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Monday, October 29, 2018

Consumer Alert: Beware of Unlisted Wood Stoves

By Marge Padgitt


There is a big difference in quality and longevity when it comes to wood-burning stoves. Some metal wood-burning stoves and all barrel stove kits being sold by home improvement stores are NOT U.L. Listed or EPA approved, and therefore, cannot be installed in most cities according to the International Residential Code and city codes. 

Wood Stove Kit from U.S. Stove - this is an unlisted product

Wood stove barrel kits allow the consumer to modify a 50-gallon barrel to be used as a wood-burning stove. The barrels were not designed for this purpose, nor have they been tested for this use. It is unknown how long the so called "stove" would hold up. It is definitely not a product with a secondary burn chamber, so would be very dirty burning, spewing black smoke during use. The EPA does not allow such wood stoves to be used. 

So why are these kits sold? Good question, and I don't have the answer to that other than apparently, anyone can sell anything in the U.S. 

When purchasing a wood stove look for a label on the product that says "U.L." or Underwriters Laboratories, which indicates that the appliance has been tested do U.L. standards. If no label exists, it is not legal to install in most cities. 

Check with your local building codes official before purchasing a wood-burning heating appliance to see what their jurisdiction requires. Most major cities require that a licensed contractor do the installation of the stove and chimney or flue liner. The license they are looking for is called an HVAC or Master Mechanical License. Some cities require that a Certified Chimney Sweep by the Chimney Safety Institute of America or an NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist by the National Fireplace Institute do the installation. 

However, it is good advice to not waste your money on these potentially dangerous products. Find a local professional chimney sweep or hearth retailer who carries good quality wood-burning stoves with a warranty. 

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Chimneys should be inspected after recent storm

By Marge Padgitt

Some of the lightning strikes throughout the greater Kansas City area last night hit chimneys. 

A lightning strike caused major
damage to this chimney exterior
and interior
Pieces of bricks on the ground and roof, or blown out sections of a chimney are signs that a recent event occurred and the chimney may have been hit by lightning.

In some cases the damage is so severe that the chimney must be torn down and rebuilt. In other cases where there are only a few damaged bricks or stones these can be removed and replaced with new bricks.

When lightning strikes a chimney the evidence is usually obvious. There is always an entrance and exit point. The entrance point, usually found near the top of the structure, will likely be a large hole with burn marks, and may include large cracks through the masonry or blown out sections of stones or bricks. The exit point is usually found somewhere within the chimney structure in the flue, smoke chamber, firebox, or even the outer hearth inside the house.

Damage not so visible from the ground -
lightning hit the top of the chimney and
pushed a brick out on the back side
A professional chimney inspector should examine any chimney that has been damaged by lighting. The chimney sweep should perform a Level II internal chimney inspection with a chimney camera system in order to see if any interior damages have occurred which make the fireplace, furnace, or water heater flue unusable. Only persons trained specifically on chimneys can identify chimney damages properly and provide the needed documentation for an insurance claim. 

Marge Padgitt is the president and CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. dba Padgitt Chimney & Fireplace. She is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Wood- burning Specialist. Contact Marge at

Friday, August 24, 2018

Cut utility bills by using wood-heating appliances

Cut utility bills by using wood-heating appliances

Fireplace insert by Regency
One way to cut utility bills during cold weather is to use a wood-fired heating appliance such as a masonry heater, wood-burning stove, or wood-burning fireplace insert. 

Freestanding wood-burning stove
by Regency

Today’s modern wood-burning heating appliances are very efficient and clean-burning, unlike their older predecessors. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates wood stove emissions and has strict requirements that stove manufacturers must follow. This is why replacing an older, dirty burning wood stove is good not only for the environment, but less wood is needed to produce the same amount of heat.

Fuel costs can be significantly less than oil, gas, or electric heating appliances, especially if there is a nearby supply of inexpensive cordwood. For homeowners with their own land and trees, the concept of no cost for fuel other than physical exertion is very attractive. For those wanting to live off-grid, have an emergency heating alternative, or just lower fuel costs, the addition of a wood-burning appliance is a good solution.

Masonry Heater by Gene Padgitt
Masonry heaters are arguably the best type of wood-burning appliance. They use old-world technology which is a series of channels installed inside the appliance that trap heat, then transfer the heat slowly through the mass of masonry. Masonry heaters are large and need to be centrally located for maximum benefit. The Masonry Heater Association of North America has more information on these efficient site-built appliances.

Fireplace inserts are appliances that are installed inside an existing masonry fireplace. They use a small stainless steel flue liner and can be used either with or without a blower. By installing a new efficient wood-burning fireplace insert the fireplace efficiency will be increased by approximately 75%.

Freestanding stoves are appliances that are placed in a room and use an existing masonry chimney with a stainless steel flue liner or an independent Class A stainless steel chimney. These types of appliances are also highly efficient.

For more information on fuel cost calculators visit

Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at HearthMasters website is 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What Happens to Chimneys Over the Winter

By Marge Padgitt

Winter is rough on any type of chimney- especially brick or stone chimneys. During the winter months, moisture penetrates the bricks, then freezes. When water freezes it expands and often causes part of the brick or stone to break off.  This is called "Spalling." The constant freeze/thaw cycles over winter can wreak havoc on masonry. Chimneys built with soft type brick are more susceptible to moisture penetration and spalling. 
Check the ground and roof for pieces of brick. This is the first indication that there is a problem. The area most affected will be the portion of the chimney above the roof line since that area is the most exposed.If you see spalling bricks or stones, call an expert to do an inspection and provide a solution. 

If the damage is not too severe, bad bricks can be removed and replaced, then an application of a professional water repellent sealer is recommended to reduce penetration of water. 

If the damage is widespread, the only solution is partial or complete tear down and rebuilding of the chimney. 

WATER is the primary problem when it comes to chimney damages! 

Rain water not only causes damage to bricks, but causes deterioration of the cement cap/crown. The cement cap is what keeps rain water out of the chimney interior where it can cause even more problems such as washing out mortar joints in the interior chimney and tile flue liners, deterioration of the smoke chamber and fireplace, and rusting of the damper.  

Hint: Do NOT paint or stucco over masonry chimneys - this only traps moisture inside the bricks and causes them to fail more quickly. 
Flashing that is poorly done, missing, or in need of repair can cause water leakage into the home and damage to rafters, joists, ceilings, and walls. Flashing should be checked each spring, and especially right after a roof repair or replacement is completed. 

The best way to avoid costly water damage is to keep it out and off of a chimney! 

  • Have chimneys checked in the spring by a professional chimney sweep/mason
  • Put a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover on all flues to keep most of the rain out of the interior flues
  • Repair or replace bad cement crowns/caps with a code required 2" drip edge to keep water off of the masonry below the crown where the most damage is usually found
  • Have a professional water repellent masonry sealer applied
  • Make sure J and Counter flashing is in good shape and sealed completely

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters Masonry School and HearthMasters Restoration in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Negative House Pressure Problems

Smoking Fireplaces & Stoves —Smelly Fireplaces—Poor Indoor Air Quality

Many homes have negative pressure problems—this is common when homes are tightly insulated, or in larger or multi-story houses.  Not enough make-up air can get in the house for all of the things that need air, like fireplaces, wood stoves, gas ranges, furnaces water heaters — and people. Sick House Syndrome can also be a result of this issue and it is more common than most people think. 

Symptoms: Fireplaces or wood stoves smoke or smell when a second fireplace is used or when a furnace kicks on - or even when none of these things happen. This is because the furnace or fireplace needs air for combustion, and takes it from the place of least resistance which is often a fireplace.  This is a house problem—not a chimney problem.

When an exhaust fan is used in the kitchen or bath, or the furnace is used, this makes the problem worse.  You may notice cold air drafts coming from fireplaces, fireplaces that smoke, Carbon Monoxide backup from the furnace, gas fireplace, or hot water heater, or leaky doors and windows. These are all symptoms of negative pressure in the house. Sometimes unexplained illness and flu like symptoms can be an indication of negative house pressure as well.

GAS appliances may backdraft Carbon Monoxide without the occupant's knowledge - CO is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Tip: don't ignore CO alarms-if one goes off there is a reason. 

 Solutions to the problem: 

The Draw Collar has an electric element that keeps the flue heated so that draft is always established and going up and out of the chimney. In addition to reducing or eliminating smells from the flue the inducer prevents back-drafting and smoking issues when starting a fire or at the end of the fire while it is cooling down. We recommend installation of a draft inducer with every stove insert or freestanding stove on a lower level of a home. However, it does not address the rest of the appliances or house. 

Condar through the wall ventilator: The Condar ASV-90 provides the ventilation you need without the drafts, energy loss and security concerns of an open window. Open windows can give you a blast of arctic air–along with dust, noise, and security concerns. The ASV-90 delivers diffused, filtered, fresh air quietly and efficiently. This is installed in a wall in the room where an appliance does not properly draft. 

NEW: The Padgitt MHV (Make-up Air Ventilator) system brings in needed air on demand from the house, heats it during the winter months, then distributes air through the house through the cold air returns. This supplies needed combustion air for all appliances in the house including the furnace, hot water heater, and fireplaces.  It also re-supplies the house with 6 fresh air exchanges per day as recommended by the EPA for occupants to breathe. Better health is a side-effect of this installation. A handy person, HVAC Tech, or Chimney Tech can do the installation. Sized to the house. 
See more information at

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. She is the publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine and and author of chimney and venting books and articles. Marge is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Wood-Burning Specialist. Contact Marge at 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Types of wood to burn in a fireplace or stove

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 deisreable, so the price will be less than for 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 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 not 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.
Wood is dry when it is "checked"
 (splits in the wood)
You’ll need an axe, 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 log splitter ($1,000 +). More serious wood-burnings will want to invest in a good log splitter that will last for years. 

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 president of HearthMasters, Inc. chimney and fireplace contracting company. She is an industry writer and speaker. Contact Marge at 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What you Should Know about Chimney Fires

The following information is from studies conducted and researched by the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, HearthMasters, Inc. ,and the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Much of this information is from the book Causes, Effects and Evaluation by the CSIA. A copy of the book may be obtained by calling the CSIA at 317-837-5362. 

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.

​- 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. 

Longitudinal break in tile flue liner Photo: HearthMasters, Inc.
- Tile liners will break longitudinally first, due to the nature of their construction, then horizontal and diagonal cracks will occur in more severe fires. - 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. - 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
Longitudinal break in 2' section of  clay tile flue liner after a chimney fire. Note that the break goes all the way  through to the back side. 
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. 
Marge Padgitt is the owner of HearthMasters, Inc. chimney restoration company in Independence, Missouri. She is the editor of Wood-Fired Magazine and author of several industry books. Contact Marge at