter you have a fixed budget, he is much more likely to work to it, rather than risk losing the job.

Ask the fitter what might happen if there are any future problems with the installation. We always come straight out, but we do charge if we have a wasted journey for a problem that never existed.

Deciding On Your Fitter

Again, follow your instincts. The decision should not just be based on price, but also on whether you liked the fitter, their references, availability and general attitude.

Ask for, and check, references. It only takes a quick phone call and could save you an enormous headache.

Agree a start date, and make sure you understand duration.

Check your installer lives where you think he does, and that his contact numbers are correct.


And that’s it – you’re ready to go! If you are looking for a wood burning stove fitter near Banbury, give us a call.

Best of luck with your project.







January 2014 – Day in the life of a stove-fitter

Loading up
Loading up

Busy Tuesday ahead, and Stephen’s loading up the ladders to go and install a cowl onto the chimney of a very tall house in North Newington (Oxfordshire).

Before all that though, he’s off to Farnborough on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border. He’s visiting a tenant in a National Trust cottage, who would like her Charnwood stove refurbished. The stove is not currently installed, so Stephen may also need to provide an estimate for installation.

He’ll be home for lunch, then I’ll be sending him off again, this time to Chipping Campden, where he’s meeting a lovely lady and her builder to discuss her GINORMOUS conversion, and how she’s going to heat it.

Which Wood Burns Best?

We found this excellent guide on – and we’ve put it here for you to see. Flaming Fires looks like it would well be worth a visit if you’re in the Wolverhampton area.

If you’re looking for wood burning stoves and installer in Oxfordshire though, give us a ring!

Banbury (01295) 738 144

Alder Produces poor heat output and it does not last well. Poor
Apple A very good wood that bums slow and steady when dry, it has small flame size, and does not produce sparking or spitting. Good
Ash Reckoned by many to be one of best woods for burning, it produces a steady flame and good heat output. It can be burnt when green but like all woods, it burns best when dry. Very good
Beech Burns very much like ash, but does not burn well when green. Very good
Birch Produces good heat output but it does burn quickly. It can be burnt unseasoned, however the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use. Good
Cedar Is a good burning wood that produces a consistent and long heat output. It burns with a small flame, but does tend to crackle and spit and the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use. Good
Cherry Is a slow to burn wood that produces a good heat output. Cherry needs to be seasoned well. Good
Chestnut A poor burning wood that produces a small flame and poor heat output. Poor
Firs (Douglas etc) A poor burning wood that produces a small flame and poor heat output and the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use. Poor
Elm Is a wood that can follow several burn patterns because of high moisture content, it should be dried for two years for best results. Elm is slow to get going and it may be necessary to use a better burning wood to start it off. Splitting of logs should be done early. Medium
Eucalyptus Is a fast burning wood. The sap can cause deposits to form in the flue and can increase the risk of a chimney fire if burned unseasoned. Poor
Hawthorn Is a good traditional firewood that has a slow burn with good heat output. Very good
Hazel Is a good but fast burning wood and produces best results when allowed to season. Good
Holly Is a fast burning wood that produces good flame but poor heat output. Holly will burn green, but best dried for a minimum of a year. Poor
Hornbeam A good burning wood that burns similar to beech, slow burn with a good heat output. Good
Horse Chestnut A good wood for burning in wood stoves but not for open fires as it does tend to spit a lot.  It does however produce a good flame and heat output. Good (For stoves only)
Laburnum A very smokey wood with a poor burn. Poor do not use
Larch Produces a reasonable heat output, but it needs to be well seasoned. The sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use. Medium
Laurel Burns with a good flame but only reasonable heat output. It needs to be well seasoned. Medium
Lilac Its smaller branches are good to use as kindling, the wood itself burns well with a good flame. Good
Maple Is a good burning wood that produces good flame and heat output. Good
Oak Because of its density, oak produces a small flame and very slow burn, it is best when seasoned for a minimum of two years as it is a wood that requires time to season well. Good
Pear Burns well with good heat output, however it does need to be seasoned well. Good
Pine (Including Leylandii) Burns with a good flame, but the resin sap can cause deposits to form in the flue and can increase the risk of a chimney fire must be well seasoned. Good (with caution)
Plum A good burning wood that produces good heat output. Good
Poplar A very smokey wood with a poor burn. Very poor
Rowan Is a good burning wood that has a slow burn with good heat output. Very good
Robinia (Acacia) Is a good burning wood that has a slow burn with good heat output. It does produce an acrid and dense smoke but this is of course not a problem in a stove. Good  (For Stoves only)
Spruce Produces a poor heat output and it does not last well. Poor
Sycamore Produces a good flame, but with only moderate heat output. Should only be used well-seasoned. Medium
Sweet Chestnut The wood burns ok when well-seasoned but it does tend to spit a lot. This is of course not a problem in a stove. Medium (For Stoves only)
Thorn Is one of the best woods for burning. It produces a steady flame and very good heat output, and produces very little smoke. Very good
Willow A poor fire wood that does not burn well even when seasoned. Poor
Yew A good burning wood as it has a slow burn, and produces a very good heat output. Very good

Looking for stove fitter in the Banbury Area?

Give us a call! On 01295 738 144.

We’re based in Horley, just north of Banbury, and we install stoves locally both in Banbury itself and in Banbury’s surrounding villages. We are HETAS approved.

We offer other services as well as wood burning and multi-fuelled stove installation, including re-pointing or re-building chimneys, gutter work, roof work and tiling.

We’re fully insured and are completely independent, meaning we’ll fit whichever brand or type of stove is suitable for you and your project.

All of our estimates and site surveys are free and without obligation. We don’t charge for advice over the telephone either, so please feel welcome to ring.

Call Stephen or Carlie on 01295 738 144, or email on

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What’s The Best Way of Cleaning The Glass On A Wood-Burning Stove?

Even the best stoves may get sooty glass once in a while – usually because they’ve been laboured (the wood burnt low and slow for a a long while), or people are burning unsuitable material (like nappies. Really, REALLY unsuitable).

You can buy stove glass cleaner, especially designed for the job, but frankly, we think that’s a bit crackers. Really, you’re paying for a plastic bottle, unknown chemicals and a snazzy sticker.

We clean our stove doors (very rarely – they’re Clearviews) with soapy water (when the stove is cold).

Occasionally, we do  refurbish stoves, and if they have severe baked-on-the-glass goo, Stephen uses a bit of ash on the cloth and then some serious elbow grease. For the worst bits of greeb, try a razor blade, but take care not to scratch the glass.

Polish with scrunched-up newspaper.

Stove Before Re-Furbishment. Serious Goo Problems!