Are Chimneys Still Part Of Our Skyline?07 February 2017

Is the demise of the trusty chimney imminent?


Looking upwards, you’ll notice a skyline that boasts an array of chimneys, each standing proud and tall. Yet is the age of the chimney coming to an end? Will our skyline gradually change, to incorporate more roofs without chimneys?


With chimneys on new-builds becoming less and less common, is the demise of the trusty chimney imminent?

As technology changes and advances, the need for the chimney lessens. However, this architectural addition has played an important role in the historical development of how humans live. Before chimneys completely vanish from our roof tops, let’s look at how they have helped your home become what it is.

The Fire Came First

Fire has always been one of man’s most important discoveries. Yet with fire comes smoke, which can seriously affect our health if not properly ventilated.

In the days when man lived under the stars and in caves, smoke naturally dissipated into the sky. But when dwellings became common place, fire was used to heat the inside of these buildings.

This gave rise to a new problem.

A Hole in the Roof

Fire-pits in the middle of dwellings might have warmed the rooms, but they also filled the house with smoke.

Before chimneys were invented, most homes sufficed with a hole in roof to vent out the smoke. This totally inefficient solution was hit and miss at the best of times, and the result was still a mass of internal smoke.

All Hail the Romans

Romans started using tubes inside walls in the bakeries to draw the smoke outside, in an attempt to solve the problem. 

It wasn’t until the 12th century that chimneys were seen in Northern Europe in the larger dwellings. Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire is believed to house the oldest example, dating back to 1185 AD.

In the 16th and 17th century, these rough and ready chimneys started to become more common in normal houses, depending on how much money the residents possessed.

Chimney Fires

However, solving one problem led to another. Earlier versions were often made from wattle and daub, a flammable and inefficient solution.

Chimney fires were common, leading to the English courts in the 17th century demanding their chimneys be built of brick and mortar for safety. A stack that protruded above the roof top was also introduced, to keep sparking on the roof to a minimum.

Keep on Smoking

To enable them to be used for cooking purposes, the fireplaces were deep. The problem was, this meant a large amount of smoke still circulated internally. This challenge remained in place until the true nature of heat became better understood.

Two designs were instrumental in dealing with this issue. In America Benjamin Franklin invented his Pennsylvanian fireplace in the 1740’s to improve heating in homes. He also invented the Franklin Stove to aid efficiency.  

As Europe began to use coal to heat home, dirty coal soot filled the rooms with its smoke, a problem that was eventually corrected by the invention of a fireplace and chimney designed by Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford). This was aimed at reducing and hopefully eliminating the smoke pollution. The Rumford stove and chimney were the precursors of the fireplace and chimney we still use today.

Where is the Chimney Now?

Standard new-build are not so likely to have a chimney included as routine for several reasons. Central heating is now an accepted part of our homes, negating the need for a fireplace. Instead, large flat screen TV’s take pride of place where a hearth used to stand. Also, as land prices increase, units are designed to make the most of small spaces, so the chimney breast is seen as a non-necessity that takes up space. Others think a traditional fire is an inefficient way to warm the home.

Whatever your thoughts on chimneys, there is no doubt they add character and substance to the overall external look of your home. Internally, nothing beats the cosy feeling of cuddling up by a real fire, and watching the flames curl up the chimney.

Will architecture revert, and complete a full circle to make chimneys apart of our new-builds again?

Watch this space!


Posted in Chimney, Roofing, News and tagged roofers, london roofing, chimney, chimney stack.
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