Search This Blog

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Fall issue of Wood-Fired Magazine is now available!

Packed with feature stories about fireplace decor ideas for the holidays, a wood-fired restaurant, how to make your own charcoal, when to have the chimney swept, and much more including a crossword puzzle! Check it out at 

Order individual copies, or subscribe to get the magazine in print or online.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Get Your Chimney Checked for National Fire Prevention Week

National Fire Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association, was created in order to reduce fires. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council promotes fire prevention by having chimneys swept to remove flammable creosote and inspected to check chimneys for fire hazards.

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council advises homeowners and building owners to have chimneys inspected by a professional chimney sweep on a regular basis- at least once per year as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association. Professional chimney sweeps have the proper equipment to view the interior of chimneys in order to see potential hazards such as missing mortar joints, broken flue tiles, or large gaps which can allow toxic flue gasses and heat to escape into the home.

Professional chimney sweeps are trained to identify problems that the layman may miss.

Chimney sweeps also remove flammable creosote, debris, nests, leaves, and twigs from flues serving furnaces, water heaters, boilers, fireplaces, and gas and wood-burning heating appliances.

The history of chimney sweeps began before Roman times when people started to build fireplaces inside their homes for heating and cooking. Prior to the invention of the chimney the soot and smoke just vented out open windows, but chimneys solved that problem.

Today professional chimney sweeps get their training and Certification at the Chimney Safety Institute of America, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, and get continuing education classes at the CSIA, Midwest Chimney Safety Council, and other related organizations. They use state-of-the art chimney camera equipment for inspections.

Some jurisdictions require chimney sweeps to be CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps, or licensed in another manner.

A list of qualified professional chimney sweeps is posted at the Midwest Chimney Safety Council website at

Contact: Marge Padgitt, President of the MCSC at 816-461-3665 or for more information.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Historic Masonry Restoration


Section 1--The Basics

Brick and masonry might be among the longest-lasting, most weatherproof building elements, but masonry buildings still require maintenance and repair. This section of the Old House Web Exterior Walls guide focuses on ways to clean old brick and masonry buildings and also how to repair minor weatherization and age damage to these structures. These suggestions also apply to stone and concrete block.

Typically, masonry structures have problems and damage associated with one or more of the following:

Photo: HearthMasters, Inc.

Foundation displacement--also known as settling--over time
Water penetrating into structural walls
Shoddy construction
Poor materials
Stresses on the masonry walls due to fluctuations in temperature
Aging of mortar in masonry joints
Section 2--How to Clean Masonry Walls

Before undertaking any cleaning task, examine the wall carefully. Will your cleaning further degrade the mortar and masonry? Although dirt and airborne pollutants can significantly diminish the beauty of brick, a cosmetic makeover may actually do more harm than good, especially in very old houses or structures.

In any preservation work with old masonry buildings, you'll want to tackle cleaning with the least invasive process possible. If the structure has historical significance, you also should consult with a rehabilitation professional. Resist the temptation to blast the building with a high-pressure power washer! Although you'll remove decades of built-up dirt, you'll also remove mortar and most likely a thin layer of the brick itself.

If you use any chemical cleaners, you should clean a small test area first to see how the cleaner interacts with the existing masonry.

2.1: Cleaning Masonry With a Brush
You can clean old masonry walls during a home restoration with dish-washing detergent, cleaners such as Simple Green, or laundry detergent mixed with water. Oftentimes, deep stains can be removed with grease-removing cleaners such as Formula 409. Certain stains, such as water marks or leaching of coloring agents from within the brick itself, can be cleaned with acid-based cleaners. However, acid can discolor masonry, as well as damage glass and metal surfaces such as flashing around windows. Acid should be a last resort, and it must be thoroughly washed off after cleaning.

2.2: Cleaning With a Pressure Washer
If faced with a huge amount of wall space in a home renovation project, you can use a pressure washer if it's set on low or medium power. High-pressure spray should never be used to clean old masonry. Although you can clean a large surface volume quickly with a power or steam washer, you might be better off to tackle the chore with a brush to avoid blasting decaying mortar from aging joints.

2.3: Using Abrasive Blasting to Clean Masonry
Most abrasive blasting is done with sand, but the problems that can occur with sand blasting are similar to using high-pressure water. Softer materials, such as glass beads, finely ground nutshells, or peach or cherry pits, can be used to clean old masonry or brick. If you plan on using one of these softer blasting materials, test a small portion of wall and examine the brick and mortar before continuing.

Section 3--Applying Protecting Coatings to Masonry Walls
Clear coatings help repel water and graffiti. Coatings are either a protective film on top of the brick, or they actually penetrate the brick. The effectiveness of clear coating masonry walls is debatable, however.

3.1: Film Coatings
Film coatings include:

Pros: Film coatings can help fill cracks in brick and keep graffiti from penetrating the brick's surface.

Cons: The film may darken bricks, and it can prevent water from evaporating from the brick face.

3.2: Penetrating Coatings
These coatings usually permeate the brick to a depth of 3/8 of an inch.

Pros: The coating can last up to 10 years.

Cons: Penetrating coatings can't be applied over film coatings, and they don't work to seal cracks in mortar joints.
Section 4--Fixing Decaying Mortar

A brick wall is only as strong as the mortar that holds it together. Brick can last for several hundred years in the right conditions, but mortar is estimated to have a 25-year life. If the mortar has eroded more than 1/4 of an inch, it must be replaced or re-pointed.

4.1: Concerns and Cautions When Re-pointing
The mortars used today are stronger than their predecessors, so the stress loads and weight transfers that any structure undergoes may be transferred from the mortar joints and into the brick itself. Consult with a professional mason to ensure you mix the proper mortar for repointing.

Serious structural flaws in brick or masonry walls, such as large cracks or displaced or deteriorated bricks should be handled by a professional mason. A professional can assess the problem--and most importantly, the underlying factors that led to the degradation of the wall.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

To Vent or Not to Vent – That is the Question

Kington direct vent insert by Hearthstone
By Marge Padgitt

Many homeowners end up asking chimney sweeps to take out their vent-free gas logs due to problems they find associated with the appliance. People have experienced a horrible odor when the logs are in use, water running down the windows and walls, stains and soot on walls, baseboards, and ceilings, mold and mildew issues, unexplained headaches, and being ill while in the house while using the logs. 
When burning gas several by-products of combustion are produced: Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Formaldehyde, and significant quantities of 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, which can be a fire hazard. 
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. This issue is one that the HVAC and chimney industries contend with on a daily basis.  It is estimated that at least 80% of homes need a make-up air source such as a whole-house ventilator. If a problem exists before an appliance is installed, it is only going to get worse. 
Carbon Monoxide is a very real issue.  CO is always produced during combustion, and with room-vented heaters CO is vented into the room at so called “acceptable' levels. Even at low levels not registered with CO detectors, 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 about Carbon Monoxide.
Direct Vent Gas Appliances:Most professional chimney sweeps suggest installing a direct-vent type 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, therefore, is a much better choice. 
Vent-Free VS Direct-Vent
Vent-Free VS Direct-Vent
Must operate with window open
Has its own combustion air supply
Is a High-efficiency appliance
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

Marge Padgitt is a 30-year industry veteran, CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist and trainer. She is the president of HearthMasters Education, HearthMasters, Inc. and Padgitt Forensic Investigations in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at or or

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Masonry Chimneys v Earthquake

By Marge Padgitt

Just after 7:00 a.m. on September 3, 2016 parts of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Arkansas experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake which originated in northwest Oklahoma. The cause may be due to the practice of disposing oil and gas field wastewater deep underground. The temblor was similar to one experienced in the same location in November of 2011, although this recent earthquake lasted longer.

In Pawnee County, Oklahoma, the epicenter of the quake, reports damaged masonry structures, and one man was injured when part of a fireplace fell on him as he protected his child. In Kansas City, several reports have already been made by homeowners who noted that their brick chimney is cracked severely.

Masonry chimneys are particularly susceptible to damage by earthquake. Due to the nature of their rigid structure, chimneys are likely to crack while being shaken by a tremblor. Parts that can be damaged are mortar joints inside and out, bricks, stones, blockwork, flue liners, fireplaces, smoke chambers, and interior facial walls.

Photo by Brian Sherrod, United States Geological Survey - United States Geological Survey Multimedia Gallery, Public Domain,

As a matter of precaution, we suggest that homeowners inspect their chimney immediately after an earthquake, both inside and out, then call a professional chimney sweep to do a more thorough inspection with a chimney camera system and a keen eye trained to find things homeowners may miss.

  • Look for obvious fresh clean breaks in the mortar, bricks or stone on the exterior chimney and foundation
  • See if there are any pieces of masonry lying on the ground or on the roof.
  • Check the facial wall inside the house above and around the fireplace opening and note any fresh breaks
  • Examine the brick firebox (fireplace) and look for fresh cracks
  • Take photos of your findings and note the date and time
  • Have a professional chimney sweep examine the interior smoke chamber and flue liner for any fireplaces or the flue liner for the utility flue, and the entire exterior chimney after an earthquake
While the most severe damage will occur near the epicenter of an earthquake, chimneys in any location that experience shaking should be inspected, even if there is no visible exterior damage. The interior flue liner may be damaged with no indication of this on the exterior chimney chase.
Chimneys on commercial buildings, churches, and schools should be examined thoroughly by a professional immediately after an earthquake.

A damaged chimney can be a danger to occupants or passersby. If damaged badly enough a facial wall or chimney may partially or completely fall down. Cracks in the flue or smoke chamber can allow deadly Carbon Monoxide to enter the interior of the house or building. CO is odorless, tasteless, and silent.  CO alarms do not alert occupants if the air being checked is less than 9 ppm (parts per million), and it is known that low levels of Carbon Monoxide can cause long term irreversible brain damage. Visit for more information on Carbon Monoxide.

To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep in your area visit or In Kansas City visit

Marge Padgitt is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist, and is a 30-year industry veteran. She is an author and speaker, and CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City. Contact her at or 816-461-3665. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Buy where you burn

Transporting firewood outside the area where you burn could spread devastating non-native invasive species according to the Nature Conservancy and the National Forest Service.

When firewood is moved pests that go along with it may include the European gypsy moth, the Asian long-horned beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer, and pathogens such as beech bark disease, sudden oak death pathogen, and several others.

Campers and travelers are urged to purchase or cut their firewood locally and to leave any excess wood at the site to avoid the spread of these infestations.

Some states and counties don’t allow you to transport firewood across their borders.

The Emerald Ash Borer is a very small insect that originated in China and was transported in solid wood packing material used in cargo shipment. The larvae feed under the bark of Ash trees, leaving S shaped marks.  They can wipe out an entire neighborhood within a few years.                       

Why does pizza taste better when it is cooked in a wood-fired oven?

Why does Pizza taste better when it is cooked in a wood-fired oven?

According to most chefs, wood-burning ovens can do things that gas or electric ovens cannot. Wood-burning ovens can achieve very high temperatures of 700—1,000 degrees, reducing cooking time dramatically.  An average 10” pizza will cook in 1 –2 minutes. The pizza will taste fresher and be crisp with a almost burnt edge, like authentic Napolitano pizzas.

The thermal drafts from the wood create a current of air
(convection), which allows the food to cook very evenly on all
sides. So the food cooks faster, yet evenly. 

But the most important factor is that the smoke from the wood infuses the pizza crust with flavor that can’t be beat.

Once you’ve tried wood-fired pizza it is unlikely that you will eat any other type again.

For these reasons, most homeowners are putting brick ovens in their back yards as a part of their outdoor kitchens. The advantages are multi-level since an outdoor oven can be used to cook anything - not just pizza. 

Marge Padgitt is the publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine and is a wood-burning enthusiast. Reach her at

Friday, March 11, 2016

Springtime bird and animal problems in chimneys can be avoided

Spring is early this year in the greater Kansas City area and this could mean some sooner-than-normal issues with birds nesting inside chimneys where they don’t belong. Birds look for dark and safe places to nest and lay eggs in the spring and an open chimney can be an irresistible location for expecting bird parents.

Unfortunately for homeowners, nesting birds inside chimneys can mean big problems. Besides the obvious fire hazard from flammable nests, there may be constant annoying chirping of baby birds.  And perhaps not so obvious, the health hazard from bird droppings which can contain the disease histoplasmosis.

Squirrels and raccoons also like to keep house inside chimneys and these creatures can cause even more havoc for homeowners. Squirrels are noisy and build large nests that block flues, and raccoons carry roundworm and rabies. If either escapes into the house through a damper, , they may damage the interior of the house.

Therefore, it is best to stop birds, squirrels, and raccoons from entering masonry or prefabricated chimneys in the first place. This can be accomplished by having a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover with bird screen installed on top of the flue liner of a masonry chimney, or a proper cover installed on a prefabricated chimney pipe. Some older prefabricated chimney pipe covers were not adequately designed to keep birds out of the inner and outer chimney walls, making this type of pipe an even more serious fire hazard.  The addition of a screen in this area will stop the birds from entering but any nesting materials should be removed if found between the chimney walls.

According to the National Chimney Sweep Guild and Midwest Chimney Safety Council, all chimneys should be inspected annually and swept as necessary by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. During inspection, the sweep will look for nesting materials, dead birds, flammable creosote, and other issues and remove them. Chimney sweeps can install chimney covers that will keep birds and other animals out of flues. Covers come in different sizes and shapes such as individual covers to fit on a single flue, or multi-flue covers that cover two or more flues.

It is important to get a chimney cover installed in early spring before birds and squirrels start to nest.  According to the Migratory Bird Act, no nesting birds may be removed from chimneys, and to do so can result in a hefty fine for the homeowner and chimney sweep. If birds do get in a chimney flue before a cap is installed homeowners need to wait until the birds leave in order to have the flue cleaned out and a chimney cover installed. The MCSC advises against using inexpensive black steel chimney covers found at box stores because they rust and stain the chimney. Stainless steel chimney covers are long lasting, are a deterrent to animals such as squirrels and raccoons, and will never rust. For these reasons it is worth the extra expense to purchase stainless steel chimney covers rather than black steel covers. 

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City Missouri. The company designs and builds and maintains  masonry heater, brick ovens, chimneys, and fireplaces. Marge is the author of the Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book and others. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Design/Build Contest

The 2016 MHA Design/Build Contest is Here!

To Masonry Heater Association of North America Members (and potential members)
The 2016 MHA Design/Build Contest is Here! 
Get your project photos and descriptions ready to go!
See the contest rules and entry forms here: 
- Masonry Heater: Primarily a masonry heater but may have attached heated bench, bake oven,or  heated water. 
- Bake Oven: A stand-alone bake oven with no other attached appliances. 
- Masonry. If it doesn't fit in one of the above categories it should go here. Can be a whole house, a wall, outdoor room, heater/fireplace/oven combo, etc. 

See the rules for more detailed information. Don't wait until the last minute to put your projects together - it takes time to do this right. 

For more information contact Marge Padgitt at

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Levels of Inspections for Chimneys

The Chimney Safety Institute of America describes the different types of chimney inspections as they are set in the NFPA 211 Standard. When a Certified Chimney Sweep performs an inspection he/she will be following the guidelines for a Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 inspection of your chimney.

 See more at:

In my opinion, a Level 2 inspection should be performed whenever possible. With this type of inspection using an internal camera system to see the condition of the entire flue liner the homeowner will get a more accurate overview of the condition of the chimney. A Level 1 inspection should be reserved for very short flues only. A Level 3 inspection, which involves some demolition work, is not practical for most situations and is usually reserved for an instance where an event has occurred such as a structural fire or lighting strike.

Marge Padgitt is the president and CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri.