Chimney flue could be insurance risk

01:38, May 30 2011

An insurance industry manager in Nelson is advising caution over the use of a non-approved chimney flue unit that is freely available on the market and now installed in at least 150 homes.

The FlueCube stainless-steel chimney cowl invented by Nelson electrical engineer Neville D'Herville is said to reduce wood smoke pollution. The chimney unit, which sells for $345, has not been approved by the Nelson City Council, which says homeowners who have installed them are in breach of the building code.

AMI insurance Tasman area manager Graeme Duncan said if one of the devices was found to have caused a fire, assessors would look at consenting issues and whether a home was compliant or not.

"We would look to see if it was installed according to compliance regulations. That could prejudice a claim depending on the exact circumstances and whether it could be established if that was the cause.

"If anything is not compliant then the advice is not to proceed with installing it," Mr Duncan said.

Mr D'Herville created the FlueCube in the hope that it could be a panacea for Nelson and Tasman's air-quality issues, which authorities have addressed by the gradual phasing out of older woodburners. He argues that his chimney cowl could have solved the problem. His invention received local and national media attention two years ago, and caught the eye of Nelson MP Nick Smith, who was willing to help Mr D'Herville put the concept through the channels for it to gain approval.


Despite a statement on a website that said the FlueCube complied with New Zealand and Australian standards, the unit has not been officially tested.

Nelson heating systems development engineer Ross Sneddon performed a test that measured the FlueCube's performance against a standard flue kit and could not find any difference between them. He said claims about the FlueCube's combustion effect, said to create an ultra clean-burning system, could not be substantiated, but the venturi system within the unit could over-heat the fire below it.

FlueCube marketing manager Jeremy D'Herville said there was nothing in law that required it to be tested, and the Building Research Association of New Zealand did not have a suitable test.

"The fact is the National Environmental Standards don't include flue caps. Legally, anyone can change a flue cap and they're not included in any testing.

"All this unit is doing is directing atmospheric back-pressure," Jeremy D'Herville said.

Dr Smith said last week that while there were "as many different theories around fireplaces as there are religions", the unit would have to be tested to comply with National Environmental Standards.

Jeremy D'Herville said they had trialled the FlueCube and had people use the units over three winters with nothing but positive feedback. They had sold about 150 units to people in Nelson and around the country.

Nelson woman Debbie Verdonk, who installed a FlueCube last winter, said it worked well because her home was warmer and she burned less firewood. She spoke in the public forum of a recent city council meeting, asking councillors to consider recommending the FlueCube as an alternative to people having to have costly fireplace replacements.

Senior policy planner David Jackson said the council tried hard to persuade Neville D'Herville to have the unit tested, but he "had issue" with the council and authority.

"It needs a test to ensure it operates in the way the operator claims. It needs to be tested for emissions and thermal safety.

"The council won't approve them because they contravene the standards that people have to design and test to," Mr Jackson said.

Dr Smith invited Neville D'Herville to work with the Ministry for the Environment around getting the flue tested and invited him to apply for a grant, but had not heard from him.

Jeremy D'Herville said they struggled with the Nelson council and "the inventor was offended by it". "We know there is no issue with the unit and we are very safety conscious."

Neville D'Herville felt the council had tried to block them all the way because it did not want to be shown up. He said the flue cap could not cause a fire, but would "fix the fireplace problem".

"The only ones suffering here are the consumers," he said.

The Nelson Mail