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Monday, December 30, 2019

Biomass Tax Credit - don't forget to claim it!

Happy Holidays from HearthMasters - and the Federal Government!

If you purchased a wood-burning stove or insert in 2017 - 2019 you may be eligible for a $300 tax credit.

Every year, many taxpayers fail to take advantage of the tax credits for which they're eligible. HPBA works to ensure that the $300 biomass stove tax credit is not forgotten. Rewarding investment in more energy-efficient technology can benefit not only individuals but also can positively impact the air quality of entire communities. The U.S. federal government offers a tax credit to tax-paying homeowners who purchase a wood or pellet stove that is at least 75 percent efficient.

The biomass stove tax credit has been extended for purchases made before December 31, 2020. You can claim this credit on your tax return if you made a qualifying purchase since December 31, 2017 and up to December 31, 2020.

What is it?
A $300 tax credit for purchasing a biomass stove that is at least 75 percent efficient. This includes wood-burning stoves and inserts, pellet stoves and inserts, and other types of stoves. 

How to Claim It:
Complete eligible purchase by December 31, 2020.
Retain the receipts from your purchase as well as the manufacturer certificate stating the stove qualifies.
Claim the credit on your federal income tax form.

For more information visit:

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Beware of Flammable Nest Hazards

By Gene Padgitt, CFI, and Marge Padgitt

Many house fires occur due to flammable bird or squirrel nests in or around chimneys. On Monday, February 10, 2014, Gene found a nest that was built on top of a direct vent gas fireplace vent on the exterior of the house.  The nest and wood house siding was charred, which means that the nest was trapping heat in an area that needed to be clear of obstructions. Heat chemically changes the structure of wood over time and lowers the ignition point. Where wood normally ignites at approximately 500 degrees, wood exposed to heat over time may ignite at only 180 degrees or lower. In this case, the homeowners were lucky to have had service done to their appliance when they did or it would have gone unnoticed and eventually caused the house to catch fire.

Shortly after the above inspection, Gene inspected another direct vent gas fireplace and found another bird nest packed tightly inside the holes in the vent. The homeowners had no idea that birds could get behind the vent cover and build a fire hazard inside the vent. It is a good thing they decided to have us do an annual gas appliance check and tune-up or it wouldn’t have been found.

Flammable bird nest material
in a Direct Vent gas fireplace
vent. Homeowners should check
the exterior vent before using
each season. 
Birds and squirrels love to build nests inside and on chimneys where they have some protection from the elements, and heat to keep warm in the winter. Unfortunately, nests are built with flammable dry twigs and other materials that can easily catch fire and cause a chimney or vent fire that may become a house fire.

In 2013 we did a fire investigation involving an unlisted decorative shroud on top of a wood chimney chase serving a manufactured fireplace. The shroud contained over five-gallon buckets full of squirrel nesting materials that were packed down inside the shroud and not visible from the ground. The materials trapped heat inside the area, which in turn ignited the combustible framing. According to the International Residential Code, only shrouds listed for the particular manufactured appliance may be installed.  Unfortunately, there are many architects and builders who design unlisted shrouds to cover ugly chimney termination caps which do not have a listing and are potential fire hazards.  As chimney sweeps we need to be diligent about checking for listed and labeled shrouds and removing those that are not listed.

We had an unbelievable case about 18 years ago which involved the removal of over 20’ of squirrel nesting material inside a clay tile flue liner. It took two men two trips to get all of the material out with many types of equipment. They were almost to the point of tearing the chimney down when they finally broke through the packed materials. The squirrels apparently used the same location year after year and built a new nest on top of the old nest until reaching the top.  Luckily, the homeowners had not used the fireplace for many years and called us to inspect it before using it. 
In yet another fire investigation case in 2012, Gene found the cause of a fire to be bird nesting material packed inside an older model manufactured chimney pipe that was designed without adequate protection against birds.  Birds built the nest between the inner and outer pipe sections and on top of the chase top.  This blocked the air-cooled chimney and caused it to overheat, ignited nesting materials, which in turn ignited nearby combustibles several inches away.  This is something to look for in older model pre-fabricated fireplaces, and unfortunately, there are many of these types of fireplaces still in use.

In 2013 we did an inspection of a manufactured fireplace unit that had bird feathers and nesting materials coming down the flue and through a gap at the bottom of the pipe. Further inspection revealed that nesting materials were packed between the inner and outer chimney walls. We advised the homeowner, who only wanted a screen installed to keep the birds out, that the entire system was a fire hazard and needed to be replaced. This started a huge controversy and she left negative feedback on Angie’s List.  I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the house burns down. The sad part about this case is that another chimney company did install a screen on the chimney cover for her and did nothing else.  What we say when this happens is “They just bought that chimney,” which means to fire investigators that the last person to touch it is the first person the insurance companies go after.

Chimney swifts are especially drawn to dark, cool masonry chimneys and build their nests with mud and twigs on the sidewalls of flues and smoke chambers. In the U.S., the Chimney Swift is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Neither birds nor nests can be removed from chimneys without a federally-issued permit. Other birds build nests on the smoke shelf or damper. All nests are flammable and are a fire hazard. Unfortunately, the Migratory Bird Act prevents homeowners or chimney sweeps from removing nesting birds of any type inside chimneys, and substantial fines may apply per occurrence.

Homeowners can prevent the entry of birds into masonry chimneys by installing a masonry chimney cover with a bird guard screen on top of the flue or a multi-flue cap. A chimney cover serves dual duty by also keeping rain which deteriorates mortar joints out of the flue.

Gene and Marge Padgitt own HearthMasters, Inc. chimney and fireplace restoration company in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Don’t Burn a Dry Christmas Tree in a Fireplace!

When deciding what to do with a real Christmas tree this year, be sure putting it into a burning fireplace is not on the list of options. Dry pine is extremely flammable and burns very hot and fast - too fast and hot in fact for a friendly fire inside the fireplace.

Burning dry pine trees are the cause of many chimney fires each year - and many of those evolve into structural house fires. As soon as dry pine is placed on a burning fire it erupts into a ball of fire which reaches up into the flue where flammable creosote can ignite.

Chimney fires may only last a few seconds, but some can last much longer depending on the amount of fuel (creosote) inside the flue that is available to burn. The longer the fire, the higher the risk of flame escaping into the structure, resulting in a house fire.

Instead, think about chopping the tree up into very small pieces to use for kindling throughout the winter. Pine is a great firestarter.  An added benefit is that you can get some exercise while chopping!  If chopping is not your thing, some cities offer Christmas tree pick up service, and will haul the tree off for you.

Check out this video if you'd like to see how fast a tree burns up:

More ideas for dry Christmas trees:
  1. Cut the tree up into larger pieces to use in an outdoor firepit or bake oven.
  2. Cut the tree trunk into thin slices to make coasters. Sand smooth, and apply a coat of polyurethane to seal in sap.
  3. Cut the trunk into thin slices, then drill a hole near the top for string, and donate to a scout group or school for an art project. 
  4. Use the pine needles for mulch.
  5. Rent a wood chipper and run the tree through it, then use the chips as mulch in the spring.
  6. Cut up small pieces to use for kindling. 

Marge Padgitt is an author and chimney professional living in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Add a mantel for a focal point in any room

Mantels are typically used above or above and surrounding working gas or wood-burning fireplaces, but more and more people are using a mantel in unique ways to add a focal point to any room. A fireplace is not needed to provide ambiance to an indoor or even an outdoor space.

Some homeowners or home decorators find antique or modern

mantels at architectural salvage stores, retail hearth stores, flea markets, antique stores, or online auction sites. Even chimney sweeps and masons may keep a few mantels around that have been removed from repair projects.

Mantels come in all styles and sizes. Small antique cast iron mantels that were once used for very small coal fireplaces are perfect for smaller spaces such as parlors, bedrooms, or foyers. Larger marble or wood mantels are appropriate to use in bigger rooms such as great rooms, family rooms or living rooms.
The outdoor room is more and more popular and outdoor fireplaces are a part of that trend. Adding a mantel to the fireplace may add just the right, and unexpected, finishing touch to the space. Protect the mantel from weather by applying a non-combustible coating to the surface if there is no roof or overhang.

Cast iron and marble mantels are non-combustible, while wood mantels are combustible, so care should be taken if planning to use a fire source. If fire is desired, an indoor gel fireplace may be added as long as clearances to combustible materials is adhered to. There are also some small depth electric fireplaces on the market that can be used if the effect is desired. Some electric fireplaces also produce a small amount of heat.
A Kansas City resident recently had five fireplaces in his historic 1870 home restored and remodeled. A local chimney contractor was able to obtain antique 1860’s period cast iron mantels from New York that fit the brick fireplaces perfectly. The small fireplaces were rebuilt with firebrick in a Rumford style, which was introduced in the 1700’s by Count Benjamin Thomas Rumford, who designed the fireplace to produce more heat. The cast iron mantels and the fireplace designs work together perfectly and appear original to the home. “I was so happy with the finished look,” said the homeowner, “We feel lucky to have been able to get the mantels shipped from New York.”

One final option that the smaller mantels can be used for is the new Bellfires brand pre-cast wood-burning zero clearance fireplace. This fireplace comes in one complete package which includes the smoke chamber and insulation with a stainless steel casing. The Bellfires wood-burning fireplace can be added to any room. A Class A stainless steel chimney is required to be installed with the fireplace. Since the Bellfires fireplace is U.L. listed it can be installed in any city per code requirements. It comes in several sizes, including a 28” high small fireplace that looks period. The cast mantels work well with this fireplace unit.

Marge Padgitt is president and CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. and HearthMasters Education in Kansas City, Missouri. She is an author, educator, and industry veteran.,

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Things To Do and Not To Do

People have short attention spans and little time these days so here is a quick list of things to do and not to do regarding chimneys and heating appliances to keep you safe and warm this winter:

What Not to Do: 

  • Don't burn Hedge in a fireplace or woodstove. It burns too hot and is dangerous!
  • Don't burn dry soft pine as your main fuel. It burns too hot and fast. Most importantly, don't burn a Christmas tree or a house fire could result!
  • Don't expect a Chimney Sweeping Log to clean out creosote from the chimney or do an inspection. In fact, these logs have been known to cause chimney fires!
  • Don't leave stockings hanging on the mantel while a fire is in the fireplace!
  • Don't put wrapping paper in the fireplace - it creates toxic fumes!
Things to Do: 
  • Do shut down the air supply and get out of the house and call 911 if you have a chimney fire! You may think the fire is out but it might not be completely out, or wood may be smoldering on the exterior of the chimney in your attic. 
  • Do burn only dry seasoned cordwood
  • Do have fireplaces and wood-burning stoves serviced and swept in the SPRING when chimney sweeps are not so busy and you can get a better price!
  • Do use only a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep
  • Do have your furnace/boiler/water heater flue inspected annually to check for problems that could lead to CO leakage into the house!
  • Do have Direct-Vent gas fireplaces and inserts serviced and tuned-up annually by a professional to assure proper operation. Call after the season is over in the SPRING!

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The signs say heavy snow and cold weather for Kansas City

The rabbits, cats, and dogs in the Kansas City area have a noticeably heavy coat right now – according to folklore heavier coats on any of our animal friends indicate very cold wet weather coming soon. But that is not the only way to predict the weather using non-scientific means.

Persimmon Seeds: According to Mike Dougherty of Tree Management Company in Lenexa, Kansas, find persimmon fruit in the supermarket or on a persimmon tree in your neighborhood. Note: You can eat persimmon fruit but most people don’t think it is very tasty and prefer to leave it for the deer, squirrels, and raccoons. The fruit should be locally-grown to reflect the area weather. Cut one of the seeds inside the fruit open and examine the shape of the white kernel inside.
  • If the kernel is fork-shaped, we can expect powdery, light snow and a mild winter.
  • If the kernel is knife-shaped, expect to be "cut" by icy, cold and cutting winds.
  • If the kernel is spoon-shaped, lots of heavy, wet snow will fall. The spoon is supposed to represent a shovel, which you will need to have on hand.
Animal Folklore:
·         If a mole digs its hole 2½ feet deep, expect severe weather; if two feet deep, not so severe; if one foot deep, a mild winter.
·         When pigs gather leaves and straw in all, expect a cold winter.
·         When rabbits are fat in October and November, expect a long, cold winter.
·         Wooly Worms: According to folklore, the black-and-brown caterpillars can predict the weather for the coming winter. If you find one during the fall season and see that the brown band is narrow, winter weather will be harsh. Supposedly, wooly worm weather predictions have been accurate 80% of the time since tracking began in the 1950s.
·         Insects and birds nesting high in the trees in the fall indicate a harsh winter is ahead.
·         Tough acorns: A thicker, harder shell than normal on acorns is a sign of hard weather to come.
·         Squirrel activity: If the squirrels are bustling around and storing more food than normal, or burying their acorns deeper than normal, expect a hard winter.

The accuracy of these folklore traditions may be questionable, however, it will be interesting to see what actually happens this winter. If there is a lot of snow, I’ll be a believer.

Moon Signs:
“Clear Moon, frost soon.”  When the night sky is clear, Earth's surface cools rapidly—there is no cloud cover to keep the heat in. If the night is clear enough to see the Moon and the temperature drops enough, frost will form overnight, so expect a very chilly morning.

Farmer’s Almanac: I prefer to check a publication that has been around since 1792. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, December temperatures will average 30° (2° below avg.) and precipitation will be low at 0.5" (1" below avg.). The Almanac shows snowy and cold periods from December 12 – 27, then very cold. 

Vote for HearthMasters!

The Examiner newspaper is having their annual contest for the Best of the Best in Independence, Missouri. If you live in or near Independence, please vote for us after Sept 13 here:

Thank you!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Woodburners Prep your Wood for Fall NOW!

As difficult as it is to think about cold weather during the nice spring and summer months when the trees are green and the flowers are in full bloom, wood burners need to start prepping for fall now.

Since wood needs to be cut, split, and stacked months in advance so that it dries out properly, now is the time to get that project completed, and get some exercise to boot. There are several types of log-splitters available that can make the job much easier. Prices range from $150 for a hand-operated splitter, to $3,000 for a professional gas splitter.

Wood should be stacked off the ground, away from the house, with a covering over the top but not on the sides-- so the wind can blow through and dry the wood out. For the serious wood-burner, a woodshed with a permanent roof will offer years of protection from the elements. Be sure to stack wood loosely so it will dry out faster. 

Wood should be kept away from the house because creepy crawlies like brown recluses like to hide in between the logs. Check wood with an inexpensive moisture meter to be sure it contains less than 20% moisture content before burning. Moisture meters can be purchased online. 

Stack split wood loosely
Any dry wood will do - but hardwood will burn for a longer time since it is denser than softwood. By using hardwood less time is involved in loading up the wood stove or fireplace insert, but softwoods will burn nicely, too. 

Stay away from dry pine and hedge, however, because they burn so hot and fast there is a greater risk of a chimney fire or damaging a wood stove or fireplace.

Marge Padgitt is a veteran chimney contractor in Kansas City, Missouri. She is the author of the Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book and The Homeowner's Guide to Hearth Appliances. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Wrong Type of Chimney Cap Can Cause Problems

Cement Cap with Crack and Separation
The cement cap on top of masonry chimneys is the single most problematic area of any chimney.  As chimney service technicians, we know that the cement cap (or crown) is often cracked, deteriorated, and separated from the top course of brick, leaving areas where rainwater can seep in and enter the chimney chase.

Cracks often develop because most masons do not install a bond break around flue liners as is required by code, and when flue liners are heated they expand and push on the cement cap. Cracks may also develop during a sudden chimney fire or lightning strike.

Deteriorating Cement Cap

Cement caps are susceptible to weather damage and will deteriorate over time. This area is the most difficult to see because it cannot be viewed from the ground.
Poor Chimney Design

Right: This is a poor design for a chimney. Rainwater runs off the cement cap and directly on to rows of bricks. This upper portion of the chimney will deteriorate much more quickly than the rest of the structure.
Left: There is nothing left of the cement cap that used to be on the top of this chimney. Rainwater has been pouring into the interior of the chase for years, causing deterioration of the mortar joints inside the chase.

This type of damage can be very costly. Both the interior and exterior chimney need repair.

Right: This mortar joint between two tile flue liner sections has been completely washed out due to exposure to rain water on both the outside  and the inside of the tile. Gaps like this can allow toxic and heated flue gasses to escape the chimney.

Cement cap with drip edge. Note: the chimney
is too short and should have been raised.
The 2012 International Residential Code requires a cement cap to have a drip edge and a slope to permit water runoff away from the top courses of bricks on the chimney. Without this drip edge water runs onto the upper bricks and mortar, causing excessive deterioration.

Marge Padgitt is the CEO and President of HearthMasters, Inc. and HearthMasters Masonry School in Independence, MO. Contact her at

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Gene Padgitt to Teach River Rock Workshop

Midwest Chimney Safety Council Conference Sweeping the Lake II

At the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks May 16-18, 2019! 

We will be doing a whimsical river rock stone finish on the masonry heater we built last year at the Matthews' house.  Get hands-on masonry skills practice with this unique technique. Master masons Gene Padgitt and Gary Hart will head up the class. Plus we will have an annual auction and a Friday night buffet banquet. 

Make room reservations at The Lodge at Port Arrowhead. CSIA and NFI CEUS will be applied for. CEU's will apply for MHA Certified Heater Masons. 

Visit for more information. 


Marge Padgitt
MCSC President

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Efficient ECCO Stove Now Available in the U.S.

Pete West, Managing Director of ECCO Stove in Studley, U.K. announced today that HearthMasters, Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri is their new supplier for U.S. customers.

HearthMasters, Inc. is a chimney, fireplace, and masonry heater contractor serving the greater Kansas City area and a supplier for customers and hearth professionals across the United States. They recently added the highly efficient ECCO stove to their line of products. HearthMasters, Inc. has been in business since 1982.

“We are so pleased to add ECCO stove to our line of products due to its efficiency ratings and superb benefits,” said Marge Padgitt, President of HearthMasters, Inc. “I believe that this is an appliance that is far superior to a standard wood-burning stove, and once consumers find out about the differences, they will, too, said Marge.” 

The ECCO stove is a hybrid appliance with features of a wood stove and a masonry heater combined. Multiple color and trim options are available to suit any d├ęcor.

As a brief introduction to the product range the Ecco Stove is a masonry heater that has been developed to achieve maximum efficiency by combining both conventional wood burning stove and slow heat release technology. It ha been in production in the U.K. since 2008. The Ecco Stove drives warmth through much more of the home without the need for plumbing, ducting, or electrical requirements using a Natural Heat method due to the patented Silicon Carbide (mineral/stone) body. 

Key features:

·  Slow heat release – Heat held in the stove body radiates for 7-12 hours after the fire has gone out.
·  One control – A simple mechanism makes getting the best out of your Ecco Stove easy.
·  Balanced heating – Won’t over heat the room with hot and cold spots. Ecco Stove wraps the home in warmth with even heat distribution.
·  Low maintenance – Incredibly hard-wearing parts with 10-year warranty on the body.
·  High efficiency – Very low emissions passing the new 2022 Design standards for Europe.
·  Less re-fueling– From as little as two fires per day depending on home insulation levels and property size.
·  Safer environment – A much lower surface temperature than conventional wood burning stoves make the Ecco Stove much safer for children and pets to be around.
·  Clean environment – Carbon neutral efficiency helping the environment by only producing the same CO emissions as a tree decomposing naturally.
·  Made in the UK – Manufactured and invented in the UK the Ecco Stove is now exporting to Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, and the U.S..
·    UL Tested - Efficiency test, UL1482-10, Method 28A exemption test and the Washington and Colorado parallel.

The E678 and E850 models are currently available in the U.S. since they are tested to U.L. Standards. HearthMasters, Inc. is able to ship the ECCO stove anywhere in the United States. Unlike other manufactured stoves, a local hearth dealer is not necessary to place an order. The appliance and chimney should be installed by a professional, and HearthMasters will assist homeowners in finding a qualified installer in their area with a network of hearth professionals.

“There really is nothing else like this appliance. Compared to a masonry heater, the ECCO stove is much less expensive and faster to install, yet it produces heat economically just as a large masonry heater. I am certain that the ECCO stove will become extremely popular across the United States in a short amount of time,” said Padgitt.

For more information visit or call Marge Padgitt at 816-461-3665. Email:

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How to Choose a Hearth Appliance

High-efficiency fireplace by Regency
Since there are so many options for hearth appliances, it can sometimes be difficult to make a decision.  There are many choices available now from old school open fireplaces that actually take heat from the house, to high-tech hybrid masonry heaters that heat an entire house with very little wood. Both gas and wood-burning appliances are available, and making the right choice can mean the difference between thoroughly enjoying a fire or regretting the day you decided to make a purchase. 

First and foremost, it is critical to purchase a quality appliance from a reputable hearth dealer or chimney sweep, and that the installer is certified by the National Fireplace Institute and/or the Chimney Safety Institute of America (preferably both). These Certifications show that the installer is trained in their field. Also be sure to find out if the dealer is properly licensed by the local contractor agency and pulls a permit from the city codes department if required by your city. Professional dealers carry quality products. 

Buying from a big box store or local farm store may be tempting because of the low prices. The price reflects the quality, workmanship, and the warranty of the appliance, and that is why these types of stores sell the cheaper items. The metal is not as thick, the welds may not be as strong, and some stores even continue to sell non-EPA approved appliances which are not legal. You may also find non U.L. listed products online or in stores and that is a big problem since your local codes likely don't allow them. There is a reason - these appliances are inferior and could be a fire hazard in the near future. We've actually seen cheap stoves burn out in one season. 

Another problem with box store hearth appliances (other than electric units which are OK) is that they don't provide a qualified installer to install it. Gas and wood-burning stoves and fireplace inserts should only be installed by a qualified professional,  and the manual likely states that or the warranty is voided. There is a reason for this, too - there are too many mistakes that could be made that can cause a fire or Carbon Monoxide hazard.

Below is a chart I made to help people choose the appliance that is right for them: 
If you can't read the small print, go to our website at and you'll find this same page under appliances. 

Things never to buy: 
  • Non-U.L. Listed appliances
  • Barrel-stove kits (unsafe and not U. L. listed)
  • Non-EPA approved appliances
  • Older appliances that were made prior to 1989 (f you have one, get rid of it unless it is a rare early EPA approved and U.L. listed product)
And do not sell your old appliance - have it hauled to the dump. It is illegal to install a non-approved appliance in most jurisdictions. 

Remember that your local jurisdiction may REQUIRE a professional to do the installation, including the chimney or flue liner and connecting pipe, components, chimney cover, wall and floor protection, etc. and won't let homeowners DIY. 


House fire 
Let me repeat that - this is not a DIY project. I don't care how handy you are, if you are an engineer, contractor, or genius -if you are not a hearth or chimney professional you will miss something important!

After all, we are talking about FIRE in your house! 

I don't suggest using non-venting gas logs (see my article To Vent or Not to Vent on this blog for more info), or pellet stoves. Pellet stoves require weekly maintenance by the homeowner, which they never do, and then the stove stops working. There are also times when in the middle of winter it is impossible to find pellets. So for this reason I say stay away from pellet heating appliances. Pellet grills and smokers, on the other hand, are very easy and fun to use and you can always get pellets in the spring.  

Keep in mind that the newer the appliance the cleaner burning it is. The Environmental Protection Agency has come down hard on wood-burning appliance manufacturers and they've really stepped up and are now making super clean burning products. Some wood-burning stoves and inserts are hybrids, which means that a catalytic combustor is installed along with a secondary burn chamber. 

Custom masonry heater
by Gene Padgitt
So what is my favorite heating appliance?  Masonry heaters, of course. Masonry heaters use 1/3 the wood of a new clean- burning wood stove to produce the same amount of heat. They also retain the heat for long periods of time then emit this in the form of radiant heat throughout the day or evening, and only require loading twice per day. And no fan is required. The hybrid ECCO stove/masonry heater is also a very good choice. If you prefer gas, go with a direct vent gas insert that will provide ambiance and heating and is easy to use with a remote control! 

If you are considering a fireplace insert because your chimney is damaged by a chimney fire or rain water, remember to ask your chimney sweep to remove the creosote in the flue and chamber first. Creosote can cause bad odors, but more importantly can catch on fire when exposed to heat from the flue liner that comes with the stove. 

I know, this is a lot to consider, but hopefully I've made your job a bit easier. 

Marge Padgitt is a veteran chimney specialist in Kansas City, Missouri. She is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Certified Gas Specialist. Contact her at

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Health Benefits of a Fire in the Hearth

What is it about a fire in the fireplace that immediately elicits feelings of comfort and ease?  Is it the warmth, the sound of gentle crackle and pop, the rhythmic pattern of undulating flames…?

Perhaps all three; along with the added benefit that a fire invites us to slow down, sit down, and enjoy it.

Our modern lifestyle can keep us in a constant state of high alert status, or the “fight, freeze or flight response.”   (FFF) This is a normal, healthy response to stimulus or threat that has kept us humans on the planet for millennia.  A tiny, 2-part gland called the Amygdala that rests in the center of our brains is programed to keep us safe by remembering a threat and triggering a response to it.  IE: Stimulus = Saber-toothed Tiger, Response = Fight, Freeze or Flight.

However, that ancient protective response can be triggered by not-so-life-threatening stimulus in our world today.  In its effort to make sense of the stimuli that it is constantly bombarded with, the Amygdala can generalize and lump vaguely similar threats together.  Think about your most recent trip on a highway.  Did someone cut you off?, not let you in traffic?, run a stop sign? (and you had your kids in the car- whew!)  Your Amygdala reads those stimuli in exactly the same way it has been programmed to read “Saber-toothed tiger” – Yikes!  In addition, the sub-conscious does not know the difference between “real” and “virtual,” so even violent or disconcerting images on TV and through other media can prompt the FFF response.

That protective response floods the body with adrenaline, increases heart rate, slows digestion, tenses muscles and pumps blood to the extremities for fight or flight, leaving the brain sorely lacking in the nourishment it needs for optimal function and us feeling like we just ran a marathon.  No wonder we are tired after a long day!

A surprisingly simple, comforting and elegant way to de-stress and sooth the FFF response is to enjoy the benefits a fire in the hearth.   

Raising body temperature just a few degrees allows more efficient circulation; relaxing the muscles and bringing essential nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body; creating a feeling of safety, security and ease.

The sound of the gentle sizzle and crackle of the burning wood serve as pleasant “white noise” which gives the brain just enough to occupy it, allowing other over-stimulated parts (ie: the Amygdala) to relax and rejuvenate

The almost hypnotic visual pattern created by dancing flames also provide as a pleasant pre-occupation for an over-stimulated brain and may even induce an Alpha brainwave response similar to that experienced in meditation or hypnosis.
Maybe our ancestors were on to something.  After a hard day in Saber-tooth-ville- Fire Good Medicine.

Alice Brink is a Self-Empowerment Coach, Trainer and Mind/Body Healthcare Practitioner and may be reached at

Don't Burn the Christmas Tree!

Chimney fire with flames coming out of the top of the chimney

When deciding what to do with a real Christmas tree this year, be sure putting it into a burning fireplace is not on the list of options. Dry pine is extremely flammable and burns very hot and fast - too fast and hot in fact for a friendly fire inside the fireplace.

Burning dry pine trees are the cause of many chimney fires each year - and many of those evolve into structural house fires. As soon as dry pine is placed on a burning fire it erupts into a ball of fire which reaches up into the flue where flammable creosote can ignite.

Chimney fires may only last a few seconds, but some can last much longer depending on the amount of fuel (creosote) inside the flue that is available to burn. The longer the fire, the higher the risk of flame escaping into the structure.

Instead, think about chopping the tree up into very small pieces to use for kindling throughout the winter. Pine is a great firestarter.  An added benefit is that you can get some exercise while chopping!  If chopping is not your thing, some cities offer Christmas tree pick up service, and will haul the tree off for you.

More ideas for dry Christmas trees:

  1. Cut the tree up into larger pieces to use in an outdoor firepit or bake oven.
  2. Cut the tree trunk into thin slices to make coasters. Sand smooth, and apply a coat of polyurethane to seal in sap.
  3. Cut the trunk into thin slices, then drill a hole near the top for string, and donate to a scout group or school for an art project. 
  4. Use the pine needles for mulch.
  5. Rent a wood chipper and run the tree through it, then use the chips as mulch in the spring.

Marge Padgitt is an author and chimney professional living in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at