In 1995, businessman Frank Forde came up with an idea for a device to prevent chimney fires. The system won a national innovation award and went into limited production.
However, money to fund growth was scarce and Forde reluctantly pulled the plug on the project on the advice of his business mentor. He returned to his “day job” as a dry cleaner and the idea lay dormant until 2010 when the same mentor suggested it was time to dust off the invention.
Since then, Forde and his business partner, Simon Dagg, have spent more than €150,000 redesigning the product from scratch.
Technology has moved on in leaps in bounds in the interim and the new, patented product uses a combination of sophisticated electronics and customised software to control the system.
Chimney Safe uses cleaning fluid, controlled by a master unit in the attic, to automatically clean the chimney after every 200 hours of use. The product came quietly to market last year and had its official launch in April.
“There are around 900,000 potential Irish customers for the product but the big target markets are the UK, with around 30 million potential customers, and countries such as France and Germany where chimney cleaning is compulsory,” Forde says.
“The unit can be installed in about two hours and is completely automated. The homeowner doesn’t need to run any tests or checks on the system. It will also stop the build-up of carbon monoxide provided it’s serviced annually,” he adds.
The company has received support from the Tipperary North County Enterprise Board and was awarded an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, which it used with researchers in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology.
“We have also had great encouragement from FBD Insurance and they are offering homeowners with Chimney Safe a discount on their house insurance, provided the system is checked annually,” Forde says.
The system works with all types of solid fuel fires and stoves and costs €649 to install with an annual inspection charge of €70. While this outlay might deter some, Forde is keen to point out the long-term savings.
“It will save €50 to €60 a year on sweeps and there will be no fire brigade call out charges which can run into hundreds of euro,” he says.
“The system also provides peace of mind for those a long way from a fire station.”
There has been brisk interest in the invention from the UK, US, Canada and South Africa and while the company has yet to take on its first direct employees, Forde believes it has the potential to support up to 300 jobs.
Chimney Safe is made in Limerick and is currently being used in local authority housing in Tipperary, Galway and Offaly.