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Stoves, the BSS, and what people actually do


Antrepat
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I've read quite a lot of threads and seen a lot of pictures online of people's stove installations.  I know this is a topic that's been discussed at length, but I remain puzzled about what's going on when it comes to the BSS.

 

I sought advice from a surveyor who just said "dunno, I'd have to see it" - not a response that filled me with confidence or that was in fact helpful when I'm trying to design something with dimensions that I can be confident will pass an inspection.  Some stove suppliers publish advice such as this (PDF) and this (PDF), which purports to be based on official regulations but is, as far as I can tell, advisory unless the boat is a new build.  The essential recommendation is that there should be 225mm of hearth in front, 150mm to any unprotected side, fireproof panels made of 25mm CaSi board (I suppose vermiculite would work as well) protecting any combustible materials, a gap of 45mm between stove and panels and, for a single-walled flue, at least three times the flue's diameter to any combustible material.  This implies a 650mm square hearth (approximately) with 35mm panels (if tiled) plus 10mm air gaps and something that goes all the way up the wall to the roof.  On a boat that's only 6ft-something wide inside, that's a lot of space.

 

Needless to say, very few of the pictures I've seen of people's actual installations are anything like this.  Typically a stove is crammed into the corner next to steps (let's not open the box of whether that's a good place or not), with a hearth of maybe 50-100mm in front and a few tiles behind it, with no apparent fireproof protection either behind the flue or even sometimes between the stove and a wood-panelled wall or frighteningly adjacent curtain.  A bloke I met at Ellesmere last year said "they just look for scorch marks and if there aren't any, you're fine".  No wonder there are boat fires.

 

You don't hear a continuous flow of stories about people failing their BSS the first time after fitting their new stove, so it appears the surveyors indeed aren't fussed about the recommendations and essentially do "just look for scorch marks".

 

I want a safe installation of what is genuinely a hazardous piece of equipment, but I don't want to take up unnecessary space and I don't want to be the only fool who actually follows the recommendations to the letter (or rather, number) when no one else is bothered.

 

Anyone care to spell out how it actually works?

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Lets just say :

 

The guidance is 'best practice' and should be followed as much as possible (pretty much all of it can be met quite easily).

If you have a problem and the boat catches fire due to a problem with the stove the insurers will 'wriggle' and may not pay out unless 'best practice' has been followed.

 

Your boat your choice.

 

 

 

Boat Stoves Installation.pdf

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I agree, Alan.  I was looking at a thread on Facebook earlier in which people were comparing tiles, and there were pictures of dozens of different boat stove installations, only one of which to my eye looked remotely compliant with what you correctly describe as best practice.  Bearing in mind that the discourse was about tiles, not stove installation practices, I think it counts as a fair random sample of the latter.

 

I'm interested in something safe and my boat, my choice is to be toasty warm whilst not setting fire to the thing or having to make any insurance claim; or, for that matter, to not burn to death in a fire.  Judging by the number of installations with wood trims, panels and fabrics within centimeters of x00deg c stoves and flues, a lot of people are perhaps not appreciating how much risk they're taking.

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Just as an idea, nothing combustible within 100mm of the sides or front of say a Morso Squirrel,  no part of the flue within 100mm of the side lining if wood, 50mm of the roof lining.

 

Many Many are installed within these parameters including mine and nothing gets overheated or scorched.

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57 minutes ago, Tracy D'arth said:

Just as an idea, nothing combustible within 100mm of the sides or front of say a Morso Squirrel,  no part of the flue within 100mm of the side lining if wood, 50mm of the roof lining.

 

Many Many are installed within these parameters including mine and nothing gets overheated or scorched.

 

Someone who's behind those recommended design parameters that I and Alan drew attention to, which are presented as minima, must have indulged in massively risk-averse overkill.  Is that why basically almost everyone just ignores them?  Everyone, BSS inspectors and insurance investigators included, quietly agrees they are ridiculous?

 

That was what my original question was asking.  How do we reconcile the apparently-conflicting recommended minimum standards for good practice with what people actually do, what BSS inspectors are apparently happy to pass (despite allegedly working to the same set of standards), and what is genuinely safe and reasonably practicable?

 

What do insurance companies think?  As Alan said, wouldn't they look askance at any claim for fire damage caused by a stove installation that did not meet the recommended minimum standards?  In their litiginous minds, that is how they would think, isn't it?  It certainly is when it comes to domestic claims: oh, your house burned down because of faulty wiring in your kitchen, and you did it yourself?  Sorry mate, no pounds for you.  Would they not be pressurising for BSS inspectors who had approved non-compliant installations that had caused problems to be penalised?  I don't know, perhaps they do.  Or perhaps everything is as it appears, and no-one pays any attention to these standards and they just apply anecdotal rules of thumb instead.

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There are usually several boat fires a year so existing practice isn't perfect. Often this is not helped by stoking the stove up and ambling off to the pub leaving the vents open. 

Generally insurance companies work on getting x pounds in the kitty from boat/car/home owners, provided claims are well under x pounds they don't care, near to x they get picky, above x and they will find any way of not paying. 

Recently selling my house I had big problems with the woodburner, to the extent I nearly ripped it out. The buyer and surveyor kept on about Hetas certificates and approval. Eventually I got them to understand that as Hetas was founded some 8 years after the woodburner was supplied and fiftted there were no certificates from a non existent body at the time. Following the Hetas guides on a narrow boat really is not possible unless you fit a 10 foot chimney on the roof etc, we can only try to take the important bits and do our best. 

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3 minutes ago, Detling said:

There are usually several boat fires a year so existing practice isn't perfect. Often this is not helped by stoking the stove up and ambling off to the pub leaving the vents open.

 

Yes, there are indeed.  Safe design of the installation is one thing; knowing how to manage a really, really hot metal box of blazing fuel safely is something else altogether.  Setting fire to things is a bit of a lost art and the rapid growth in popularity of setting fire to things over the past few years has no doubt led to some people with no clue causing all sorts of mishaps.

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27 minutes ago, Antrepat said:

Everyone, BSS inspectors

 

I think you may be thinking that the BSS has any say over how you install your stove. They don't, that's why the BSS examiner doesn't worry about it.

 

The BSS is there simply to ensure that anyone passing the boat is not going to get injured and that the boat does not cause pollution in the canal.

 

The BSS statement

 

The Boat Safety Scheme, or BSS, is a public safety initiative owned equally by the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency. Its purpose is to help minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, or pollution harming visitors to the inland waterways, the waterways' workforce and any other users.

 

 

You will note that the BSS has no authority over over risks to the boat owner - that is why, for example, that Ventilation is simply an 'advisory' on the BSS examination and is not a compulsory 'Requirement'.

 

The only way that the BSS was able to introduce the requirement for CO detectors was to use the argument that a boat moored behind you could be emitting CO, which could be drawn into your boat, so you needed an alarm to tell you that someone was putting you in danger. It was NOT to inform YOU that YOUR boat could kill you.

 

On the other hand, your insurers have a financial 'interest' in your boat and if you do things they don't like, they will not pay out.

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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Just now, Alan de Enfield said:

 

I think you may be thinking that the BSS has any say over how you install your stove. They don't, that's why the BSS examiner doesn't worry about it.

 

The BSS is there simply to ensure that anyone passing the boat is not going to get injured and that the boat does not cause pollution in the canal.

 

The BSS statement : You will note that the BSS has no authority over 

 

The Boat Safety Scheme, or BSS, is a public safety initiative owned equally by the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency. Its purpose is to help minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, or pollution harming visitors to the inland waterways, the waterways' workforce and any other users.

 

 

You will note that the BSS has no authority over over risks to the boat owner - that is why, for example, that Ventilation is simply an 'advisory' on the BSS examination and is not a compulsory 'Requirement'.

 

The only was that the BSS was able to introduce the requirement for CO detectors was to use the argument that a boat moored behind you could be emitting CO, which could be drawn into your boat, so you needed an alarm to tell you that someone was putting you in danger. It was NOT to inform YOU that YOUR boat could kill you.

 

On the other hand, your insurers have a financial 'interest' in your boat and if you do things they don't like, they will not pay out.

 

Aha, now this is getting to the nitty gritty of it.  I didn't appreciate that distinction about BSS's remit and aim, no, but I don't quite agree with your interpretation of that statement you've quoted.

 

The inspector doesn't know where a boat is going to be when it catches fire/blows up/emits effluent, so they surely have to assume that every boat has an equal chance of being near and hence endangering other users when it does.  I completely understand your example about ventilators - poor ventilation does not endanger those not on board - but isn't a direct potential cause of fire like a stove a different matter because a mishap with it does directly put other users at risk?  In other words, it's directly in pursuit of the stated aim to protect other users to ensure that stoves are installed safely and won't cause boat fires.  BSS can't control where we moor, how close our boat is to other people, so the only way it has to "minimise the risk of boat fires" doing harm to those not on board is to minimise the risk of there being boat fires at all, which surely means minimising the risk of things that might set fire to the boat actually doing so.

 

Looked at like that, isn't it odd that safe installation of fire-risk appliances is only "advisory"?  "Safe" having therefore to be defined in some way, like with some minimum standards.

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I think this is no different from managing any kind of risk: it's not binary, it's a matter of degree.  The advised minimum dimensions for a stove installation are really those which it is reckoned would genuinely minimise the risk of setting fire to something that's not supposed to be burning.  Not meeting those minima does not mean you're going to set fire to your boat, as the thousands of non-compliant installations practically demonstrate - this is @Tracy D'arth's point, I think.  It does mean, though, that each compromise below those minima does increase the risk: that bit of trim or panel that's only 10cm rather than 20cm away gets rather warm, and it's not going to make it burst into flames but it's representative of increased risk.  And I have seen some terrifying examples in pictures: curtains hanging only centimetres away, for example.  The smaller your hearth, the higher the chance that the next time you open the door and that bit of coal rolls out, it'll roll off the hearth.  The closer your flue to that unprotected bit of wooden panelling, the higher the chance that on that particularly cold night when you really stoked up the stove, the panel that's just got hot before will start to smoulder this time.  The BSS aims to protect waterways users not from themselves, but from others' misfortune or folly, so the inspector eyes up the risks and takes a punt on it being ok.

Edited by Antrepat
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Just now, Antrepat said:

Looked at like that, isn't it odd that safe installation of fire-risk appliances is only "advisory"?  "Safe" having therefore to be defined in some way, like with some minimum standards.

 

Have you actually looked at the BSS requirements detailing what they require for a solid fuel stove installation ?

 

If something is not required, they cannot fail you for not doing it - can they ?

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7 minutes ago, Alan de Enfield said:

 

Have you actually looked at the BSS requirements detailing what they require for a solid fuel stove installation ?

 

If something is not required, they cannot fail you for not doing it - can they ?

 

I did look them up, but it was a few months ago now.  I'm not arguing with the point that they don't "require" anything, they just "advise" some things - I get that completely.  I'm pointing out that protecting other waterways users from boat fires is part of their specific remit, and they can't do that by controlling how close the burning boat is to other users, so the only way they have to fulfil that part of their remit is by minimising the chance of boat fires occurring at all.  In that context, I'm just suggesting that it's odd that this area of things is merely advisory when it seems to be at the heart of what the BSS is trying to achieve.

 

They're not going to fail me because I've got a dodgy stove installation that might kill me, no.  They ought to fail me because I've got a dodgy stove installation that might kill someone else on the boat moored alongside, though, and they have to assume that there will be a boat alongside and it will be occupied because they have no way of knowing that there isn't or it won't be.  That's what I meant.

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Given all the above sage advice, my course of action would be this: look at stoves fitted in boats made in reasonable numbers by boat builders of good reputation. These guys have to achieve their neat fits knowing the guidance and also knowing that they're in deep if their installation was such that it caused a boat fire. The boat fires we hear about are not caused by stoves installed in these boats being operated sensibly by responsible owners, which bracket your thought patterns suggest you fit into.

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The only things 4 different BSS inspectors have ever looked at in relation to my stove installation were: secure fixing to the floor; I think the first one put a smoke pellet in there to see if it was drawing and there was any spillage into the boat. One noticed that a blanking plate on an unused flue outlet was starting to come away and gave me an advisory for that. That was it. 

 

All you can do is try to follow the stove manufacturer's advice as best as you can within the limitations you have on a boat. You won't achieve a 3.5m - 4m minimum combined chimney & flue length for example, which is what many stove manufacturer's call for. Plus go through the document that Alan has posted. So do what you can to make it safe and then stop worrying....

 

Edit: Actually, the only thing I disagree with in the SOLIFTEC document that Alan posted is the bit showing a cemented joint in the flue pipe. Best practice is to have a one piece flue and not to have any joints inside the boat (other than the one to the stove). Fire cement is brittle. The boat might hit a lock wall hard and a joint in the flue becomes loose without anyone realising that it's emitting CO into the boat. You shouldn't be relying on a CO detector/alarm. That's your last line of defence. 

Edited by blackrose
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10 hours ago, Antrepat said:

They're not going to fail me because I've got a dodgy stove installation that might kill me, no.  They ought to fail me because I've got a dodgy stove installation that might kill someone else on the boat moored alongside, though, and they have to assume that there will be a boat alongside and it will be occupied because they have no way of knowing that there isn't or it won't be.  That's what I meant.

 

I think that is going to excess (overthinking it)

 

Following that line of thought, maybe anyone owning a narrow boat should be 'controlled', or, they may hit a canoeist and then slice him up with their propellor, should 'propellors be banned' as dangerous because there is no way of the BSS knowing if you might 'run-over' someone.

 

There is very little legislation on the UK waters (compared to virtually everywhere else in the world), maybe we should be grateful for that rather than asking for greater control over our lives.

Edited by Alan de Enfield
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4 minutes ago, blackrose said:

The only things 4 different BSS inspectors have ever looked at in relation to my stove installation were: secure fixing to the floor; I think the first one put a smoke pellet in there to see if it was drawing and there was any spillage into the boat. One noticed that a blanking plate on an unused flue outlet was starting to come away and gave me an advisory for that. That was it. 

I recently had a new stove fitted.  It was a like for like swap for my old Squirrel.  The guy fitting it, secured it properly to the floor.  The old stove had been installed when the boat was built 20 years ago.  It was never secured to the floor and had passed every BSS since then without comment from any assessor.

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3 minutes ago, doratheexplorer said:

I recently had a new stove fitted.  It was a like for like swap for my old Squirrel.  The guy fitting it, secured it properly to the floor.  The old stove had been installed when the boat was built 20 years ago.  It was never secured to the floor and had passed every BSS since then without comment from any assessor.

 

So it was only secured by its own weight and by the flue pipe above! ?

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You have to use that most unreliable thing - common sense. Boat fires (in my experience and when there is anything left to investigate) tend to start by charring and igniting the surrounding wood, hull lining can be removed, sprayfoam substituted with f/glass wool and then covered with that fireproof board stuff, surrounding woodwork really should not be too close but fireproof board with a good airgap is a must, I reckon the best hearth is a steel tray standing on the ballast with a good depth of cement and tiles in it , cut the floor away, this lowers the back boiler if you have one and gains a useful couple of inches for hot water to climb and helps to thermosyphon. The other danger is the roof around the chimney, cut it back as much as possible before trimming the hole, thin stainless steel is good. Heatshields around the gunwhale overhang and anywhere else are needed.  You can't just bung a paving slab down and plonk a stove on it without really thinking hard about the risks. If I went to the pub or bed and the fire was in I always put a shovel full of ash on it too.

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6 hours ago, blackrose said:

go through the document that Alan has posted. So do what you can to make it safe and then stop worrying....

 

Edit: Actually, the only thing I disagree with in the SOLIFTEC document that Alan posted is the bit showing a cemented joint in the flue pipe. Best practice is to have a one piece flue and not to have any joints inside the boat (other than the one to the stove). Fire cement is brittle. The boat might hit a lock wall hard and a joint in the flue becomes loose without anyone realising that it's emitting CO into the boat. You shouldn't be relying on a CO detector/alarm. That's your last line of defence. 

 

As it happens, I included that document and another version of it in my original post, and believe me, I've studied it thoroughly.  I agree about the cemented joint too - my previous experience with fire cement is that it only takes some slight movement or vibration to make it crumble.

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