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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas stocking fire hazard

Many fires during the holiday season can be avoided according to the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, whose members are professional chimney sweeps, firemen, and chimney technicians.  
The NFPA 211 Standard for Chimneys, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances requires a 36” clearance to combustibles in front of fireplaces, and at least 12” clearance above the opening of fireplaces. Heat can cause combustible items to ignite without the direct application of flame. 
Many homeowners miss the obvious fire risk of hanging stockings "by the chimney with care." but Midwest Chimney Safety Council President Steve Hoover, of Lucky Sweep Chimney Service and Sales, LLC in Versailles, Missouri said that “We want people to be aware of fire hazards associated with fireplaces in order to prevent unnecessary loss of life and property.”  Hoover is also a volunteer fireman.

Hoover recommends that homeowners do not hang stockings over the fireplace while it is in use – but to remove them and replace after the fire is out, and to keep all combustible materials such as wood, presents, and furniture at least three feet away from hearth appliances. Combustibles do not need flame to ignite - only heat.  

For more safety and wood-burning tips visit Steve Hoover can be reached at 573-378-6142.

Five house fires in KC area over the weekend related to fireplaces and chimneys


At least five house fires in the Kansas City area over the weekend were caused by improperly maintained fireplaces and chimneys.

Firefighters responded to two chimney fires on Saturday night in the 1900 block of South 65th street and the 1900 block of South 16th street in Kansas City, Kansas. In both cases smoke detectors alerted the residents, who were able to escape unharmed. An unconscious dog was rescued from the 16th Street fire but firefighters were able to revive it.

An early morning fire in the 11900 block of West 66th Street in Shawnee, Kansas caused about $130,000 in damages. The fires started in a lower-level fireplace. One resident saw smoke and alerted the family, who escaped uninjured.

An unattended fire in a fireplace caused a house fire in the 2400 block of Stewart Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas on Friday night.

Also on Friday night the Lee's Summit fire department extinguished a chimney fire in the 1300 block of Southwest Crossing Drive. The residents escaped the home uninjured.

Over the weekend temperatures dropped to one degree in the Kansas City area, which may have prompted residents to have fires in their fireplaces.

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council reminds homeowners not to use their fireplaces as heating appliances. MCSC Vice President Gene Padgitt said “Fireplaces actually take more heat from the home than they put in due to the need for combustion air. Open fireplaces are designed to be used for ambient fires only.” Padgitt recommends the use of a high-efficiency wood stove insert instead in order to produce supplemental heat and have emergency heating available. Fireplaces are 0 percent efficient, while high-efficiency inserts are 75 percent efficient.

Gene Padgitt said “If a chimney fire occurs, call the fire department, get out of the house, then have a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep inspect the chimney before using it again. In most cases, the chimney will be damaged during a chimney fire, making it unsafe for continued use. Signs a chimney fire is occurring are loud roaring sound, popping or cracking sounds, flames coming out the top of the chimney, and smoke backing up into the house.”

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council offers tips for homeowners:

  • Never leave fires unattended. Be sure the fire is out before leaving the house
  • Have the chimney inspected and swept to remove flammable creosote before the wood-burning season by a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep
  • Never burn dry pine or gift wrap in a fireplace as they are an extreme fire hazard
  • To improve efficiency of a masonry fireplace, have an insert installed by a professional installer. Never install an insert in a manufactured fireplace
  • Keep combustible materials, including firewood and furniture at least 36” away from an open fireplace
  • Keep the screen or glass doors closed during operation of the fireplace
  • Be sure to have working smoke detectors on each level of the home

Chimney Fire in Somerset County, NJ with photo

It's rare to see a photo of a chimney fire in progress so I'm posting this link to a recent fire in New Jersey so my readers can see what it looks like:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Woodstock Soapstone takes first prize at Wood Stove Decathlon

The best of the best takes the grand prize at the Wood Stove Decathlon

Tom Morrissey has been designing and building soapstone wood-burning stoves since 1978, so when John Ackerly, Founder and President of the Alliance for Green Heat asked him to design a new stove a year ago he decided that Woodstock Soapstone Company was up to the challenge. He assembled his design team members Jason Guimaraes, Lorin Day, Harold Garabedian, Larry Young, Ken Blum, Lewis Thibodeau, Dan Batchelder and Kristie Haupt and got to work on a brand new stove to enter in the November 2013 Wood Stove Decathlon, which was held in Washington, D.C. This week.

The new Ideal Steel Hybrid stove is something completely new to the company, who has specialized in soapstone products for 35 years. The new stove is, however, lined with soapstone bricks in order to take advantage of the stone's heat-retention and long heat-release properties.

What makes this design so different from other wood stoves on the market are several factors. The design team incorporated a secondary air chamber and a catalytic combustor, while most manufacturers do only one or the other. Then the team added a tertiary air supply so as the stove gets hotter more air is fed directly to the catalytic combustor so it does not get oxygen deprived. This allows the combustor to work more effectively, while bringing emission levels down even further. The team also found that a fan is not necessary for the combustion air supply, and the passive system works very well.

Tom said “We are essentially making a gasification stove,” he said, “If you look at this thing when it’s burning, the fire does not look like what you would think of as a wood fire. The whole top of firebox is like an inverted gas burner; there are 120 holes with a tube of flame coming out of each one.”

Instead, they will employ a remote Woodstove Monitor. It will provide real-time feedback on burn rate, BTU output, efficiency, emissions, and stove temperatures.

“Burning wood without this information is like driving a car without a speedometer and gas gauge,” said Morrissey. Knowing this information will help stove owners use their stoves more responsibly and effectively. “Ten years ago, you could never imagine having a little computer on the stove. If you were in a small industry like ours, you couldn’t dream of having a graphic-user- interface, but now it’s available and affordable,” Morrissey said. The Union Hybrid stove, with its twenty-first century technology and efficiency and emissions capabilities, is certainly a far cry from a six-sided box with a fire in it.

Testing in the lab and at the design challenge resulted in only 1.03 grams in emissions. That is extremely low, especially compared to older model stoves. The firebox size is 3.2 cu ft. emissions are an adjusted level of 1.04 grams.

One of the highlights of the Ideal Steel Hybrid stove is the custom work. Woodstock Soapstone has a water jet cutter that enables the company to customize their stove by adding medallions on the side, attach a mitten warmer or large artistic design pieces to the back via slots just above the back legs, custom cut the andirons, and add a custom-cut cook top. These elements can be changed out easily when the customer wishes to change the look of the stove.

And if that isn't enough, an optional LED lamp on a swing arm, powered by heat from the stove is available. If the power goes out the owner would have not only provide heat, but a place to cook on three burners at different heights and temperature variations, and lighting for cooking or reading.

The stove should be available by June of 2014 and it is factory-direct to the consumer only. Woodstock does not have dealers.

The Wood Stove Challenge was open to any company, university, or individual from any country except for accredited woos stove labs. The grand prize winner received a $25,000 cash prize which was donated to two teams who did not have funding. The two second place prizes went to Travis Industries and Wittus, who shared a $10,000 cash pot.

Sharing third place were Inter-Continental, Tile Stove and HWAM. Fourth place went to Tulikivi; fifth went to Intensi-Fire and Mulciber; sixth to Walker Stoves, Seventh to Smart Stove, and eighth place was awarded to Kimberly.

The goal of the Challenge was to get design team's creative juices flowing and make higher efficiency, affordable wood-burning stoves that produce little emissions. The expert judging panel with representatives from different agencies and organizations scored each stove on innovation, market appeal and ease of use, affordability, emissions, and efficiency.

The primary funders of the Wood Stove Decathlon are NYSERDA, the Osprey Foundation, the District of Columbia Urban Forestry Administration, the US Forest Service, the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund and the Arbolito Foundation.

Congratulations to Woodstock Soapstone and the other finalists who scored high marks by the judges. The next generation of wood stoves is here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Get the fireplace ready for Fall and Winter

Get the fireplace ready for Fall and Winter

Cool Fall weather approaches, and soon a cozy fire in the fireplace will be enjoyed by many. Fireplaces need annual maintenance, and while Spring is the best time for sweeping chimneys to remove smelly creosote, most homeowners wait until cool weather hits to have the chimney inspected. Chimney sweeps call Fall the “insane season” for this reason.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual inspection by a professional chimney sweep and sweeping as necessary to remove flammable creosote. Creosote is the natural by-product of combustion and occurs even when dry hardwoods are used. It needs to be removed on a regular basis in order to avoid chimney fires, which can cause thousands of dollars in damages.

A chimney sweep should do a visual and internal camera inspection of the flue and smoke chamber, and all components of the fireplace and chimney, and provide a written report of his/her findings. If repair is necessary, the sweep should explain the problem and offer repair solutions. If he does not do repair work he should refer the homeowner to a qualified chimney contractor.

Many chimneys have been affected by the summer drought conditions. Dry ground retracts from chimney footings, and can cause the structure to lean. If a chimney leans far enough, the only solution is to have it torn down and rebuilt. This should be checked by a specialty chimney contractor, rather than a chimney sweep who only sweeps chimneys.

Wood stoves should be swept and inspected at least twice during the burning season. Creosote accumulates on the interior of small chimney pipe and can cause drafting and performance problems.

If sudden smoking occurs while burning a fire, this can be a sign that a chimney fire has occurred. During a chimney fire, creosote expands outward and may cut off draft, which can cause smoking. If a chimney fire is suspected, the homeowner should call a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to inspect it before using the fireplace or wood stove again.

Check list for Fall fireplace preparation:
  • Be sure that glass doors or a screen is installed to keep sparks at bay. Rusted screens can be replaced. A good set of glass doors with a seal help to keep cold drafts out of the house when the fireplace is not in use.
  • A top-sealing damper provides better protection from drafts and keeps insects and bats out of the flue since it creates an almost air-tight seal at the top of the flue.
  • Be sure to have a good quality heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover installed on all flues to keep damaging birds, animals, and rain out of the flues.
  • Obtain a good set of fireplace tools that will last for years.
  • Keep combustible materials and wood at least 36” away from the fireplace opening.
  • Have the chimney and fireplace inspected and swept by a professional chimney sweep. If in doubt, don't use the fireplace until it is inspected. Make sure the sweep uses an internal camera system for the inspection. He/she will advise you whether the chimney is in suitable working condition or not. 

  • Have masonry repairs made before cold weather sets in. Cracks or missing mortar joints on exterior chimneys or in cement crowns allow damaging rain to enter the interior chimney.
  • If the flue, smoke chamber, or fireplace is damaged and needs to be relined, do not use it until this work is completed. 


    Marge Padgitt is the author of the Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book.  She is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Woodburning Specialist.  Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri, which has been in business since 1982.  Marge travels the country to lecture at seminars and meetings.  Contact her at or 816-461-3665. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wood Stove Decathalon to prove efficiency

November 18, 2013

Competitors are finishing up the first ever Wood Stove Decathlon at the National Mall, 12th and Jefferson Drive SW in Washington, DC.  The Decathlon, held November 15 - 19 challenged teams to design and build wood stoves that are highly efficient, produce low emissions, and are innovative and affordable.

The event is sponsored by the Alliance for Green Heat, the U.S. Forest Service, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and industry groups seeking to improve the efficiency of wood-burning appliances.

The 14 finalists are Dragon Heater, Firemaster, Helbro Stoves, HWAM, Intercontinental, Kimberly, Mulciber, Ofenbou and Feurerstellen, Smartsove, Travis, Tulikivi, Walker Stoves, Wittus, and Woodstock Soapstone.   These companies entered high-efficiency wood stoves, hybridt stove/rocket heaters, and masonry heaters, as well as retrofits to modify existing wood stoves to improve efficiency.

According to Dragon Heater their Helix stove is a hybrid of traditional wood stoves and rocket heaters. It utilizes a traditional firebox with horizontal feeding of the wood including a glass door for viewing the fire. Then, it uses the turbulence and an internal stack or secondary burn chamber from rocket heaters to produce very hot, optimized burns.

Soapstone stove by Tulikivi
Jason Stewart invented the IntensiFire, which is a new downdraft retrofit for wood stoves. He said that  Downdraft brings the benefit of more complete combustion up to 60% more for the same amount of wood. It will bring the benefits of secondary combustion air to older stoves that don't have this function. Baffles are no longer required and the cost of the IntensiFire is around the same as the cost of a replacement baffle.

A team from the University of Maryland created the Mulciber Wood Stove, which includes heat recovery and smart ventilation and burning systems.  It has automatic systems to control air flow in order to maintain the ideal burning conditions and thermoelectric generators provide power to circulate stove heat throughout the home.

Tulikivi introduced their Hiisi 4 hybrid heat-retaining fireplace using soapstone which releases heat more slowly.  The Hiisi 4 uses cord wood or pellets without electricity to operate, and is designed to meet the world's tightest emissions standards set for 2015.

The winner of the contest will be announced on November 19, 2013.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Shiny Bread from the Wood-Fired Oven

There has been  lot of talk lately on the Masonry Heater Association Chat list about bread baking and I thought I'd share some ideas about how I get a shiny bread from a wood-fired oven.

My niece traveled to France a few years ago and interviewed a baker there who was using a wood-fired oven - the same one used for generations by his family, and the oldest in France.  The baker said that he put a tray of water in the oven every time he bakes, and that is all he does.  The breads do come out with a nice shine to them.  You might try it and let us know if it works for you. 

I do know of another method which has been used by my Italian side of the family for years  - they make an egg wash, just a beaten egg - and brush it over the loaf before putting the bread in the oven.  Not sure where that idea started, but I use it when I bake egg bread every Christmas in the family tradition.  That may be considered cheating by the bread baking purists, but it sure does make a nice looking loaf of bread. When I find a picture of one I'll post it.  

The photo above is a loaf of egg bread I made last Thanksgiving without the egg wash and it is not shiny - but it sure tasted great anyway!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Be Prepared for Cold Winter

Farmer's Almanac predicts a very cold winter for 2013-2014 with large areas of below-normal temperatures over the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes.  Precipitation is expected to be higher than normal in the Midwest, Southeast and Southern Plains.

HearthMasters encourages people to be prepared for power outages by installing a wood stove or fireplace insert for heating. Gas furnaces do not work without a fan, which is run on electricity.

Hearthstone soapstone wood stove

Wood stoves or inserts may be used for everyday heating purposes as the primary source of heat or as a supplemental heat source to cut down on fuel costs.

Gene and I use a wood stove at our own house, and prefer using it to the gas furnace because there is low fan sound and it feels better than heated air coming through the registers.  Wood stoves produce convective heat, and radiant heat - like the sun - so the warmth penetrates the body, which helps people with conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.

During 2013 a $300 tax credit may be applied to a high-efficiency wood stove purchase.  Stoves should be sized correctly for the home, placed in the correct location for even heating, and installed by a professional stove installer, who should also install the chimney or flue liner.  This is not a DIY project, and most cities require that a permit be pulled by a qualified contractor for the installation. An improper installation can be a fire hazard.

Wood-burning stove insert
Wood stoves are freestanding appliances and inserts are installed in existing masonry chimneys.  They cannot be installed in a manufactured fireplace.

Wood stove or insert flues must be swept on a regular basis - once per year for supplemental heating, and twice per season if used for primary heating.  In some cases, sweeping more often may be necessary. 

This wood is not seasoned yet - there are no splits
or cracks in the ends
Use of the proper wood is critical to the performance of the stove.  Use only dry, seasoned hard or soft woods such as oak, hickory or maple.  Less wood is used when hardwoods are burned because they are more dense.  Purchase or cut wood at least six months in advance of the burning season and be sure to check the moisture content before burning, which should be between 15 - 20%.  Wet wood does not heat, the moisture must be burned off first which delays the heating time. 

Inexpensive moisture meters can be purchased from us or a hearth retailer, but a quick way to tell if wood is seasoned is to look for splits or cracks in the ends of the wood or bang two logs together - if there is a hollow sound it is pretty dry.  Keep wood off the ground and covered to keep rain off, but leave the sides open for air ventilation.

Never use dry pine logs or discarded Christmas trees in a wood stove or fireplace because they burn very hot very quickly, and chimney fires often occur when this is done.   If using hedge, use only one stick of hedge and two sticks of other wood at a time.  Hedge burns hot and fast as well and can cause overheating and warpage of a wood stove, which is costly damage and a potential safety hazard. 

Chimney fires are caused by the accumulation of creosote in the flue which ignites from heat or a spark.  Avoid chimney fires by having the chimney swept on a regular basis.

See more information and homeowner tips at

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chimney Fires Common

Burnt creosote removed from a flue
Chimney Fires are more common than most people realize.  Every year, thousands of chimney sweeps sweep and inspect thousands of chimneys in the U.S. and find damages from chimney fires.  Most chimney fires go unnoticed by the homeowner, but the damage and evidence left behind shows that one or more occurred during the wood-burning season. 

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.

Cracked flue tiles from a chimney fire
      · 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.  

     · Tile liners will break longitudinally first, due to the nature of their construction, then horizontal and diagonal cracks will occur in more severe fires.

Break in a flue tile
· 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.

Burnt creosote on a flue tile
· 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 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. 

Pre-Fab Fireplaces: From a Fire Investigator’s Point of View

By Gene Padgitt, CFI and Marge Padgitt, CCS

 As a chimney business owner since 1982, and as a State Certified Fire Investigator since 1999, I have had the opportunity to investigate the cause and origin of many residential fires related to chimneys.  One of the major causes of chimney-related structural fires in my opinion is the Pre-Fabricated Fireplace.

Lets address failures due to improper installation by installers first.  I can’t tell you how many investigations I have done where this is the scenario: The header is installed right on top of the firebox, the wall studs are installed touching or nearly touching the appliance, combustible walls are installed touching the firebox.  And that doesn’t begin to address any part of the system above the firebox, which can include improper termination caps that restrict cooling of the pipe, improper clearance to combustibles at termination, or to the chase itself. 
Builders habitually do not properly train fireplace installers, as can be attested by every chimney sweep/technician across the country.  How many fireplaces of any type are 100% correct?  How many do you see that have a major problem?  There are many hidden violations that a normal inspection will not show, and it can be expected that at least 50% of the fireplaces will have a header or stud in the wrong place just waiting to ignite, or a missing attic insulation shield. 
Missing parts can be a major fire hazard.  At a recent fire investigation a local installer admitted to installing all of his fireplaces without attic radiation shields, and had been doing so for 25 years.  Attic insulation or radiation shields keep blown-in insulation from falling in around the pipe or onto the top of the fireplace, where it can smolder and ignite nearby combustibles.  That means there are a lot of unnecessary house fires that are likely to happen in Kansas City.  How many other installers have done the same thing - throwing out parts that they thought were unnecessary?  How many installers are not properly trained or NFI Certified?   

In addition, installation requirements may be too lax as I have also seen instances where all clearances were adhered to by nearby wood structure pyrolized and caught fire anyway.  Therefore,  the clearance to combustibles requirement by many manufacturers may not be stringent enough and should be expanded.  What this exact measurement should be I don't know, but any extra air space would surely assist greatly with the problem.  
Improper installation caused this fire 30 minutes after
the homeowners moved in
A multi-million dollar loss at a Kansas City, Missouri apartment complex  was due to improper installation.  This story was related to me by a Kansas City Fire Marshal—I did not see it myself.  He told me that they discovered that a pre-fab fireplace was installed with absolutely no clearance to combustibles and was sitting on wood studs.  In fact, ALL of the fireplaces were installed in this manner by a large contracting firm in each of the 300 apartments that were only 6 months old.  One of the units caught fire underneath the fireplace and caused a fire that swept through one entire section of apartments.  The builder was called back to remove and properly install all of the fireplaces.  10 million dollars in property damage was paid by the insurance company.

As far as homeowner use of the appliance, this is a bigger problem than many people imagine.  I have seen $500,000 homes burned to the ground because homeowners simply do not know the difference between a masonry chimney and a pre-fabricated (manufactured) fireplace and treat them the same.  There are far too many people who burn fires nightly, and some who I consider to be “pyromaniacs” burning anything they can get their hands on in their fireplace.  Pre-fabricated fireplaces are designed to be used for small, ambient fires only, as stated in most owner’s manuals. 

But how many homeowners actually read the manual?  And when the house is sold to another party, is the manual handed down to the next person?  Most people have never seen a fireplace operation manual.  Realtors certainly don’t know what to tell buyers—all the buyer cares about is that there is a fireplace in the house, which, incidentally, is one of the most asked for features by buyers of real estate.  How may of those buyers are moving from a house with a masonry fireplace or wood stove and burn wood in their new pre-fab in the same manner? 

Here’s a case in point: Ten years ago I was called by the Fire Marshal of a Missouri city to investigate a fire involving a chimney.  When I arrived, I was told by someone that the fire was “suspicious” and the new homeowner was suspected of starting the fire himself.  This information should never have been given to me, but I did my job without considering this.   

I found out that the homeowner had just moved into the home on a Friday and the gas company failed to arrive and turn on their heat on that day, so they had to go the entire weekend with no heat.  The homeowner decided to use the fireplace as a heating source and kept the fire burning for nearly three days.  On Sunday, the interior walls ignited and eventually burned one side of the house down.  I showed the evidence to the Fire Marshal and insurance adjuster, who realized that I was correct.  The house was three years old, and the homeowner had not been given an owner's manual on the pre-fab fireplace, which is designed never to be used as a heating source. 

- Prefabricated (Manufactured) Fireplaces are designed for small, ambient fires only
- Never replace the grate with a larger grate or overloading and fire can result
- Only use replacement parts from the manufacturer
- Never use masonry glass doors on a manufactured fireplace
- Have the fireplace chimney swept and inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep
- Use steel studs around the firebox and use all parts that come with the installation kit

Monday, August 5, 2013

To Vent or Not to Vent- that is the question

Excalibur gas fireplace

Many of our customers have asked us to take out their vent-free products due to a horrible smell, water running down the windows and walls, stains on walls, soot on walls, baseboards, and ceilings, mold and mildew issues, headaches, and being ill while in the house and using the logs.
When burning gas several by-products of combustion are produced: Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Formaldehyde, and Water.

Manufacturer instructions say to use non-venting gas logs four or less hours per day and to operate the logs with a window open. Since these are listed as heating appliances and most customers purchase the logs as a heating source, this seems impractical in the middle of winter. The American Gas Association Research Division (AGARD) recommendations for proper usage of a vent-free appliance include that the appliance is not to be used as a sole source of heat or in confined spaces or bedrooms. What happens when there is a power outage? Homeowners are tempted to use the logs continuously.
During the combustion process moisture is created. When a 40,000 BTU vent-free appliance is used to heat it can produce over six gallons of water a day. If the homeowner notices condensation on windows and walls the vent-free appliance may be the cause. We call these appliances “Room Vented” for this reason. The condensation will be absorbed by the drywall, wood flooring & furniture, and may cause structural damage to the home. The excessive moisture may cause mold and mildew which creates problems for people with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems, or create new health problems. 

The situation is worsened in tightly constructed homes without adequate make-up air to provide air for the appliances, and for people to breathe. Visit for more information on make-up air.
Carbon Monoxide is a very real issue. CO is always produced during combustion, and with room-vented heaters it is vented into the room at so called “acceptable' levels. Even at low levels, CO can be dangerous to children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, small children, the elderly, animals, birds, and people with upper respiratory conditions. See Dr. David Penny's website at for more information on CO.

Regency direct vent fireplace
Instead we suggest using a direct-vent gas log insert or fireplace. These types of appliances are vented through the wall or up an existing chimney. They are sealed systems which use outside air for combustion, thereby increasing the efficiency of the appliance and eliminating the need for opening windows while the appliance is in use. No by-products of combustion are vented into the room, so toxic gasses and water are vented directly to the outdoors. Direct-vent is a much better choice.

Vent-Free VS Direct-Vent
Must operate with window open
Has its own combustion air supply
Is a High-efficiency appliance
Toxic gasses vented into the room
Moisture/water vented into the room
Can produce bad smells
Should have an annual service check-up and cleaning
Can be used in a masonry chimney
Can be used in a manufactured fireplace

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chimney Inspection Important After Storm Damage

In the wake of the recent destructive storm damage in Kansas City and other areass, homeowners need to be aware that chimneys should be inspected before continued use after any severe storm. 

In completing a Level 2 chimney inspection, a certified chimney sweep will check the exterior of the chimney, the interior flue, smoke chamber, damper, fireplace and surround for gaps, cracks, or breaks that could allow escape of toxic gasses and heat. Many of these damages are not visible to the naked eye with out the use of a special camera system.

HearthMasters offers a Level II chimney inspection with our internal camera system.  If any issues are found, we will provide a written report with photos for you and your insurance adjuster, and an estimate for repair.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Check codes before remodeling or adding a fireplace

From Fireside Distributors
Kansas City area chimney technician and state fire investigator Gene Padgitt has found multiple code violations and fire hazards in chimneys he has inspected over the years, and many problems he finds are in remodeling projects.

A recent inspection revealed that a designer added a fireplace to a room but did not check International Residential Code to see how it should be done. The designer, mason, and carpenter were in the process of building a wood-framed masonry lined box to house a set of gas logs that are designed for masonry chimneys only. "Had the homeowner used the fireplace there would have been a house fire - guaranteed. said Padgitt. "Gas logs can only be installed in brick or stone chimneys with a brick fireplace and proper clearances to combustibles. Designers and remodelers who don't know the codes should not be doing this type of work because a serious problem can result," said Padgitt.

The International Residential Code and National Fire Protection 211 Standard are the primary sources used to design and construct fireplaces and chimneys, and they are adopted by most jurisdictions. A permit is usually required to build a chimney, or install a hearth appliance or flue liner in most cities in the greater Kansas City area and the permit must be pulled by a Licensed Mechanical Contractor or someone with a special Contractor's License. Each city has their own rules, but most follow the Johnson County Contractor Licensing requirements.

Gas logs produce flame, just like wood does, but unfortunately many people have the impression that gas logs are not the same as wood. Flame produces heat, and if clearances are not followed or there is a defect in construction, a house fire will result. The proper type and size of fireplace, smoke chamber, damper, and flue liner must be used or the logs will not function properly and may cause Carbon Monoxide backup into the home. CO is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, and the gas can cause ill health or even death.

Padgitt suggests that a professional Certified Chimney Sweep who is a chimney builder be consulted during the design process so problems can be avoided before building begins. In the case of a chimney that has already been constructed, an inspection from a professional can provide peace of mind that the project was completed properly and to code.

More information can be found at 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Older Gas Flues a Potential Carbon Monoxide Hazard

Furnace flue mortar joint completely deteriorated
Older chimney flues serving gas appliances such as furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, and water heaters are a potential Carbon Monoxide hazard.  The older masonry flues are typically in poor condition unless they've been maintained over the years.  Rain water and condensation from acidic flue gasses can cause mortar joints to deteriorate and wash out over the years, leaving gaps that can allow Carbon Monoxide and other gasses to enter the living space of the home.

A second cause of CO backup is clogs in the flue or connecting pipe caused by deteriorated mortar, falling bricks, bird nests, leaves and other debris, which block the flue.  To avoid this issue, have a professional chimney sweep inspect the flue annually to check for potential problems and have repairs completed by a qualified contractor who specializes in chimney work.
Gene Padgitt, HearthMasters, Inc. 

HVAC contractors do not normally inspect, repair, or replace flue liners and this is not a part of an annual furnace tune-up or checkup.  Professional chimney sweeps are trained in chimney maintenance and repair and are the best persons to call for chimney work.

Gene Padgitt of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri said that he sees several gas flues per week that are in poor condition and need repair.  "CO is not something to ignore, it is a real health hazard, said Gene."  Unfortunately, many homeowners don't know the condition of their gas chimney flues.  Hidden internal damages can be costly to repair.

Padgitt suggests contacting a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to do inspections and repair.
Stainless steel chimney covers
Carbon Monoxide is odorless, tasteless  and colorless. It is often referred to as the "Silent Killer."   More cases of CO illness and death occur during winter months when heating appliances are in use and houses are closed up.  Symptoms of CO poisoning are unexplained headaches, nausea, dizziness  fatigue, flu-like symptoms, passing out, and death.

A Carbon Monoxide detector can alert occupants to a CO hazard.  If an alarm goes off, don't ignore it, check to see what the problem is or call the gas company immediately.

Installation of a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover, or a custom-made cover to protect several flues in the same chimney will help prevent damages due to rain.  All flues need chimney covers.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Austrian Stove Builders to Visit the U.S. In April

The Masonry Heater Association of North America is hosting a masonry heater and brick oven workshop April 15-21, 2013 with featured guest instructors from Austria. Participants will learn techniques and priciples of contemporary Grundofen/Kachelofen design and construction in this hands-on workshop held at Wildacres Retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina.

Anyone who wishes to learn more about masonry heater and masonry bake oven technology and building techniques is encouraged to join the MHA and attend this workshop. Masonry heaters are site-built wood-burning appliances that radiantly heat a home with wood. They are very efficient and clean burning, and use relatively small amounts of wood to heat without the use of electricity, gas, fans, or ducts.

Austrian Master Stove Builders Paul Polatschek and Luis Wegscheider and stove designer/project consultant and coordinator Stefan Polatschek are presenting the Austrian stove program. Paul Polatschek and Luis Wegscheider, both 28, are Master Stove Fitters who apprenticed in Lower Austria and Tirol respectively.  Paul founded his company Die Hafnerei at Krems at the age of 21 and has a successful career with 6 employees assisting him in his current operations. Luis Wegscheider is the leader of a stove producer's technical development department, having created his own Austrian UZ37 combustion chamber used in his small Grundofen series. Stefan Polatschek, age 58, runs a consulting, planning and design office, doing work mostly for wood-fire related projects in cooperation with industry players. Stefan grew up in Tirol, where he got first-hand experience with ceramics in his younger days. This is a unique opportunity for builders to see the experts at work.

The annual meeting and workshop will include classroom and hands-on training in masonry heater basics, bricklaying, bake ovens and smokers, the Austrian heater, and other masonry heater designs.

The media is invited to attend and take photos of the event.
For more information or media scheduling contact Richard Smith, MHA Executive Director, at
520-883-0191 or e-mail or visit