Search This Blog

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. 
______________________________________________

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.
___________________________________________
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.
________________________________________

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.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Beware of Contractor Referral Services2

There are a number of contractor referral services available now via the internet, but they may not be all they are cracked up to be. From a contractor's point of view, we see things differently than the consumer and may be able to offer some helpful advice.

When a homeowner is looking for a service contractor through a service such as HomeAdvisor, Yelp, Angie's List, or even Amazon (yes, Amazon has a contractor network now), they assume that the company has been vetted and is someone that will do a job right. While these services do require certain information and go as far as doing a background check in some cases, there is one critical element that they ignore.

Contractor Licensing is not always a state-wide license. In some states like Missouri and Kansas, this is handled at the city or county level. So while many consumers may 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Cut utility bills by using wood-heating appliances

A good 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. 

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 good for the pocketbook because less wood is needed to produce the same amount of heat as older stoves.

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.

A soapstone heater by Tulikivi
Masonry heaters are arguably the best type of wood-burning  
appliance. They use old-world technology consisting of a large mass of masonry and a series of channels installed inside the appliance that trap heat, then transfer the heat slowly through the masonry. Masonry heaters are large and need to be centrally located for maximum benefit. The Masonry Heater Association of North America recommends that a Certified Heater Mason construct a masonry heater since he/she has taken specialized training on this unique appliance.  There are also pre-made kits available through such companies as Tulikivi, but these need to be built by trained experts. The MHA has more information on these efficient site-built appliances on their website at www.mha-net.org.

Fireplace insert by Regency
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 EPA approved efficient wood-burning fireplace insert the fireplace efficiency will be increased by approximately 75%.

Freestanding wood-burning stoves are also very efficient and clean–burning. They work by emitting radiant and convective heat and are best situated in a central location in the home. A stove can be installed in any room with the proper floor and wall protection. A wood stove installed in a basement can provide needed warmth in a cold area, and since heat rises - the floors above will be heated as well.
Freestanding stove by Hearthstone

As far as chimneys go, a Class A stainless steel chimney can be used to vent gasses, or an existing masonry chimney may be used with a stainless steel liner installed.  A professional installer will know which type of flue liner or chimney to use with a particular appliance.

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council suggests hiring a professional to do any type of wood-fueled appliance installation. In some areas, it is a code requirement to have a licensed professional install a wood-burning appliance.  The National Fireplace Institute has a list of NFI Certified wood-burning specialists on their website, and the Chimney Safety Institute of America has a searchable database of CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps.                                                                                                                     
For more information on fuel cost calculators visit http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/woodstoves.html     
_____________________________________________

Marge Padgitt is a chimney industry veteran, author, and publisher living in Kansas City, Missouri. Visit her website at www.chimkc.com or contact her at hearthmastersboss@gmail.com