Santa should make the most of the chimneys across the London skyline when he does his rounds on Christmas Eve. In years to come he may be hard pushed to find one.

According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) chimneys are going up in smoke, with new homes not having them and many older homes not maintaining or restoring theirs.

RICS South East Regional Director Trevor Hines warns: “There are three things working against the old-fashioned chimney – an increasing focus on energy efficiency in the home, the space and cost implications of construction and the effort and cost of maintaining them.

“What many people don’t realise is that working open fireplaces with chimneys can add both aesthetic and practical value to a property. But because they take up valuable space and add extra cost to the design of a property they may become the preserve of the upper end of the market.”

Part L of the new Building Regulations due to be introduced in spring 2006, will place particular emphasis on energy efficiency and keeping buildings draft free. Chimneys open to the elements will go against such legislation and are therefore less likely to feature in new build homes of the future.

In older properties many chimneys have been blocked up or are in a state of disrepair. Of the 26 million chimney in the UK, over 6.7 million are in serious need of attention. Only £17bn is currently being spent each year on repairing and maintaining properties – far short of the £48bn needed to bring these homes up to standard, say the surveyors.

Trevor Hines concludes: “We need to balance the requirements for energy efficiency with ventilation, and practicality with aesthetics. We must not make the mistake of creating properties so airtight that they cannot breathe – causing condensation and damp issues.

“A well-maintained chimney and open fireplace can be a bonus all year round, not just a welcome asset at Christmas.”

Chimney Facts:
• In the 17th century the size of a house could be determined by the number of chimneys or hearths it contained, and owners were taxed accordingly, by the Hearth Tax
• Continental chimneys are swept from top to bottom, but British chimneys swept from bottom to top
• Modern day chimneys are made from metal pipes, whereas their primitive predecessors were primarily constructed from mortar and bricks. To retain the classic brick look, many modern chimneys have a stainless steel interior and a brick or brick-like exterior
• New Government regulations require that chimneys have chimney caps on them to prevent rain, animals and debris falling through

How to keep your chimney in top condition:

• Sweep your chimney once a year
• If the chimney is not in use, put a protective cowl on it
• Ensure your chimney is properly ventilated
• Check the stability and condition of the chimney stack from the exterior
• If you don’t have a live fire (gas or solid fuel) consider keeping the the aesthetics of an open fireplace to enhance the appeal of your property