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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 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Types of wood to burn in a fireplace or stove

Choosing the right type of wood and drying it properly is important to the operation and performance of a wood-burning appliance. Green firewood may contain 50% or more water by weight. It produces less heat because heat must be used to boil off water before combustion can occur. Green or wet wood also produces much more smoke and creosote than dry wood. For these reasons—never burn wet wood.

Firewood should always be purchased dry or allowed to dry before burning. The best way to assure this is to purchase or cut it down it at least six months in advance and leave it in the woods, then stack it and leave for another six months so you know it is dry. Leaving the cut wood in the woods for six to twelve months allows the oils to dissipate and any bugs or critters will leave the wood and not travel home with you.
Stack wood in an area that gets a lot of sunlight rather than shade. Orient wood so that the cut ends face the direction of the prevailing wind. In the Unites States wind usually moves from west to east but if you live in a valley it may be different based on warm air rising, so face wood in the direction the deer move.
Be mindful of what your woodpile looks like as the neighbors may complain to the city if it is unkempt, or offer praise your it is straight and neat. If you really want to impress passersby, stack the wood in a cool design (there are some amazing creations on the internet).
The woodpile should be kept off of the ground to avoid rot. This can be accomplished by using bricks, blocks, or treated 4 x 4’s placed  lengthwise on the ground.
Arrange wood with gaps between the pieces so that air can circulate. Stack split pieces bark side up to shed moisture. To support the pile use a purchased holder or standing trees, fence posts, or rebar driven into the ground. Stack in one log thick ricks for faster drying. The old myth about keeping the wood pile some distance away from any buildings to avoid termites and carpenter ants is not true. The queen lives underground and without her the critters are harmless. However, brown recluse spiders do love woodpiles so that is reason enough for me to keep the wood pile at least 25’ from the house. Always use gloves to handle wood to avoid an unwelcome bite.
Be sure to make a roof of some type, whether from a tarp or even a roof built of shingles to keep water and snow off of the wood, keeping in mind that the sides need to be open to allow for air movement. More industrious wood burners may want to build a more sturdy and permanent structure with posts and a roof.
When bringing wood indoors for use, leave it near the stove or fireplace for a couple of days to further remove moisture (keep wood at least 36” away from the opening).
The difference between soft woods such as fir, cedar, or alder and hard wood such as white oak, mulberry, or walnut is density. The heavier hard woods contain more heat per volume, therefore less wood is needed and loading (putting wood on the fire) is needed less often. This is especially important for wood-burning stove users because the burn time is longer.
Some firewood dealers sell "mixed hardwood" or mixed soft and hardwood” firewood. This may or may not be desirable, depending on the proportion of low- density hardwoods that are included., so be sure to ask what types of woods will be in the mix. Softwoods are less deisreable, so the price will be less than for hardwoods.
When purchasing firewood be sure to ask if you are getting a full cord, face cord, rick, or pickup load as the volume varies greatly. A full cord measures eight feet wide by four feet deep and four feet high and is 128 cubic feet in volume. 
   Firewood has been bought and sold this way since colonial times. A face cord, sometimes called a rick, measures eight feet wide by four feet high by depth depending on cut length. Cut length is usually 12—18” long. You may request cut length at the time of purchase to fit your stove.
   A pickup load is generally 64 cubic feet in volume depending on if it is stacked or piled in. A randomly piled load will have less wood content. Ask the wood dealer if he will split the wood for you and if not, you will need to split the larger pieces so they will dry out properly.

Basically, all wood has the same BTU’s per pound, but serious wood-burners use an appliance such as a wood-burning stove or masonry heater burn hardwoods which offer a longer burn time and less time splitting. Hedge and Hemlock are not recommended due to the amount of sparks emitted. Hedge burns very hot and can damage wood-burning stoves. If you must use hedge, mix with other wood types.
To be sure wood is dried to 20% or less moisture content use an inexpensive moisture meter to test it. If no meter is not available bang two pieces of cut wood together. If they sound hollow and loud, the wood is dry. If the sound is a low thud the wood is still wet.
Wood is dry when it is "checked"
 (splits in the wood)
You’ll need an axe, a set of splitting wedges, and a maul in order to split your own firewood. To make the task easier, purchase a manual or hydraulic log splitter ($40—$200), or a gas-powered log splitter ($1,000 +). More serious wood-burnings will want to invest in a good log splitter that will last for years. 

Make kindling by splitting some cordwood up into very small pieces. Dry pine is great for kindling purposes.  Fatwood is a very good fire starter with only 2-3 pieces needed to start a fire using one match. Fatwood is derived from the heartwood or center of pine trees and is loaded with pine resin which is very flammable. Harvest fatwood from the center of pine stumps or purchase from hearth dealers or chimney sweeps.
Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. chimney and fireplace contracting company. She is an industry writer and speaker. Contact Marge at 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What you Should Know about Chimney Fires

The following information is from studies conducted and researched by the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, HearthMasters, Inc. ,and the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Much of this information is from the book Causes, Effects and Evaluation by the CSIA. A copy of the book may be obtained by calling the CSIA at 317-837-5362. 

These questions often come up when evaluating chimney damages: What is 
chimney fire damage?  And what other possible causes might there be for damages to a flue liner, chimney, smoke chamber, and chimney cover?  The MCSC has put together these guidelines in order to help insurance adjusters, engineers, and chimney inspectors determine the causes for chimney damages. This is very brief outline, and we suggest that a copy of the book named above be obtained if further explanation is needed.

​- Most chimney fires occur without the homeowner’s knowledge—in fact, only very few fires are witnessed or reported to the fire department.

​- When a sudden temperature differential of 500 degrees occurs in a chimney, the clay tile flue liners will crack due to expansion. This differential cannot be obtained by the normal operation of a fireplace or wood stove, and has not been able to be duplicated in field study.  Studies show that a chimney fire is the most likely candidate for the cause of tile liners to break. 

Longitudinal break in tile flue liner Photo: HearthMasters, Inc.
- Tile liners will break longitudinally first, due to the nature of their construction, then horizontal and diagonal cracks will occur in more severe fires. - A NON-creosote chimney fire can occur when flue gasses accumulate in the flue and will ignite when      temperatures reach 1000 degrees. Note: Creosote ignites at 1000 degrees. - Burnt, ash creosote may found in the flue and smoke chamber after a chimney fire.  This is lightweight, expanded creosote that can only be created by a chimney fire.  - Isolated scorched areas of the flue may be present (although not always) and are positive indications of a chimney fire, since accumulating creosote does not avoid particular areas. - Tar glaze may have melted away from the fire. Some creosote may melt and flow away from the combustion zone and may be found in the smoke chamber or damper area, or around the thimble entrance of a stove pipe, or around a chimney cover. - Fires of long duration may cause thermal expansion of the masonry such as the
Longitudinal break in 2' section of  clay tile flue liner after a chimney fire. Note that the break goes all the way  through to the back side. 
cement crown, facial wall, and exterior chimney, which will result in clean breaks in the masonry. - Holes and mortar bond breaks may be found in the smoke chamber area and flue after a chimney fire due to expansion. - The chimney cover may be warped, discolored, or damaged.  Myths regarding tile flue liner damages - Thermal fatigue (p 4-11) (years of expansion and contraction) cracking: no evidence is found to support this idea. - Lightning: (p 4-9) lightning can damage flue liners, but there is usually other damage to the chimney such as blown out bricks at the top of the stack. - Moisture– (page 4-12) Rain entering the chimney from the top of the flue and from condensing flue gasses: Washed-out mortar joints and spalling (flaking) flue liners are caused by moisture. No evidence has been found to support the suggestion that cracked tiles are the result of moisture damages, however, if the chimney was not constructed properly with air space between the flue and surrounding masonry, and water leaked into the chimney between the flue and masonry and froze, it is not inconceivable that the expansion might cause a liner to crack horizontally. - Settlement: (4.3.3) “Settlement is an overly-used diagnosis of distress in masonry structures of all types.” However, it does occur.  Look for inadequate foundation or footing and uneven settling.  Also look for shifted or offset flue tiles, which shows movement. 
Marge Padgitt is the owner of HearthMasters, Inc. chimney restoration company in Independence, Missouri. She is the editor of Wood-Fired Magazine and author of several industry books. Contact Marge at

Friday, December 29, 2017

Chimney Safety Warning During Arctic Blast

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council warns homeowners to safely operate wood and gas heating appliances during periods of bitter cold in order to avoid fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

December 29, 2017
Kansas City, Missouri

The National Fire Protection Association statistics indicate that there are 245,000 house fires annually caused by heating equipment such as wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council believes that this number is only a fraction of the actual statistics based on findings by chimney sweeps who service chimneys.

The NFPA states that there are 72,000 deaths caused by Carbon Monoxide exposure annually.  
During periods of very cold weather more accidental fires and CO poisoning occur. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council recommends that homeowners take measures to assure the safety of their family by following these recommended guidelines:


C.Scott Dorret -

Do not use an open fireplace for heating purposes. Fireplaces are decorative appliances to be used for ambience only. Over use of an open fireplace can cause hidden combustibles in the walls or framing around the fireplace to ignite and cause a house fire. This applies to manufactured fireplaces and masonry fireplaces.

  •      Do not leave a wood-burning stove or fireplace unattended.
  •      Do not burn hedge, dry pine, or a Christmas tree in a fireplace or stove. These woods burn very hot and fast, and can cause a chimney fire.
  •      Do not burn treated wood or colored paper in a fireplace or stove. These items create toxic fumes which can cause illness or death.
  •      Don’t burn anything other than dry cordwood or pallet wood in a fireplace or stove.
  •      Have a fireplace inspected and swept annually by a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. Sweeping removes flammable creosote from the smoke chamber and flue liner. Have a wood-burning stove or insert swept twice per year.
  •      Keep the accumulation of flammable creosote down by using a product like Anti-Creosote Spray each time a fire is burned.
  •      Place ashes in an ash bucket and take outside to cool off with the lid on the bucket on a non-combustible surface before disposing of them or putting them in the garden. Ashes and embers can smolder for up to two weeks.
  •      Have furnace, boiler, or water heater flues inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep to assure that the flue is not clogged by nests or debris, is sized correctly, and does not have cracks or voids which can cause Carbon Monoxide backup into the home. Even low levels of CO not detectable by a CO detector can cause illness and permanent brain damage.
  •      Do not ignore a CO detector alarm- CO is colorless, odorless, and tasteless so there is no way a human can detect CO.
  •      Be sure to install new batteries and assure proper operation of smoke detectors. Install at least one smoke detector on each level of the house, including in the attic near the chimney.
  •      In case of a chimney fire or CO alarm, get out of the house and call the fire department immediately.

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council is a 13-state regional association which provides educational classes and workshops to chimney and hearth industry professionals and the public.  

Contact Marge Padgitt at or 816-461-3665 or contact one of our members listed on the website for more information. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Best Wood-Fired Restaurants in the U.S. and Canadafotol

Our team has been out and about checking out wood-fired restaurants in the U.S. and Canada in order to share the best of the best with our readers.  Many restaurants cook more than pizza - some offer entire menus with food cooked in a wood-fired oven.  But true pizza connoisseurs will only eat pizza cooked the traditional way in a wood-fired brick oven because the taste can't be beat!  

When you're in the neighborhood, be sure to taste test and let us know what you think!

The Old Garage Wood Fired Pizza520 Durham St E
Walkerton, ON N0G 2V0 Canada
Handcrafted gourmet wood fired pizza an salad.

Royce Wood Fired Steakhouse at the Langham1401 South Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
Variety of steaks, oysters, yellowfin tuna tartare, marinated Hamachi seasonal land and see dishes.

The Rock Wood Fired Kitchen2420 Columbia House Blvd
Vancouver, WA 98661
Pizzas, Burgers, Sandwiches, Ribs, Pasta, Tacos, soups and salads

Wood Fired Pizza Terrace134 Madrona Dr.
British Columbia, V0N 1PO CA
Oceanfront inn & spa, wood fired pizza, with or without gluten free crust, salad, wild coho salmon, prawns and roasted chicken breast.

Wood Fired Eats AKA Girasole Restaurant & Bar8438 N Lombard
Portland, OR 97203
Pizza, pulled pork Sammy, wood fired cinnamon rolls and craft cocktails.

Wood Fired Oven 
75 Augusta Ave
Grottoes, VA 24441
Pizza, Chicken Francesco, pasta, sandwiches burgers  and  draft beer

Franny’s 348 Flatbush Ave
Brooklyn, NY. 11238
Pizza, wood roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes with hot peppers, crostini with roasted pancetta and leek butter an herbed olives.

iTrulli122 E 27th St
New York, NY 10016
Tagliere, Sapori Pugliesi, Antipasti, Primi Piatti, Contorni

Red Door Woodfired Grill6324 Brookside Plaza
Kansas City, MO 64113
Burgers, Chicken, Prime Rib all cooked with the “smoky trinity”, Pecan, Oak and Hickory wood.

Great Wood Fired Pizza54 Rue Couillard
Quebec City, Quebec G1R 3T3 Canada
Arancini with mushrooms, snails au gratin, veal calf, beef carpaccio, prosciutto and melon, smoked salmon, salads, soups, pizza, pasta and rice.

Rossopomador118 Greenwich Ave
New York, NY  10011
Broccoletta pizza with brussel sprouts, guanciale an crème fraiche, verdure al forns (roasted veggies)

La Strada Wood Fired Brick Oven Restaurant2100 Merrick Ave
Merrick, NY 11566
Pasta, Eggplant, chicken, veal, beef, fish, pizza, baked clams, shrimp, and raw clams.

Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Pizza, shishitopeppers, veggie caponata, focaccia with herbs and sea salt

Grotto Wood Fired Grill & Wine Cave10 Center St
Eureka Springs, AR 72632479-363-6431
Tapas, Pizza

Sam’s Cellar Bar & Oven101 N Wood St
Neosho, MO. 64850
Pizza, wood fired ravioli, wings, wood fired pretzels, signature seafood dip, salads, wraps and subs.
Note: We’ve eaten here and they’re great!

Sebella’s Fire Wood-Fired Pizza1196 NE Douglas Street
Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Anitpasta, pizza, paninis and desserts Note: We’ve been here, too, and the food is wonderful!

Providence Pizza
12925 US 71 Hwy
Grandview, Missouri
New York style pizza, Sicilian style pizza, Neapolitan style pizza, calzones, sandwiches, salads, tiramisu, cannoli, cheesecake, and gelato desserts, beer. Note: HearthMasters, Inc. installed the chimney here and we’ve tested their food—we rate it A+.

487 Amsterdan Ave
New York, NY
Lamb, terracotta, sausage, flat bread, Morrocan spiced halibut, steaks

Rock & Run Brewery and Pub 
114 E Kansas Street
Liberty, Missouri
Soups, salads, pizza, pasta, entrees, desserts, daily themed lunch specials, large selection of craft beer.
Note: HearthMasters, Inc. installed the oven at this location and we test their food at least twice a month to be sure it is up to standards- and it always is! We rate this restaurant A+!

Carmine’s Wood Fired Pizza
524 S Joplin Ave
Joplin, MO. 64801
Pizza, meatball an sausage sandwiches, desserts, espresso,
beer and wine.

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Marge is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Woodburning Specialist. HearthMasters builds wood-fired ovens for restaurants and homeowners. Website:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Stress-Relieving Benefits of a Fireplace

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 Amydala 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.

Fire in fireplace  Photo: HearthMasters, Inc. 
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 soothe 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 Amygdula) to relax and rejuvenate

The almost hypnotic visual pattern created by dancing flames also serves 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. She may be reached at