There is no smoke without fire, and no safe fire without regular cleaning of your chimney. We go through the regulations and costs.
The main legal framework for chimneys and ventilation pipes in France is set out locally, via Article 31 of Règlement Sanitaire Départemental (RSD).
This regulation is only stated in general terms, requiring that owners (and tenants where appropriate) ensure the proper maintenance and operation of a chimney.
The minimum requirement is that your chimney flue pipes or ventilation pipes are cleaned at least once a year. Local regulations in urban areas frequently provide for more regular cleaning. You would need to consult with your local mairie or préfecture
Where a chimney or flue for the evacuation of smoke fumes is in constant use throughout the year, and the flue also serves a business premises, then it must be swept twice a year, including at least once during a period of utilisation.
If you use a ventilation flue from a cooker, then you are obliged to have the flue swept at least once every three years.
In general terms, there are no regulations stating what you can burn in your chimney.
If the flue is not used, then there are no regulations that require they are swept.
There are separate national regulations for apartments (copropriété) not covered here.
Professional Chimney Sweep
In all cases the regulations require that a professional chimney sweep is used, and that a certificat de ramonage be provided by the professional on completion of the work. You cannot sweep your own chimney and comply with the regulations, despite the number of French who do clean it themselves!
Do not simply use any sweep that turns up at the door and offers to do the job. Make sure they are business registered and professionally qualified by an accredited organisation, such as l’Organisme professionnel de qualification et de classification du bâtiment (OPQCB).
The cost will vary by the precise nature of the work, the area in which you live, and the chimney sweep you choose. Expect to pay anything from €40 to €80 per flue. If the sweep is seeking more, then get another quote.
You may well find chemical based products (bûches ramoneuses) in stores that claim to clean your chimney without the need for mechanical cleaning. Whilst the law does not prevent the use of such products, they can only be used on a complementary basis to a sweep of your chimney. There is also the risk they may cause rusting of the flue pipe.
Responsibility for chimney sweeping in a rented property belongs to the tenant, although a landlord is obliged to ensure the chimney is in a good state of maintenance before a new tenant moves in. Within a copropriété it belongs to the Syndicat.
Insurance companies differ in their approach to fires caused by a lack of chimney cleaning.
Whilst the fear about breaching your insurance policy should be taken seriously, you do need to read the policy for the provisions.
If a fire occurred you may be required by the terms of your policy to produce a cleaning certificate; in other cases no such requirement is stipulated.
However, whether or not stipulated, the insurance company could refuse to pay out in the event of the fire if they considered it was caused by your own failure to undertake regular cleaning of the chimney. Ultimately, if challenged, they would need to prove you had been negligent.
Whatever the terms of your policy (and the difficulty of proving negligence), the greater risk may well of course be to your own personal safety.
If the fire causes injury or death to third parties, then you could well face civil or even criminal proceedings.