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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Home Buyer Beware!

Buyer beware: always have chimneys inspected by a professional chimney sweep

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council recommends an inspection of all chimneys and flues at the time of purchase of a home by a professional chimney sweep.  Home buyers may be in for a big surprise and major expense if they don’t have an inspection completed prior to closing of the sale.
Home inspectors do not inspect the interior or exterior chimney as a normal part of a home inspection. Most home inspectors do not have the necessary equipment or training to do chimney inspections, therefore, it is wise to have a professional do the job.

Unfortunately, many home buyers have found out after the sale that their chimney or fireplace is unusable. A typical inspection of a masonry chimney will reveal that the interior flue has missing mortar joints due to exposure to rain, moisture and acidic flue gasses. The older the home, the more likely there are problems.

In many cases, the seller has had a chimney fire without knowing it, and the interior clay tile flue liner is cracked and broken. Other typical findings are damaged smoke chambers, rusted dampers, missing chimney covers, poor flashing, and damaged cement crowns. Issues at the top of the chimney can’t be viewed without using a ladder, or in some cases, scaffold. Home inspectors don’t normally climb ladders or own scaffold.

The average chimney repair job runs into thousands of dollars. In the greater Kansas City area, the average relining job which involves removal of the damaged liner, scaffolding, and installation of a new flue liner costs between $8,000 to $18,000.  In a recent case, an inspection of five chimneys and eight fireplaces in one home revealed $50,000 in damages.

In a 2012 transaction in Kansas City Missouri, the seller had a chimney flue relined with a new flue liner but the installer put a liner in that was too small. Months later, when the new owner started a fire in the fireplace it smoked badly and caused smoke damage to the entire home. An inspection by a professional chimney sweep revealed that the liner installed was too small for the chimney to draft properly. Because the contract was with the previous owner, the new owner had no recourse and had to pay $14,000 to have the steel liner extracted, then the old tile liner extracted, and a new properly sized flue liner installed. Flue sizing is extremely important to the operation of the appliance and if not done correctly can cause major problems such as smoking, odors, and Carbon Monoxide back up.
If damages are found prior to closing the buyer will know exactly what condition the chimney and fireplaces are in and how to proceed with the negotiation. If damages are due to a chimney fire the seller’s insurance will cover the damages, however, it is wise for the buyer to choose the company who will do the work because sellers usually want to go the least expensive route and often hire unqualified chimney companies to do the work.

A typical Level II inspection with an internal chimney camera involves running the camera through the damper and into the smoke chamber, then the flue. This type of inspection can reveal damages to masonry, mortar joints and flue tiles that can’t be seen using the naked eye and a mirror. A professional chimney sweep who has been trained in this type of inspection will be able to identify potential hazards, fire risks, and Carbon Monoxide risks.

The MCSC recommends that all flues be inspected including fireplace flues, furnace and boiler flues, and chimneys serving wood and gas stoves and inserts. If a chimney flue has an accumulation of creosote, the creosote must be removed so that the inspector can see the flue liner. Creosote is very flammable and should be removed by a qualified chimney sweep.

Visit or for more information or to find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.  


Marge Padgitt is the editor of Wood-Fired Magazine, and CEO of a chimney contracting company in Kansas City, MO. Visit for more information. 

Choose and store wood correctly

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 desirable, so the price will be less than 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 who 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 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.
You’ll need an ax, 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 long splitter ($1,000 +).

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 publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine, and CEO of a chimney contracting company in Kansas City, Missouri. Her website is