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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Health Benefits of a Fire in the Hearth

What is it about a fire in the fireplace that immediately elicits feelings of comfort and ease?  Is it the warmth, the sound of gentle crackle and pop, the rhythmic pattern of undulating flames…?

Perhaps all three; along with the added benefit that a fire invites us to slow down, sit down, and enjoy it.

Our modern lifestyle can keep us in a constant state of high alert status, or the “fight, freeze or flight response.”   (FFF) This is a normal, healthy response to stimulus or threat that has kept us humans on the planet for millennia.  A tiny, 2-part gland called the Amygdala that rests in the center of our brains is programed to keep us safe by remembering a threat and triggering a response to it.  IE: Stimulus = Saber-toothed Tiger, Response = Fight, Freeze or Flight.

However, that ancient protective response can be triggered by not-so-life-threatening stimulus in our world today.  In its effort to make sense of the stimuli that it is constantly bombarded with, the Amygdala can generalize and lump vaguely similar threats together.  Think about your most recent trip on a highway.  Did someone cut you off?, not let you in traffic?, run a stop sign? (and you had your kids in the car- whew!)  Your Amygdala reads those stimuli in exactly the same way it has been programmed to read “Saber-toothed tiger” – Yikes!  In addition, the sub-conscious does not know the difference between “real” and “virtual,” so even violent or disconcerting images on TV and through other media can prompt the FFF response.

That protective response floods the body with adrenaline, increases heart rate, slows digestion, tenses muscles and pumps blood to the extremities for fight or flight, leaving the brain sorely lacking in the nourishment it needs for optimal function and us feeling like we just ran a marathon.  No wonder we are tired after a long day!

A surprisingly simple, comforting and elegant way to de-stress and sooth the FFF response is to enjoy the benefits a fire in the hearth.   

Raising body temperature just a few degrees allows more efficient circulation; relaxing the muscles and bringing essential nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body; creating a feeling of safety, security and ease.

The sound of the gentle sizzle and crackle of the burning wood serve as pleasant “white noise” which gives the brain just enough to occupy it, allowing other over-stimulated parts (ie: the Amygdala) to relax and rejuvenate

The almost hypnotic visual pattern created by dancing flames also provide as a pleasant pre-occupation for an over-stimulated brain and may even induce an Alpha brainwave response similar to that experienced in meditation or hypnosis.
Maybe our ancestors were on to something.  After a hard day in Saber-tooth-ville- Fire Good Medicine.

Alice Brink is a Self-Empowerment Coach, Trainer and Mind/Body Healthcare Practitioner and may be reached at

Don't Burn the Christmas Tree!

Chimney fire with flames coming out of the top of the chimney

When deciding what to do with a real Christmas tree this year, be sure putting it into a burning fireplace is not on the list of options. Dry pine is extremely flammable and burns very hot and fast - too fast and hot in fact for a friendly fire inside the fireplace.

Burning dry pine trees are the cause of many chimney fires each year - and many of those evolve into structural house fires. As soon as dry pine is placed on a burning fire it erupts into a ball of fire which reaches up into the flue where flammable creosote can ignite.

Chimney fires may only last a few seconds, but some can last much longer depending on the amount of fuel (creosote) inside the flue that is available to burn. The longer the fire, the higher the risk of flame escaping into the structure.

Instead, think about chopping the tree up into very small pieces to use for kindling throughout the winter. Pine is a great firestarter.  An added benefit is that you can get some exercise while chopping!  If chopping is not your thing, some cities offer Christmas tree pick up service, and will haul the tree off for you.

More ideas for dry Christmas trees:

  1. Cut the tree up into larger pieces to use in an outdoor firepit or bake oven.
  2. Cut the tree trunk into thin slices to make coasters. Sand smooth, and apply a coat of polyurethane to seal in sap.
  3. Cut the trunk into thin slices, then drill a hole near the top for string, and donate to a scout group or school for an art project. 
  4. Use the pine needles for mulch.
  5. Rent a wood chipper and run the tree through it, then use the chips as mulch in the spring.

Marge Padgitt is an author and chimney professional living in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Consumer Alert: Beware of Unlisted Wood Stoves

By Marge Padgitt


There is a big difference in quality and longevity when it comes to wood-burning stoves. Some metal wood-burning stoves and all barrel stove kits being sold by home improvement stores are NOT U.L. Listed or EPA approved, and therefore, cannot be installed in most cities according to the International Residential Code and city codes. 

Wood Stove Kit from U.S. Stove - this is an unlisted product

Wood stove barrel kits allow the consumer to modify a 50-gallon barrel to be used as a wood-burning stove. The barrels were not designed for this purpose, nor have they been tested for this use. It is unknown how long the so called "stove" would hold up. It is definitely not a product with a secondary burn chamber, so would be very dirty burning, spewing black smoke during use. The EPA does not allow such wood stoves to be used. 

So why are these kits sold? Good question, and I don't have the answer to that other than apparently, anyone can sell anything in the U.S. 

When purchasing a wood stove look for a label on the product that says "U.L." or Underwriters Laboratories, which indicates that the appliance has been tested do U.L. standards. If no label exists, it is not legal to install in most cities. 

Check with your local building codes official before purchasing a wood-burning heating appliance to see what their jurisdiction requires. Most major cities require that a licensed contractor do the installation of the stove and chimney or flue liner. The license they are looking for is called an HVAC or Master Mechanical License. Some cities require that a Certified Chimney Sweep by the Chimney Safety Institute of America or an NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist by the National Fireplace Institute do the installation. 

However, it is good advice to not waste your money on these potentially dangerous products. Find a local professional chimney sweep or hearth retailer who carries good quality wood-burning stoves with a warranty. 

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Chimneys should be inspected after recent storm

By Marge Padgitt

Some of the lightning strikes throughout the greater Kansas City area last night hit chimneys. 

A lightning strike caused major
damage to this chimney exterior
and interior
Pieces of bricks on the ground and roof, or blown out sections of a chimney are signs that a recent event occurred and the chimney may have been hit by lightning.

In some cases the damage is so severe that the chimney must be torn down and rebuilt. In other cases where there are only a few damaged bricks or stones these can be removed and replaced with new bricks.

When lightning strikes a chimney the evidence is usually obvious. There is always an entrance and exit point. The entrance point, usually found near the top of the structure, will likely be a large hole with burn marks, and may include large cracks through the masonry or blown out sections of stones or bricks. The exit point is usually found somewhere within the chimney structure in the flue, smoke chamber, firebox, or even the outer hearth inside the house.

Damage not so visible from the ground -
lightning hit the top of the chimney and
pushed a brick out on the back side
A professional chimney inspector should examine any chimney that has been damaged by lighting. The chimney sweep should perform a Level II internal chimney inspection with a chimney camera system in order to see if any interior damages have occurred which make the fireplace, furnace, or water heater flue unusable. Only persons trained specifically on chimneys can identify chimney damages properly and provide the needed documentation for an insurance claim. 

Marge Padgitt is the president and CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. dba Padgitt Chimney & Fireplace. She is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Wood- burning Specialist. Contact Marge at

Friday, August 24, 2018

Cut utility bills by using wood-heating appliances

Cut utility bills by using wood-heating appliances

Fireplace insert by Regency
One way to cut utility bills during cold weather is to use a wood-fired heating appliance such as a masonry heater, wood-burning stove, or wood-burning fireplace insert. 

Freestanding wood-burning stove
by Regency

Today’s modern wood-burning heating appliances are very efficient and clean-burning, unlike their older predecessors. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates wood stove emissions and has strict requirements that stove manufacturers must follow. This is why replacing an older, dirty burning wood stove is good not only for the environment, but less wood is needed to produce the same amount of heat.

Fuel costs can be significantly less than oil, gas, or electric heating appliances, especially if there is a nearby supply of inexpensive cordwood. For homeowners with their own land and trees, the concept of no cost for fuel other than physical exertion is very attractive. For those wanting to live off-grid, have an emergency heating alternative, or just lower fuel costs, the addition of a wood-burning appliance is a good solution.

Masonry Heater by Gene Padgitt
Masonry heaters are arguably the best type of wood-burning appliance. They use old-world technology which is a series of channels installed inside the appliance that trap heat, then transfer the heat slowly through the mass of masonry. Masonry heaters are large and need to be centrally located for maximum benefit. The Masonry Heater Association of North America has more information on these efficient site-built appliances.

Fireplace inserts are appliances that are installed inside an existing masonry fireplace. They use a small stainless steel flue liner and can be used either with or without a blower. By installing a new efficient wood-burning fireplace insert the fireplace efficiency will be increased by approximately 75%.

Freestanding stoves are appliances that are placed in a room and use an existing masonry chimney with a stainless steel flue liner or an independent Class A stainless steel chimney. These types of appliances are also highly efficient.

For more information on fuel cost calculators visit

Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at HearthMasters website is 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What Happens to Chimneys Over the Winter

By Marge Padgitt

Winter is rough on any type of chimney- especially brick or stone chimneys. During the winter months, moisture penetrates the bricks, then freezes. When water freezes it expands and often causes part of the brick or stone to break off.  This is called "Spalling." The constant freeze/thaw cycles over winter can wreak havoc on masonry. Chimneys built with soft type brick are more susceptible to moisture penetration and spalling. 
Check the ground and roof for pieces of brick. This is the first indication that there is a problem. The area most affected will be the portion of the chimney above the roof line since that area is the most exposed.If you see spalling bricks or stones, call an expert to do an inspection and provide a solution. 

If the damage is not too severe, bad bricks can be removed and replaced, then an application of a professional water repellent sealer is recommended to reduce penetration of water. 

If the damage is widespread, the only solution is partial or complete tear down and rebuilding of the chimney. 

WATER is the primary problem when it comes to chimney damages! 

Rain water not only causes damage to bricks, but causes deterioration of the cement cap/crown. The cement cap is what keeps rain water out of the chimney interior where it can cause even more problems such as washing out mortar joints in the interior chimney and tile flue liners, deterioration of the smoke chamber and fireplace, and rusting of the damper.  

Hint: Do NOT paint or stucco over masonry chimneys - this only traps moisture inside the bricks and causes them to fail more quickly. 
Flashing that is poorly done, missing, or in need of repair can cause water leakage into the home and damage to rafters, joists, ceilings, and walls. Flashing should be checked each spring, and especially right after a roof repair or replacement is completed. 

The best way to avoid costly water damage is to keep it out and off of a chimney! 

  • Have chimneys checked in the spring by a professional chimney sweep/mason
  • Put a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover on all flues to keep most of the rain out of the interior flues
  • Repair or replace bad cement crowns/caps with a code required 2" drip edge to keep water off of the masonry below the crown where the most damage is usually found
  • Have a professional water repellent masonry sealer applied
  • Make sure J and Counter flashing is in good shape and sealed completely

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters Masonry School and HearthMasters Restoration in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Negative House Pressure Problems

Smoking Fireplaces & Stoves —Smelly Fireplaces—Poor Indoor Air Quality

Many homes have negative pressure problems—this is common when homes are tightly insulated, or in larger or multi-story houses.  Not enough make-up air can get in the house for all of the things that need air, like fireplaces, wood stoves, gas ranges, furnaces water heaters — and people. Sick House Syndrome can also be a result of this issue and it is more common than most people think. 

Symptoms: Fireplaces or wood stoves smoke or smell when a second fireplace is used or when a furnace kicks on - or even when none of these things happen. This is because the furnace or fireplace needs air for combustion, and takes it from the place of least resistance which is often a fireplace.  This is a house problem—not a chimney problem.

When an exhaust fan is used in the kitchen or bath, or the furnace is used, this makes the problem worse.  You may notice cold air drafts coming from fireplaces, fireplaces that smoke, Carbon Monoxide backup from the furnace, gas fireplace, or hot water heater, or leaky doors and windows. These are all symptoms of negative pressure in the house. Sometimes unexplained illness and flu like symptoms can be an indication of negative house pressure as well.

GAS appliances may backdraft Carbon Monoxide without the occupant's knowledge - CO is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Tip: don't ignore CO alarms-if one goes off there is a reason. 

 Solutions to the problem: 

The Draw Collar has an electric element that keeps the flue heated so that draft is always established and going up and out of the chimney. In addition to reducing or eliminating smells from the flue the inducer prevents back-drafting and smoking issues when starting a fire or at the end of the fire while it is cooling down. We recommend installation of a draft inducer with every stove insert or freestanding stove on a lower level of a home. However, it does not address the rest of the appliances or house. 

Condar through the wall ventilator: The Condar ASV-90 provides the ventilation you need without the drafts, energy loss and security concerns of an open window. Open windows can give you a blast of arctic air–along with dust, noise, and security concerns. The ASV-90 delivers diffused, filtered, fresh air quietly and efficiently. This is installed in a wall in the room where an appliance does not properly draft. 

NEW: The Padgitt MHV (Make-up Air Ventilator) system brings in needed air on demand from the house, heats it during the winter months, then distributes air through the house through the cold air returns. This supplies needed combustion air for all appliances in the house including the furnace, hot water heater, and fireplaces.  It also re-supplies the house with 6 fresh air exchanges per day as recommended by the EPA for occupants to breathe. Better health is a side-effect of this installation. A handy person, HVAC Tech, or Chimney Tech can do the installation. Sized to the house. 
See more information at

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. She is the publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine and and author of chimney and venting books and articles. Marge is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Wood-Burning Specialist. Contact Marge at