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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.