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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Get Your Chimney Ready for Fall and Winter:

By Marge Padgitt, President of HearthMasters, Inc.

The following are tips for keeping your chimney and fireplace in good order for the season:  

  •  Have all chimneys inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep to be sure they are in good working order. The sweep will inspect the interior with a chimney camera and the entire exterior wood or masonry structure visually.  He/she will look for cracks, gaps, or missing mortar joints in the flue, check for proper flue size, check the smoke chamber and fireplace condition, flashing, crown, and chimney cover. The best time to have this completed is in the spring or summer when chimney sweeps are not as busy.
  • Have flues serving wood-burning appliances swept annually or bi-annually to remove flammable creosote and reduce the risk of chimney fire. All wood creates creosote - even dry hardwoods. 
  • Have the furnace or water heater flue inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep to be sure it is not a Carbon Monoxide risk. Blockages or flues in poor condition can be a CO risk. Even a CO detector does not register all levels of toxic CO gas so it is important that these flues are maintained and are functioning properly. 
  • Have gas direct vent fireplaces or stoves tuned up and serviced annually to assure

    Gas direct vent fireplace
    proper performance. Dirt, dust, and spiders clog orifices and can make the unit inoperable. Annual service is required by the manufacturer for warranty coverage on all brands. This is often overlooked by homeowners and these appliances will malfunction if not
    maintained properly. Change batteries in the sending unit and in the remote control every 3 - 6 months.
  • Make sure that a chimney cover is installed on top of each flue to keep damaging rain and animals out of the flue. A cover should be installed on each flue or a custom-cover can be made to cover all flues and the cement crown. Use a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover because black steel rusts and will need to be replaced.
  • Masonry problems such as cracked mortar or bricks, deteriorating mortar or spalling bricks should be repaired in the spring and summer months to allow for proper cur


    ing, so plan accordingly.
  • Cement cap with a drip edge prevents
    damages to the bricks belowAdd caption
    Have an elastomeric sealant applied to the cement crown to protect it from weather damage. Cement crowns/caps keep damaging rain water out of the chimney chase. If the crown is in poor shape, it may need to be rebuilt.
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Marge Padgitt is a writer and industry veteran. See more information at www.chimkc.com

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How an Outdoor Oven can Complement the Rest of Your Backyard Space

By Matt Lee

An outdoor oven can truly complement the rest of the backyard space, as it brings another social element to the backyard and creates a memorable experience. Outdoor kitchens and ovens drastically add to a home’s value, as it makes the space great for entertaining. Below, we’ll chat about how an outdoor oven will exactly enhance the rest of your yard. 

Add Aesthetic Value 

When you integrate an outdoor oven to an entire outdoor kitchen space, your home’s value increases dramatically. You can match the texture and finish to your existing home to ensure that it provides a continuous experience as you’re entertaining. This may mean choosing quartz countertop colors that complement the oven and painting cabinets to match the roof and house color combinations. When it comes to the countertops, they truly must serve a dual purpose in functionality and aesthetic value, as they’ll be exposed to the changing seasons and elements. 

Set Your Home Apart

Now, while more and more homeowners are impressed by an outdoor kitchen space, that doesn’t mean that many homes already have them. Having an outdoor oven will set your home apart and give it a unique touch that your neighbors

are unlikely to have. Furthermore, who doesn’t love pizza?! Wood-fired outdoor pizza ovens are quickly becoming more and more popular, as they’re easy to install and can fit into the design of any existing outdoor backyard. You can take the oven a number of ways, whether you prefer a stainless steel, stucco, or brick look (which pairs well with vinyl cedar shake siding). Homeowners love cooking in wood-fired ovens, as they invite a number of cuisine possibilities and can also help you get outdoors during wintertime. 

Increase Practicality


Aesthetics outside, having an oven and/or kitchen space outdoors makes mealtimes more efficient and facilitates seamless entertaining. While many designers are opting for sliding glass panels between the kitchen and outdoor living spaces, constructing an outdoor kitchen instead brings your home to the next level.

An outdoor oven can add tremendous value to your home. With more and more focus on cohesive living spaces, the outdoor oven will invite your guests outside and add a value room to your home. 

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Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Spring and Summer Bring Pesky Animals into Chimneys

Birds nest inside chimneys where they can cause problems Birds look for dark and safe places to nest and lay eggs in the spring and an open chimney can be an irresistible location for expecting bird parents.

Unfortunately for homeowners, nesting birds inside chimneys can mean big problems. Besides the obvious fire hazard from flammable nests, there may be the constant annoying chirping of baby birds.  And perhaps not so obvious, the health hazard from bird droppings which can contain the disease histoplasmosis.

Squirrels and raccoons also like to keep house inside chimneys and these creatures can cause even more havoc for homeowners. Squirrels are noisy and build large nests that block flues, and raccoons carry roundworm and rabies. If either escapes into the house through a damper, , they may damage the interior of the house.

Therefore, it is best to stop birds, squirrels, and raccoons from entering masonry or prefabricated chimneys in the first place. This can be accomplished by having a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover with bird screen installed on top of the flue liner of a masonry chimney, or a proper cover installed on a prefabricated chimney pipe. Some older prefabricated chimney pipe covers were not adequately designed to keep birds out of the inner and outer chimney walls, making this type of pipe an even more serious fire hazard.  The addition of a screen in this area will stop the birds from entering but any nesting materials should be removed if found between the chimney walls.


According to the National Chimney Sweep Guild and Midwest Chimney Safety Council, all chimneys should be inspected annually and swept as necessary by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. During the inspection, the sweep will look for nesting materials, dead birds, flammable creosote, and other issues and remove them. Chimney sweeps can install chimney covers that will keep birds and other animals out of flues. Covers come in different sizes and shapes such as individual covers to fit on a single flue or multi-flue covers that cover two or more flues.

It is important to get a chimney cover installed in early spring before birds and squirrels start to nest.  According to the Migratory Bird Act, no nesting birds may be removed from chimneys, and to do so can result in a hefty fine for the homeowner and chimney sweep. If birds do get in a chimney flue before a cap is installed homeowners need to wait until the birds leave in order to have the flue cleaned out and a chimney cover installed. The MCSC advises against using inexpensive black steel chimney covers found at box stores because they rust and stain the chimney. Stainless steel chimney covers are long-lasting, are a deterrent to animals such as squirrels and raccoons, and will never rust. For these reasons it is worth the extra expense to purchase stainless steel chimney covers rather than black steel covers. 
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Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City Missouri. The company designs and builds and maintains masonry heater, brick ovens, chimneys, and fireplaces. Marge is the author of the Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book and others. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Plan now for Emergency Heating and Cooking

As we all contend with the Coronavirus worldwide, emergency preparedness is on everyone's mind. I'm sure by now that most people have become painfully aware of how unprepared they have been, and are considering how to get ready for the next emergency. And there will be one, no doubt.

Emergency heating and cooking should be something that everyone plans for. We've all experienced temporary electrical outages, and there may be a time when gas is not available, either. As someone familiar with wood-fired appliances, I recommend that everyone has a backup plan using the appliances of your choice.

There are several options available. The first thing most people think about is getting a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace insert. These are good options for supplemental or primary heating if the appliance is located in the center of the home. Keep in mind that the bedrooms will be much cooler than the common spaces. An open floor plan is best so that heat can reach further.

Cookstove by Hearthstone
For cooking, using the top of a wood-burning freestanding stove is an option, but it can be frustrating to use the small space over a long period of time. A better option would be a wood-burning cookstove with a stovetop and oven. As a bonus, the stove produces heat as well.

Outdoor brick oven by
Gene Padgitt
In Italy and France, it is very common for each household to have an outdoor brick oven and the idea is becoming very popular in the U.S. With an outdoor wood-fired oven it gives a person the option of using a different fuel which may be more available than gas or propane, and it keeps heat out of the kitchen in the summer months. Food tastes better when cooked in a brick oven, too. Wood-fired ovens can be heated to over 700 degrees, which is excellent for cooking pizza.

Masonry heater with bake oven
by Gene Padgitt
The best option, in my opinion, is a masonry heater. Masonry heaters are large site-built or pre-cast kits that are assembled on site. They have a large mass of masonry and interior channels that trap heat. By far, they are the most efficient and clean-burning appliances and use 1/3 the amount of wood that a high-efficiency wood-burning stove or insert uses to produce the same amount of heat. Masonry heaters work differently as they retain and release heat over a longer period of time. A great option to add is a bake oven over the masonry heater firebox on either side. Most people prefer to have the oven on the kitchen side of the heater, and the firebox on the living room side. This option is the most expensive.

Plan now for the installation of an appliance this summer, before the busy fall season.
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Marge Padgitt is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist. She is the author of The Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book, and The Homeowner's Guide to Heating and Cooking with Wood. Reach her at hearthmastersboss@gmail.com

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Masonry repairs should be done in the spring

By Marge Padgitt


Badly spalling bricks on a chimney
If there are pieces of bricks or stones lying around the yard or driveway, it could be a sign that masonry repair is needed. The first place to look for damages by cold, freezing rain, and wind is the chimney since it is the area most exposed to the elements.

Signs that repairs or rebuilding is needed are missing or deteriorating mortar joints, cracked bricks or stones, or faces of masonry popped off. This is due to the penetration of water into the masonry- and when water freezes it expands, which usually results in the face of a brick or stone breaking off.

Badly spalling bricks
Unfortunately, many chimneys are built with soft type bricks rather than hard type bricks due to the cost.  Soft bricks absorb moisture more easily than hard bricks. After a few years, the soft bricks will begin to show damage, but after 30 years any type of brick or stone chimney will likely show damages of some type, if only to the mortar joints.  In some cases, masons have found completely deteriorated bricks with hard mortar left behind. In other cases, the bricks are good but the mortar is severely deteriorated or missing altogether. When this occurs it is a sign that the wrong type of mortar was used.  For this reason, the Midwest Chimney Safety Council recommends that chimneys should be built or reconstructed using hard bricks and the right type of mortar which will last many years longer than those built with soft masonry units.

Mortar deteriorated so badly that
the chimney is falling apart
Mortar sets up better when the work is done in the spring when temperatures are moderate so the curing process can complete without issue. If the temperature is too cold, the mortar can crack and take a long time to cure. If the temperature is too hot the water in the mortar may migrate to surrounding masonry and shrink. Professional masons can control some of this by adding an accelerant in cold weather or soaking bricks in water before using them in hot weather, but they much prefer working with masonry in ideal weather conditions.

Cement cap with drip edge
The cement cap (crown) should be inspected in the spring to assure that it is in good condition with no cracks, deterioration, or lifting. The cap serves as a roof for the chimney and keeps the elements out of the interior chimney chase where rain can cause damage to the interior flue, smoke chamber, damper, and firebox. Any small cracks or gaps should be filled with high temp silicone, but if large cracks, severe deterioration, or missing sections of the cap exist a new cap should be constructed.  As of 2012, the International Residential Code required a poured formed crown with a drip edge to better protect the chimney from damaging rainwater. The old-style crowns with a slope but without a drip edge actually contribute to the fast deterioration of masonry at the top part of the chimney, so this newer style is a big improvement.
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Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. and HearthMasters Education in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at hearthmastersboss@gmail.com

Monday, January 20, 2020

Older Inefficient Wood Stoves Should be Replaced

From Burn Wise by the EPA:

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than 17.5 million fireplaces, 241,000 hydronic heaters, and 10.1 million wood stoves nationwide.  The EPA estimates that 65 percent (6.5 million) of the nation’s wood stoves are older, inefficient devices.

Smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces contain a mixture of harmful gases and small particles. Breathing these small particles can cause asthma attacks and severe bronchitis,
aggravate heart and lung disease, and may increase the likelihood of respiratory illnesses. Particle pollution exposure can lead to a variety of health effects. For example, numerous studies link
particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits—and even to early death. Research indicates that obesity or diabetes may increase risk. New or expectant mothers
may also want to take precautions to protect the health of their babies because some studies indicate they may be at increased risk.
Some studies also suggest that long-term PM 2.5 exposures may be linked to cancer and to harmful developmental and reproductive effects, such as infant mortality and low birth weight.

Changing out one old dirty, inefficient wood stove is equivalent to the PM2.5 pollution reduction of taking five old diesel trucks off the road.

New 75% efficient insert by Regency
Benefits of replacing an old wood stove with an EPA-certified stove:
 saves money, fuel, time, and resources.
 up to 50 percent more energy efficient.
 uses 1/3 less wood for the same heat.
 cuts creosote build-up in chimneys that helps reduce the risk of fire.

After start-up, a properly installed, correctly used EPA-certified wood stove should be smoke-free. If you see or smell smoke that means you may have a problem.

To help reduce smoke, make sure to burn dry wood that has been split, stacked, covered, and stored for at least 6 months. Never burn garbage, plastics, or pressure-treated wood.

Research estimates 70 percent of smoke from chimneys can actually reenter your home and your neighbor’s home. (Pierson et al 1989)

Consider using a HEPA filter in the same room as your stove or fireplace. A study from the University of British Columbia indicates that HEPA filters can reduce indoor particle pollution by 60 percent.


Avoidable Chimney Fires Account for Loss of Life and Property

Chimney fires account for over 50,000 home structure fires annually.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that in 2011, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 14 percent of all reported home fires.

In 2013, one home structure fire was reported every 85 seconds. (NFPA)

Note that these statistics are for structural fires only, and do not include chimney fires that are contained to the chimney. The cost for damages to chimneys is unknown but estimated to be high.

The leading factor contributing to home heating fires was a failure to clean creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys. (NFPA) All chimney fires can be prevented by having  regular sweeping and maintenance performed by a professional chimney sweep, who will remove flammable creosote and inspect the chimney. The NFPA suggests annual inspection and sweeping as necessary for open wood-burning fireplaces, and bi-annual sweeping for wood stoves and wood-burning fireplace inserts.

The United States Fire Administration estimates that wood stoves cause over 4,000 residential fires every year.

Confined fires, those fires confined to chimneys, flues or flue burners, accounted for 87 percent of residential building heating fires. (USFA)

Thirty percent of the non-confined residential building heating fires occurred because the heat source was too close to combustibles. (USFA)

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 150 people die on average per year from carbon monoxide poisoning, related to the use of combustion appliances, including wood stoves, in the home.

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Marge Padgitt is a veteran chimney technician and owner of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at www.chimkc.com.