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.