Monday, October 29, 2018

Consumer Alert: 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

Lighting Damaged Chimneys in Storm August 28

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.  Lighting and chimney fire damage to chimneys is covered by homeowner's insurance.

Marge Padgitt is the president and CEO ofHearthMasters, 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

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.

Masonry Heater by Gene Padgitt
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.

Wood fuel costs can be significantly less than oil, gas, or electric heating appliances, especially if there is a nearby supply of inexpensive or free 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 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.

Hampton insert by Regency
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 wood-burning stoves

For more information on fuel cost calculators visit

Thursday, August 9, 2018

How to Avoid a Chimney Fire that Can Lead to a House Fire

House fire caused by flammable
creosote and improper construction
Creosote is a flammable substance that must be removed from the flue and smoke chamber periodically in order to avoid having a chimney fire. 

Since all wood creates creosote, including dry hardwoods, creosote is impossible to avoid when burning wood in a fireplace, wood-burning stove, circulating fireplace, or stove insert.

Creosote can only be removed by brushing the flue and chamber out with wire or poly brushes that are made especially for this purpose. Professional chimney sweeps know what size and type of brush to use for the type of flue system installed. There are many different types of venting systems, so knowing how to properly maintain each type is critical.

In a masonry chimney with a wood-burning fireplace the most common type of flue system is made out of vitreous clay tile, and the smoke chamber is usually made out of brick, stone, or block. This type of venting system accumulates more creosote than a stainless steel flue liner does because it is more porous.

Stainless steel flue liners don't accumulate as much creosote if they are properly insulated and installed correctly, but can be damaged by a chimney fire so maintenance is necessary.

Smoke chambers that are not parge coated with insulating mortar per IRC Code requirements allow more creosote accumulation due to their rough surfaces and corbels which decrease the flow of smoke and tar vapours.

The National Fire Protection Association and the National Chimney Sweep Guild recommend that creosote be removed after 1/8" accumulation on flue walls.

Gene Padgitt Sweeping a masonry chimney
The creosote being removed should be stage 1 which is very light and ash-like, or stage 2 which is more dense. If there is any accumulation of stage 3 glazed baked-on tar-like creosote, something is not right with the system, the fuel being used, or the operation of the appliance. Stage 3 creosote is the most flammable type, and is most often associated with chimney fires.

A chimney fire occurs when a spark ignites the flammable creosote, usually in the smoke chamber just above the damper, and flame may spread through the remaining fuel source (creosote) on the flue walls.

Stage 3 Creosote on flue walls
Chimney fires can be of short or long duration, but almost always cause damage to the smoke chamber and flue liner due to the quick temperature differential that occurs to the masonry during a chimney fire. Damages may occur to the face wall above the fireplace opening inside the house, to the back wall of the chimney, or to the top portion of the chimney and cement cap due to expansion. Fresh breaks may be found in the masonry and cement cap in a masonry chimney.

Burnt creosote that has been on fire
In a manufactured fireplace and metal chimney damages may occur to the metal smoke chamber and metal chimney pipe in the form of buckling, warping, and opening of seams. With a Class A chimney system serving a wood-burning stove, the same type of damage can occur.

In either case, the damage must be repaired, or parts replaced before further use because the system is no longer functional if it has damages.

Unfortunately, most chimney fire damage is found only during inspection of the system during routine chimney cleaning/inspection maintenance by a professional chimney sweep. Most chimney fires go unnoticed by homeowners when the fire occurs because they either don't recognize the whoosh of air and increased draft during a chimney fire, or are out of the room when it occurs and the fires goes out before they return.

Burnt, honeycomb creosote that has
been burned in a chimney fire
After a fire has damaged a chimney system, the flue liner and chamber may have cracks and gaps that would allow a second fire to escape to nearby combustible wood framing. This is how a house fire due to chimney fire commonly occurs. Another way a house fire can occur is if flame and sparks shooting out the top of the chimney catch the roof on fire.

chimney inspection with a Chim-Scan Camera
Water damage from rain and condensing acidic flue gasses often causes mortar joints between tile liner sections to deteriorate and leave gaps, which may also allow heat and flame to escape the flue system and cause a house fire.

The only way to know if the flue system has damages is to sweep it first to remove creosote, then run a special chimney camera through the chamber and flue. Photos may be taken with this type of camera. If damages are found, do not use the appliance until it is properly repaired by a professional chimney contractor.
Break in clay tile flue liner
In the greater Kansas City area, call HearthMasters, Inc. for chimney maintenance, repair, and building.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Signs of a Chimney Fire Everyone Should Know

By Marge Padgitt
HearthMasters, Inc.  

Chimney fires are more common than most people realize. Most chimney fires occur without the

homeowner noticing because the fire often is snuffed out by expanding creosote inside the chimney.

Chimney fires can occur in chimneys that are connected to wood-burning stoves, open wood-burning fireplaces, and fireplaces with gas logs installed. It only takes a spark or heat to ignite creosote.

Fire damage is often found during a routine inspection by a professional chimney sweep. Signs that a chimney fire has occurred are cracked or shattered flue tiles; blown out sections of flue tiles; blown out mortar joints in the flue and smoke chamber; smoke damage to the fireplace face or other areas of the house; expanded and cracked masonry at the facial wall above the fireplace opening, back of the chimney, or top of the chimney; a cement cap that is lifted or broken bond with the top course of bricks; cracks in a cement cap; damaged chimney cover; or damaged stainless steel chimney with warping or buckled seams.

Damages to a masonry chimney or steel chimney can be extensive and very costly to replace,  and if the fire escapes the chimney, a house fire can endanger life and property. Avoiding a fire in the first place is the smartest thing to do.

What are the signs that a chimney fire is occurring?
During a chimney fire, the following may occur:
·       Loud roaring or whooshing sound coming from the chimney
·       Freight-train like sound
·       Loud cracks or pops (this is the flue tiles breaking)
·       Sudden smoke backup into the house
·       Flames shoot out the top or sides of the chimney chase
·       If not contained inside the chase, a house fire may occur

What to do in case of a chimney fire:
·       Throw a chimney fire extinguisher in to the firebox
·       Shut off the air supply by closing glass doors or closing the combustion air intake
·       Get the family out of the house
·       Call the fire department
·       Keep watch for at least 48 hours in case fire ignites again in nearby combustible framing
·       Call a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to inspect the chimney and provide an evaluation report before further use. Be sure to follow the sweep’s advice regarding any repairs needed. Find a professional chimney sweep at the Midwest Chimney Safety Council site at or the Chimney Safety Institute of America site at 

How to avoid a chimney fire:
Wood should be split and stacked at least 6 months before use
·       Have the chimney inspected and swept on a regular basis by a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep- once per year for open fireplaces or twice for wood-burning stoves or inserts.
·       Burn only dry cordwood - get a moisture meter and make sure that there is only 15% moisture content in the wood.
·       Never burn pine (except hard yellow pine), hedge, railroad ties, wrapping paper, or treated wood.
·       Do not depend on a chimney sweeping log to remove creosote and do an annual inspection.
·       Use Anti-Creosote-Remover spray on logs each time you burn to reduce creosote buildup.
·       Realize that all wood creates creosote and maintenance is necessary to remove flammable creosote.
·       Burn hot fires rather than small or smoldering fires. Smoldering fires create a lot of creosote buildup and are the primary reason that chimney fires occur.

·       Read the owner’s manual.  

      Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. dba Padgitt Chimney & Fireplace in Independence, Missouri. Visit or for more information. Contact Marge at 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Is the Smoke Chamber a Smoking Gun?

Originally published in SWEEPING magazine and MASONRY CONSTRUCTION magazine.

By Marge Padgitt and Gene Padgitt, C.F.I.

Smoke chambers are a hot issue-literally as well as figuratively. As a Certified State Fire Investigator, Gene sees quite a few house fires caused by problems in the smoke chamber area. You should be aware of these problems. Most problems occur due to improper construction of the facial wall without correct clearances to combustibles, but many chimney fires start in this area as well.

To address the problem of improper construction, let’s discuss a typical fireplace. The finished firebox, chamber, chimney, flue and facial wall have been built and look fine from the outside and from inside the chimney. Sometimes a block wall has been built between the chamber and the stud wall. Sometimes a block wall is also the front wall of the smoke chamber. Is it filled in with mortar for a solid masonry wall? What is the clearance to the combustible stud wall? We don't know because we can't see this area during a normal Level I or II inspection. In front of the smoke chamber, the wood header and studs are installed and ready for the finishing work. This is where many problems arise. Many builders do NOT follow clearance requirements and place the combustible wood wall right next to the bricks in front of the smoke chamber! And what else might there be in this area? Plywood, pressboard, or insulation? Insulation acts to keep heat in, and will help to keep the heat in this area even better, which is what we don't want!

What about pyrolization of combustible framing or finish work around the chimney? Pyrolization is the chemical change of wood due to exposure of heat over time. Wood may then ignite at 200-225° instead of the normal ignition temperature of 450-500°. It is important to note here that only HEAT is required to ignite the wood, not FLAME. Have you ever placed your hand on a facial wall after the fireplace has been in use for while? Hot, isn't it? And by the way, without X-ray vision or a tiny camera, no one can see behind the brick facial wall that is built in front of the stud wall. It may not be constructed of solid masonry, as many would have you believe. Yes, there are many competent masons and builders who build this area properly, but there are also many who do not. Some older masons have told me, "I've been doing this for 50 years and don't plan to change now." I wonder how many of their 20, 30, and 50-year old houses are in danger of a potentially destructive fire.

I spoke with Genevieve Bures, a State Fire Investigator and operator of Bures Consultants in Rocky River, Ohio, to discuss smoke chambers. She said the smoke chamber is the most vulnerable area of the chimney. Gene and I agree. The chamber must be examined at every inspection and after any damage has occurred to the chimney. In fact, it is our opinion that this is the most important part of the chimney to examine. If you suspect that the chimney has suffered a chimney fire, (note that I said Chimney fire, not Flue fire, because a chimney fire does not always contain itself to the flue) clean the smoke chamber and take a good hard look at it. Is it parged with high-temperature refractory mortar as is required by NFPA 211 and IRC Code? Probably not. How many smoke chambers do you see that are parged? Are there any holes or cracks? There may even be tiny cracks that you can't see. Rembember, even though a masonry chimney looks solid, it is never completely solid.

During a chimney fire, the smoke chamber is a hot oven. This is the area where most of the creosote accumulates, and logically, where fires most often start. So, it burns the hottest. And you can bet that if there is a stove "slammed" into the firebox without a direct connection to the first flue tile or a properly sized liner, there was a lot of highly flammable glazed creosote in this area that burned first, and set the creosote in the flue on fire second. How hot does it get? Testing in our industry shows that chimney fires can reach well over 2100 degrees, and may get as hot as 3000 degrees, as in a test the Midwest Chimney Safety Council did several years ago. And after the fire is out, the chimney continues to heat up!

A house fire originating in this area may not have anything to do with a chimney fire, but may be the result of heat escaping through small holes or cracks in the smoke chamber next to the facial wall or just heat transferring to wood on the otherside without proper clearance. from normal use of the fireplace. After pyrolization, the wood may ignite and can smolder for hours or even days until it can get enough oxygen to burn. As soon as the area burns through to the attic or an upper floor where oxygen is plentiful, it then becomes a free-burning fire. The homeowner may not be aware that there is a problem until it is too late. Smoke alarms may not go off because the smoke is kept inside the walls. We performed an investigation recently where the fire department was called out three times over a 24-hour period because the homeowner smelled smoke, but the source could not be located. Finally, the roof ignited and burned their $300,000 home to the ground.

So, what should you write on the inspection report or insurance evaluation in these situations? Here is a sample: "The smoke chamber may have been damaged by the intense heat of the chimney fire, and should be cleaned and parged with high-temperature refractory mortar to seal it. There may be a hidden combustible wall in front of this area, so it is important to repair the smoke chamber." That is a sample only-you will have to word your findings according to what you discover or suspect. However, I ALWAYS recommend parging in order to seal the chamber (we use Chamber Tech 2000) as required by NFPA 211. But if the chamber was not constructed correctly, or is over-sized, under-sized, or not corbelled correctly (take a look at NFPA for the requirements), or if it is badly damaged, we recommend complete tear down and rebuilding of the chimney. That is the only way to correct the problem in some cases. If you don't build chimneys, get together with a good mason and refer jobs to each other or hire him/her out as a subcontractor.

This may require some re-thinking when bidding on a reline due to a chimney fire. It may also require some education of your local insurance adjusters, who may believe you are just trying to get a few more bucks for extra work. Start using the term "Chimney fire" instead of "Flue fire" if you don't already, make sure the homeowner understands the severity of the problem, and list parging as a repair item that needs to be addressed when evaluating chimneys-even if no chimney fire has occurred. Parging offers more heat protection and is a lot less expensive than tearing down the facial wall, rebuilding the interior, and rebuilding the facial wall. It is not the answer to all problems, but parging will help keep heat inside the chamber and provide a smooth passage for smoke and flue gasses
Crack in a smoke chamber

Partially parged chamber



Marge and Gene Padgitt own HearthMasters, Inc. dba Padgitt Chimney & Fireplace in Independence,
Missouri. both are CSIA Certified®, NFI Certified and have several other certifications. Gene is a State Certified Fire Investigator. You may contact them at 816-461-3665 or email

Repair damaged chimneys quickly to avoid additional expense

Masonry chimneys should be repaired immediately following storm or chimney fire damage in order to avoid more costly repairs in the future. 

A lightning strike or tornado can open up a masonry chimney, making it vulnerable to attack by rain.  Once a cement crown or bricks have been blown out or severely cracked, the interior of the chimney is open to the elements.  Rain can wash out mortar joints, cause damage to a fireplace, damper, and any metal or masonry components.  When mixed with creosote, rain forms an acid that eats away at mortar joints and flue tiles.

Water can enter through any interior open areas in the chimney, which may include the attic or other areas of the home. This can cause damage to drywall, wood framing, lighting, or carpet. 

A chimney fire can cause expansion of the masonry, which often forms cracks along mortar joints in exterior bricks, and occasionally through the bricks themselves.  This type of damage usually occurs at or near the top of the chimney, but may happen anywhere.  Expansion breaks sometimes occur when a chimney is rapidly heated during a chimney fire.  Any cracks or breaks in masonry will allow damaging rain water to enter the interior and cause further damage to the structure. 

After a lightning strike, high wind, or chimney fire it is important to have a Level II camera inspection completed by a professional chimney sweep, who will determine if damage has occurred to the internal structure of the chimney.  If this inspection is not adequate, a Level III inspection may be necessary.  This involves demolition of parts of the chimney in order to view the interior.

Manufactured chimneys should be inspected following a chimney fire or storm in order to determine if the metal chimney, fireplace components, or exterior chase, chase top, or cap has been damaged.  Manufactured chimneys are U.L. Listed products and parts must be replaced with parts for the specific model by the manufacturer.  Parts are not interchangeable.  If left un-repaired, a damaged manufactured wood chimney chase or metal components may be further damaged by the elements.

Repairs should be completed by a qualified professional chimney contractor in order to assure that the work is done according to International Residential Code and NFPA 211 Standards.  
Marge Padgitt is the publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine, and an industry writer. She has been in the chimney industry since 1985. Websites: and