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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

DANGER: Do NOT Use a Standard Open Fireplace to Heat Your House!

As fire investigators we see many house fires each year when homeowners attempt to heat their home with a fireplace that is not designed for such a task. During extremely cold weather or an electrical outage such as those being experienced around the country right now some people are using their fireplace for heating purposes. The problem is that most open gas or wood-burning fireplaces are not designed for extended use, and by operating an appliance for more than a few hours at a time is a recipe for disaster. 

Note: There are some exceptions to this - there are some heat circulating fireplaces available that are designed for heating. Some of these types of fireplaces have tubes that vent out the top of the fireplace, or into ducts. And Rumford style fireplaces are also designed for heating.

What most people are unaware of is that with a manufactured fireplace the framing is wood, which can ignite if it is exposed to heat over a long period of time, or if the fireplace is used for large fires. And even masonry chimneys often have wood framing hidden next to the structure or behind the face wall and can ignite and cause a house fire, especially if it is exposed to heat over a long period of time.

Most house fires we see that are related to chimneys and heating appliances are caused by improper construction and lack of proper clearance to combustible framing. 

Especially problematic: 

  • Non-Venting gas logs which burn very hot. These should only be used for four hours at a time and with an open window. Read the manufacturer manual and follow the instructions. Non-venting gas logs should NEVER be installed into a manufactured fireplace.
  • Manufactured wood or gas fireplaces are U.L. listed as decorative appliances and should only be used for a few house at a time. Read the operation manual and follow the instructions.
  • Wood-burning or gas logs in a standard open masonry fireplace should only be used for a few hours at a time. These are also listed as decorative appliances, and are designed for ambience only. Standard fireplaces actually take more heat from a house than they put into it. A person will feel warm near the fireplace, but the rest of the house cools off.

Homeowners should have a chimney fire extinguisher on hand at all times and working smoke detectors on each floor. If a fire occurs, get out of the house and call the fire department. 

In order to properly provide heating the following are recommended: 

  • A freestanding wood or gas-burning stove or a fireplace insert. Together with their flue liners, these types of appliances are designed for heating purposes.
  • A circulating type fireplace such as New Aire or Heatilator brands. These are enclosed in masonry and should be installed by a qualified professional.
  • A Rumford fireplace built by a qualified Rumford mason. Even though this is an open fireplace, it is designed for heating purposes.
  • A Masonry heater built by a qualified masonry heater builder.

Note: in 2021 consumers may take a 26% tax credit on approved appliances, including labor and materials.Ask your hearth dealer or chimney sweep about this incentive program. 


Have all appliances inspected annually or more often if used for heating purposes by a qualified professional chimney sweep

Read the instruction manual with any set of gas logs or a manufactured fireplace for safe operation. If none exists, look it up on the internet. Most manuals are posted. 

Use the appliance per the manufacturer or builder recommendations and do not burn large fires, install a larger grate, or burn anything other than seasoned cordwood.


Marge Padgitt is the co-owner and President of Padgitt Forensic Investigations, and HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. She is the author of Wood-Fired Heating and Cooking, and The Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book. Reach her at, or 816-461-3365. Her website is


Friday, February 12, 2021

Firewood Allergies? Yes, it’s a Thing.

 By Audrey Elder

The massive chunk of walnut sat nearly a year next to the woodpile before we gave up on the idea of turning it into a new kitchen floor. Our woodpile consists of whatever fallen trees come our way. This particular behemoth was once part of a massive tree that fell on a friend’s farm property with no where to go but my yard. It was finally time for gloves, glasses and a chainsaw. The freshly cut chunks were quickly split into perfectly sized pieces for the woodstove. They smelled wonderful as I stacked them onto the pile, although my nose burned a bit with each whiff I took. Once alit in the living room, my sinuses reacted with vengeance. As it turns out, different kinds of firewood can create allergic reactions for different people. One might notice a sensitivity to oak while I sit on the other side of the room when burning walnut.

There are a large range of allergic reactions or sensitivities that can be brought on by wood including a sinus reaction or rash from touching wood. Nearly all woods have the potential to cause a reaction in some people. Unfortunately, there has been little research done on how different woods can cause a reaction when burned. It is unknown if having a known allergy to a specific wood based on a physician performed allergy test also means you will have a reaction to burning that wood. If you have a known allergy to mold however, make sure you are not burning firewood with mold present. If you have experienced sensitivity to your fireplace or woodstove keep a journal of what type of wood you are burning and if that particular wood is bothering you. If a type or types are confirmed this way try to avoid sitting close to the fireplace or stove or discontinue using that type all together.

It is also important to note that smoke never has a place in the home, it should only be going up the chimney. We often tend to think of keeping our chimney clean for the sole purpose of preventing a chimney fire. Where avoiding chimney fires is an obvious top priority, a dirty chimney won’t allow for a good draft to take place. It makes it harder to start a fire and keep all that smoke where it belongs. If you are still having trouble getting your fire to draft, it could be an issue of negative air pressure or just super cold air. Consider having an outside air supply, draft inducer, or whole house ventilator installed to fix this issue.

So far, walnut has been the only wood I have to avoid burning. I was overjoyed last summer when my husband announced a friend offered him a fallen….oak! An entire winter back in my favorite spot in the house, next to the woodstove was happily in my future. May your home be warm and your sinuses happy!

Monday, February 1, 2021

26% Tax Credit for Wood-Burning Stoves is a Big Deal

With the new Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit Consumers can take 26% of the cost for a new wood-burning stove or fireplace insert, including the appliance, venting, and installation in 2021-2022.  

That is a big deal. Anyone who has considered purchasing a high-efficiency wood stove but held off due to the cost, now is the time to take advantage of the government program. 

Wood-burning appliances can be used for supplemental or primary heating, and in power outages. Anyone who has gone through a power outage without heat will understand the importance of having a backup heating system.

Freestanding stoves can be placed in almost any room. They are vented with a Class A stainless steel chimney, or a masonry chimney with a stainless steel flue liner.  Fireplace inserts are installed in a masonry fireplace with a stainless steel flue liner.  Wood-burning fireplace inserts cannot be installed into a manufactured firebox. 

    freestanding stove

  • Consumers buying highly efficient wood stoves will be able to claim a 26% tax credit that is uncapped and based on the full cost of the wood stove (including purchase AND installation)

  • The 26% tax credit is valid from January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022. In 2023, the tax credit will remain in effect for the entire year, but the percentage steps down to a 22% tax credit.

  • Qualifying wood stoves must meet at least a 75% HHV efficiency value. Not all wood stoves qualify.

  • You will claim your tax credit when you file your taxes on IRS form 5695 under “Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit “. You will need your purchase receipt (showing cost of product and installation). You will also need a  manufacturer certificate stating that the stove qualifies for the credit and is at least 75 percent efficient HHV. These are available on the manufacturer website. 

An inspection of the current chimney must be done prior to the installation of a wood-burning insert or stove using the chimney for venting purposes. It must also be cleaned to remove any creosote. The best time to have this done is in the spring or summer.

For more information visit


Marge Padgitt is a chimney industry veteran. She is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Woodburning Specialist. Marge is the President of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at