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Monday, November 19, 2012

Be prepared with a masonry heater and bake oven

Press Release

November 14, 2012

Masonry heater and bake oven
 by Gene Padgitt of HeartthMasters, Inc.
The Masonry Heater Association of North America encourages homeowners to be prepared for any type of disaster with an alternative source of heating and cooking.  The recent flooding and lack of electricity in the Northeast United States during cold temperatures is a reminder that everyone should be prepared to be self-sufficient in a disaster or power outage.  

Masonry heaters are site-built wood-burning appliances constructed with natural materials that radiantly heat a home with the renewable resource of wood. Masonry heaters are efficient and use relatively small amounts of wood to heat without the use of electricity, gas, fans, or ducts. These appliances heat the home through burning wood in a firebox, which connects to channels inside a large thermal mass. After the fire is out the heater gradually radiates heat to the living space for many hours without causing large temperature fluctuations or drafts. Many homeowners prefer masonry heaters rather than gas, electric, or wood-stove heating methods for regular use, not just during power outages.

Masonry heaters can be built with an oven, which can be used anytime, but is especially important during times of disaster when electricity or gas may not be available.  Stand-alone outdoor brick ovens are another option. These are site-built using a pre-cast oven kit or built with firebrick.

Masonry heaters and bake ovens are appliances that masons should get specialized training in before building. The Masonry Heater Association of North America trains heater masons and oven builders. 

For more information or for a list of builders in the U.S. and Canada contact Richard Smith, Executive Director, at 520-883-0191, e-mail or visit

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chimney and Dryer Vent Fire Prevention Classes

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council offers classes to organizations hosting events for at least 40 people. MCSC Educational Director Marge Padgitt is available to speak to homeowner and professional groups about chimney and dryer vent fire prevention, chimney maintenance and fireplace operation, wood purchase and storage, historic chimney restoration, house pressure issues, and methods used to reline and repair chimneys.

There are over 15,000 dryer vent fires and over 14,000 chimney fires each year caused by improper or inadequate maintenance. Lint and creosote are flammable and must be removed in order to avoid fire. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council website has free homeowner tips on chimney, fireplace, and wood-burning stove operation at

Marge Padgitt is a 30-year industry veteran, CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, and National Fireplace Institute Wood-burning Specialist. Padgitt is the author of 12 books including The Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book, and Wood -Fired Heating and Cooking. She is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri, and host of Wood-Fired Radio on Global Radio Alliance Network.

Classes are free to small homeowner groups in the greater Kansas City area. Fees are charged for larger groups or associations outside the area. Contact Marge Padgitt at 816-461-3665 or for more information.  

Your house might be making you sick

By Marge Padgitt

As people close up their homes for winter, sealing every open gap, and installing thermal windows and insulation, they may be doing more than making their home energy efficient. They might be doing things that can make their family ill.

Houses need at least six air exchanges per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These air exchanges are necessary in order to move out tobacco smoke, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Radon, and a host of other chemicals such as Formaldehyde that off-gas from furniture, carpet and woodwork. These air exchanges bring in fresh air for the occupants to breathe.

Exacerbating the problem are appliances that take air out of the house such as attic fans, range hoods, bathroom fans, clothes dryers, and central vacuums. If the house is tightly constructed replacement air needs to be introduced somehow.

Appliances such as furnaces, hot water heaters, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves need air for combustion, and they take house air for this purpose. Open fireplaces are only -10 - +10% efficient, and use heated air from the home, causing the furnace to work harder. Even if an outside air source is supplied to a fireplace in an attempt to use less house air, this is often inadequate, and is not the best solution. Cold air dumped on a hot fire cools it down, causes it to burn inefficiently, and to produce more CO.

High-efficiency gas fireplace inserts are 75% + efficient and use no indoor air for combustion, and wood-burning fireplace inserts and freestanding stoves are 70%+ efficient and use much less air for combustion than traditional open fireplaces do. These are good choices whether a home has inadequate air for combustion or not. Other methods to improve fireplace efficiency include installation of glass doors, use of a grate heater, and improvement in design. ARumford style fireplace is a better choice than a standard style fireplace because it uses less air and is more efficient. Efficient fireplaces or inserts use less wood than standard fireplaces to produce the same amount of heat, so an added benefit is lower energy cost.

Health effects associated with poor indoor air quality are unexplained flu-like symptoms, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, eye and nose irritation, and in more serious cases, inability to wake up, asthma, cancer, irreversible brain damage, or death.

Another problem that can occur in larger homes or homes that are tightly constructed is unbalanced house pressure. Symptoms of negative house pressure are moisture condensation on cold surfaces, smoking fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, difficulty lighting a fire in a fireplace, CO backup from gas and wood appliances, back-drafting of appliances (and CO), CO detector alarms frequently, and cold air infiltration through leaks. Children and pets may be more affected than adults. If a person feels ill when at home, but better when outside the home, this is an indication that something is wrong with the house.

A good solution is the PlusAire whole house ventilator, which mixes cool outside air with warm air before sending it on to the furnace and the rest of the house where it is used as combustion air and fresh air for the occupants to breathe. Note: we carry the Plus Aire system as a wholesaler to HVAC and chimney contractors, and will sell and install Plus Aire in the K.C. area. 

Strategies to improve air quality:

  1. Install portable air cleaners
  2. Maintain humidifiers and dehumidifiers and empty water trays
  3. Replace air filters on schedule
  4. Turn on whole house fans or bathroom and kitchen fans with doors or windows open occasionally in Spring and Summer (not during cold weather)
  5. Install a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to the furnace (assists the furnace only)
  6. Install a whole-house ventilator such as Plus-Aire to bring in make-up air for appliances and fresh air to breathe
  7. Install EPA Certified high-efficiency gas or wood-burning inserts in fireplaces
  8. Be sure clothes dryers are properly vented outdoors and vents are cleaned twice per year
  9. Use a vented gas space heater or stove rather than an un-vented gas appliance
  10. Never use kerosene heaters inside the house
  11. Have a trained licensed HVAC contractor clean and tune-up furnaces annually
  12. Have a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep inspect and clean furnace, fireplace, masonry heater, and wood stove flues annually
  13. Have an energy specialist do a blower door test on the home, which will indicate leaking areas and negative pressure issues


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Drought Can Cause Chimneys to Lean

Stone chimney before
The drought we've been having in the Midwest the past few weeks has caused major problems with a lost of masonry chimneys. As dirt pulls away from the foundation of a chimney it can cause a chimney to lean, which is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as it is noticed by the homeowner.

We are seeing a lot of leaning chimneys these days. This project is on a 100-year old home Kansas City, Missouri, that required tear down and rebuilding of the stone chimney. We poured a new foundation, rebuilt a frame wall on the house to bring it back into plumb, and are currently rebuilding the the chimney using stone at the base, and a stone/brick combination further up. The chimney had moved 14”out of plumb, was bowed out in the center, and was in severe danger of collapsing. The homeowners were concerned that it was a safety hazard, and indeed it was. 
Chimney 14" out of plumb
Where chimneys are leaning 3” or more, piering should be completed by an experienced professional, however, be sure to contact a company that does piering first, rather than just Mudjacking. Mudjacking is the process by which a mixture of cement, dirt, and water, or lime and water is pumped underneath concrete slabs to restore them to their original position. It is used to stabilize settling concrete such as sidewalks and patios that are non-load bearing structures.

In the case of a chimney, mudjacking should never be used alone because it cannot support the weight. Push piers should be installed first to lift the masonry to a level position, then mudjacking can be done to fill the empty space under the footing. Piering is a permanent repair solution. Excavation is done around the foundation, brackets are installed on the foundation and under it, and the pier is attached to the foundation with bolts. Hydrolic hoses are attached, and sections of pipe are pushed into the ground to solid bedrock. Multiple rams are then lifted in unison to the desired height, then back-filling or mudjacking is completed. We have developed relationships with local piering contractors we feel comfortable recommending to homeowners. These contractors also refer business to us. In fact, they have changed their contracts to include risk of damage to the chimney interior and that it should be inspected by us after their work is completed. 
Watch out for the hidden leaning chimney – one that has trim work on the exterior added to conceal a space between the chimney and the house. We've seen some trim added that was 1” wide at the bottom and 6” wide at the top. Signs of chimney movement can also be found at the flashing area, where you may find flashing pulled out of place or large gaps. The homeowner may also complain of a leak.

Tony Gross and Ricky Cline on the job

Anytime a chimney is moved it is likely to have interior damages that can be a fire hazard, so it is imperative for the homeowner to call a qualified chimney sweep to inspect the interior using an interior camera system. If cracks in flue tiles or shifted flue tiles are found, relining will be necessary. When a chimney pulls away from the house, a gap is usually left behind the facial wall of the fireplace, which is not a structural part of the chimney. This space can allow heat to escape into an area where there are likely combustible framing and headers, so a gap here can be a real fire hazard. It is common for masonry chimneys to shift or settle slightly, so this is an area that needs to be inspected at the time of any chimney evaluation and if gaps of any size are found they should be packed in with mortar.
We've also seen some rare instances where a chimney leans in towards a house, and that presents a more difficult problem because access to the foundation is not as easy. The solution is usually to tear the chimney down and rebuild it.

When a chimney starts to show structural failure with cracks in the masonry or bowing of the masonry, or if the structure has shifted far out of plumb, the chimney needs to be taken down completely and rebuilt. Homeowners should consult with a chimney construction specialist or structural engineer if they are in doubt about what to do, since there is a “gray area” where the solution could be either piering or rebuilding, and is a matter of opinion.

Homeowners can help prevent chimneys from leaning by thoroughly watering the foundation every two or three days during drought in order to keep clay and dirt packed against the foundation.

Prep work involved bracing the chimney so it
didn't collapse during the tear-down process

For the safety of our crew (and to protect the neighbor's house), Gene set up special supports using the neighbor's stone porch as a counter support during the tear down process. The supports were constructed using $250 worth of 4” x 6” x 16' lumber (see photo). This is usually not required, but it is a useful technique to know. The lumber can be reused. The crew set up roof protection and scaffold with safety rails and walk-boards installed, and removed all of the stones from the chimney one at a time from the top down. This is the only way to safely tear down a chimney. A commercial dumpster was placed on site for debris removal, however, most of the stones were still in good condition so they were saved and reused.

Ricky Cline pointing in the new stones
Next, the footing was poured using high strength cement with rebar crisis-crossed 6” apart in the cement. This is tied into the existing foundation of the house. A block foundation was next, then the fireplace, which the homeowner wanted a certain size fireplace measuring 24” x 36”. 

The finished chimney is below:

Spalling brick a sign of severe moisture damage

When chimneys spall, it is a sign of severe moisture penetration of the masonry bricks or stone. Spalling is the flaking off of a brick or stone surface, and is evident when the face of the masonry is missing. Pieces of bricks or stones may be found on the ground or on the roof, which is an indication that there is a problem. This is a common issue in the Kansas City and Midwest area.

Spalling is caused when the masonry absorbs too much moisture from rain and is subjected to freeze/thaw cycles. Damages can be exacerbated by condensation of flue gasses in improperly sized flue liners and gaps or cracks in mortar joints on the interior of the chimney, and by moisture entering the interior of the chimney chase from the top at the cement crown area where cracks or gaps allow water to enter.   If the cement crown is not built with a poured crown with 2” overhand and drip edge per code, damages to the top of the chimney structure will occur more quickly. However, builders seldom build poured crowns due to the added time and expense involved.

Soft type brick is more susceptible to moisture penetration than hard type bricks, but builders often use soft brick because they are less expensive. When building a new home, homeowners should request that hard bricks be used in all construction so they will last many years.

Chimneys usually show damages more extensively because they are more exposed to the elements than the rest of the house. The top portion of the chimney will show the first signs of moisture problems. By the time bricks or stones spall, the damage is done. Spalled bricks or stones cannot be repaired and must be replaced. It may be tempting to save money by replacing spalled bricks and doing partial rebuilding of a chimney, but keep in mind that the entire chimney will need to be rebuilt at some point, so any partial repair is a temporary fix.

Painting chimneys is never a good idea. This servies to temporarily cover up the problem, but will speed up the deterioration process since the bricks can't breathe.  Buyer beware if you see a painted chimney.

The application of masonry water repellant sealer can help stop further penetration of moisture, but bricks that already have interior damage will continue to spall. Masonry water repellant should be applied every year to every five years, depending on when it loses its ability to shed water off the bricks. Professional chimney contractors prefer to use Chimney Saver brand water repellant.

To find a qualified chimney restoration contractor in the greater Kansas City area visit the Midwest Chimney Safety Council or the Masonry Heater Association of North America website.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Historic Chimney Restoration Work

Most homeowners and contractors are not aware that training in Historic Chimney and Fireplace restoration is limited, and there are very few masons and/or chimney contractors who do this type of work across the U.S. Many contractors and masons are not aware of the International Residential Code requirements or NFPA 211 Standards for Chimneys and Fireplaces - or that each city has its own set of rules. Additionally, the original look of the exterior chimney and fireplace must be retained, not only for aesthetics but for Historic Preservation guidelines, which is outside the scope of standard modern masonry training. 
The Olson Home in Marshall, MO
The mason you hire for the project must have OSHA approved scaffolding and fall protection, which unfortunately, many contractors don't have.  Working on tall chimneys is not for everyone - so you want to work with a contractor who is used to working at heights.
Historic masonry style, bricks, and mortar - are much different now than they were in the 1700's and 1800's. The main difference is that lime mortar was used with very thin "butter" joints. The mortar was often dyed to match the bricks for a more pleasing appearance. Typically, chimneys were built with "Little Reds" style bricks, which are still available in limited supply from brickyards that keep historic bricks on hand. These bricks are no longer made.

Close up of one chimney on the Olson home
Homeowners should also be aware that the structure must be brought up to current codes and standards before attempting to use a fireplace. This is required by code at the time of sale of any residential property. Older chimneys often did not have flue liners installed, which are code requirements.  Other requirements are dampers and the smoke chamber must be parge coated with insulating mortar.

Tips for planning historic chimney restoration:
- Hire a professional chimney inspector to inspect all chimneys, flues, fireplaces, wood stoves, or gas appliances once a year and at the time of purchase of a home. Home inspectors do not normally get the necessary training in this area that Chimney Safety Institute of America Certified Chimney Sweeps do. Home Inspectors do not normally have the proper equipment to perform an adequate chimney inspection. The interior of chimneys cannot be evaluated with the naked eye, so a Chim-Scan camera is used.
- Get recommendations for repair options from the chimney inspector, who will also likely do repair work. Be sure to check credentials and insurance. Other credentials to look for when hiring a chimney contractor are National Fireplace Institute Certifications in Wood and/or Gas.  Ask to see samples of their work and a list of references where work on historic chimneys was performed.
- The item most often needed when doing historic chimney restoration work is a chimney flue liner. Liners are required by code and must be a U.L. Listed and/or approved product. Types of flue liners vary from stainless steel, custom stainless steel, and Ceramic poured systems (as seen on This Old House). Clay tile liners are generally no longer used in restoration work due to the difficulty in getting them installed properly and the fact that there is no warranty on the materials by the manufacturers. Clay tiles break when chimney fires occur, whereas stainless steel or ceramic flue liners can withstand temperatures up to 2100 degrees for at least ten minutes without failing.
- Look for a contractor who has experience in building Rumford fireplaces or installing Bellfires fireplaces if you want an open wood-burning fireplace, or someone experienced in gas or wood-burning appliance installation. The Rumford fireplace was designed in the 1700's by Count Rumford and is very efficient, and clean burning. This open fireplace actually produces heat and is very efficient.  You can find a Rumford fireplace builder at  The Bellfires fireplace is a pre-cast product designed after the Rumford and is manufactured by Sleepy Hollow Chimney Supply.  Sleepy Hollow only sells to dealers so you'll need to find a local dealer to do the installation.
- Look for a contractor who is specifically skilled in historic masonry restoration and ask to see photos of their work and references.
- Your city may also require that the contractor have a Master Mechanical License. Ask for proof of this license. The contractor must pull the permit for the work in most cases.
-There are many options for historic fireplace restoration available now, including historic style mantels, open historic yet functional Rumford style fireplaces, historic look wood stove inserts and freestanding stoves, and closed direct vent gas fireplaces with an historic look.
- As with any contractor, ask for certificates of insurance for Worker's Comp and Liability, proof of any Certifications, MM License and work samples.

Links with more information:
Midwest Chimney Safety Council: (The MCSC does historic chimney restoration seminars)
Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association: (find a list of certified installers and list of manufacturer websites here)
Chimney Safety Institute of America: (list of Certified Chimney Sweeps)
Thelin period look Wood and Gas freestanding stoves: - and find a list of dealers on their site
Hearthstone period look gas fireplace inserts: - and find a list of dealers on their site

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Local Chimney Sweep/Mason Wins National Masonry Awards

Kansas City chimney sweep Gene Padgitt, V.P. of HearthMasters, Inc. won first place in the 2012 Masonry Design/Building Contest and second place in the Fireplace Face Contest sponsored by the National Chimney Sweep Guild.  Gene received the awards at the annual NCSG convention on February 14, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. The winning entry for the masonry category was for reconstruction of five chimneys at an 1880 Queen Anne Victorian home owned by Kent Dicus in Kansas City, Missouri.

Since the top portions of the chimneys were missing due to exposure to weather and the homeowner wanted to restore the chimneys to their original appearance, Gene copied photos taken of the home in 1920 and was able to replicate each of the chimneys using the photos provided by the homeowner.  The chimneys were in poor shape, so the HearthMasters crew tore each one down and rebuilt them in their original style with 1880's Little Reds bricks found at a brickyard in central Missouri. 

Padgitt said that "Historic chimneys are very different than modern chimneys.  They are usually very decorative, with small butter joints between the bricks rather than the wider joints used today. This allows the mason to do very intricate work. The lime mortar is much harder than modern mortar, and sometimes it takes months to find original era bricks."  The red clay bricks used during the late 1900's were very hard and last a very long time.  The method to reconstruct a Victorian chimney requires marking each brick and laying out a pattern to follow for each course.  It is quite time-consuming and the price to reconstruct them is much higher than modern chimneys. 

Gene Padgitt at work
In addition to the exterior chimneys, Padgitt and his crew installed eight new flue liners as required by code into the previously unlined flues, and restored the interior fireplaces.  The project took several months to complete.  Gene is a 30-year veteran mason who started his business as a one-man chimney sweeping company in 1982.  HearthMasters, Inc. now employs eight people and specializes in large historic projects, masonry heaters and commercial and residential wood-fired brick ovens. 

Gene is active in the Midwest Chimney Safety Council and is a regular instructor for masonry projects. He has won numerous awards over the years for his specialty work.  He and his wife, Marge Padgitt, who is the President of the company, are currently working on two books and several instructional films for chimney and masonry professionals to be released later this year. 

Kent Dicus has fully restored the home to Victorian style.  He is co-author of the new book Pendleton Heights: Then and Now which includes his home on Garfield Avenue. The book is available at

1880 Queen Anne chimney
(one of five)
Gene's second place trophy was for a fireplace face project completed for Mr. and Mrs. Rodney Christmas in Trimble, Missouri. Lightning damaged the chimney and two-sided heat circulating fireplace so everything had to be removed and reconstructed.  The two facial walls and chimney were constructed with man-made stone in a different style to go with the vaulted ceiling.

Padgitt now has 12 awards for his masonry craftsmanship skills.  He is currently working on an instructional film series for professionals and a book with wife Marge Padgitt called Wood-Fired Heating and Cooking.  

New Magazine and Radio Show


I am launching a new radio show in two to three weeks called Wood-Fired, and a new magazine in April under the same name.  Watch this blog for more information to come soon!  My husband is remodeling a building we own next to our office building for a film studio and radio studio.  The magazine is bi-monthly and the radio show will be aired weekly for one hour.  We will be discussing everything wood-fired including chimneys, fireplaces, brick bake ovens, barbeques, firepits, Rumford fireplaces, and cooking in wood-fired ovens.  Professional builders, designers, and chefs will be my guests.  Visit for more information.