Sunday, December 11, 2022

Masonry Heaters are the Best Design for Heating with Wood

By Marge Padgitt

HearthMasters, Inc.

Sometimes old things are better than new, like old houses, historic buildings, and castles. The latest trend in home heating fits into that category. Masonry heaters have been around for hundreds (actually going back to Roman times) of years in Europe, but are just recently catching on in the U.S. And the great thing about heaters is that they are GREEN. People needed to heat their homes in an efficient manner in olden times just as today in order to save their forests. Inefficient open fireplaces took too much of their valuable resources, so another method had to be developed. No one knows who the first mason was who came up with the idea of devising something that would retain heat for long periods of time, then radiate it into the home while using less wood, but whoever he was he was a genius.

Masonry heaters have been redesigned and altered over the years by different masons in Finland, Russia, Germany, Austria, and the United States. But heaters all have the same characteristics with complex channels to slow down and trap heat from flue gasses, and a mass of masonry to retain that heat, then radiate it to the living space over a period of up to 20 hours. By the time the products of combustion get to the exit of the flue, the smoke is white, and the particulate emissions are very low. One load of wood can usually provide heating for the average size home for 8-12 hours. Compared to even the best high-efficiency wood–burning stoves on the market today, gas and oil-fired furnaces, and certainly inefficient open fireplaces, masonry heaters can’t be beat.

Custom granite masonry heater
Courtesy of HearthMasters, Inc.
Another benefit masonry heaters offer is that they don’t require electricity, gas, or ductwork to distribute the heat. In a properly designed home with an open floor plan and the heater in the center of the home, the heat will radiate evenly throughout. Ideally, heaters are built in new home construction, but they can be added to existing homes if the layout is right. Heaters require a suitable foundation to support the massive masonry, which weighs three to six tons by the time all of the firebrick, block, cast iron doors, dampers, and exterior masonry facing is installed.

Heaters can be enhanced with heated benches to sit on, mantels, wood storage bins, and even bake ovens. Pizza and bread from a wood-fired bake oven has an incredible and unique taste that is not to be missed, and entire meals can be cooked in the oven if desired. An experienced heater mason can not only design and build the right size and type of heater for a home but make it beautiful to look at as well. An exterior finish of soapstone, tile, sandstone, or brick can make a dramatic statement. Heater masons will work with the homeowner to come up with a custom design that suits the home or use one of many masonry heater kits that are available from several manufacturers (usually incorporating soapstone) in a variety of designs.

Use of natural non-toxic materials and the renewable resource of wood make masonry heaters the perfect solution for a green home.
The trade is very specialized, with only a few heater masons scattered across the U.S. Fortunately, most of these masons will travel to do installations. Some have even traveled to Japan, China, and South America to build heaters. Often several heater masons will help each other out since these are big projects. In days of old, the heater masons kept their trade secret, even to the point of not leaving the room until the heater was completely finished so no one else could see how the interior was built. At that time, the livelihood of the masons was dependent on this secrecy. The trade is so skilled that the only way to learn is to do hands-on assistance with an experienced heater mason, and that is part of the reason the Masonry Heater Association was formed. The older masons do not want this to become a lost art, so they help train others. The Certified Heater Mason program was developed by the experienced MHA members in order to assure that the knowledge is not lost.

In the U.S. many people are not yet aware of masonry heaters, so it is a challenge for a heater mason to make a living out of just building heaters. Most heater masons also build other types of projects such as fireplaces, chimneys, outdoor bake ovens. Some are timber frame or log home builders or own brickyards. Most are very aware of the green building trend and are interested in sustainable living. Many heater masons will travel to build a heater because they love doing it and love the satisfaction they get out of building something that is very specialized.

Pricing for heaters is what most would consider being on the high end, and a long-term investment. The average cost a homeowner may expect to pay is from $15,000 to $30,000, with price depending on the complexity of the heater, material costs, and labor. The expected time to get a return on your money is approximately 10 years. The time to build a completed heater may be up to four weeks or more, depending on how many skilled craftspeople are working. Many homeowners will elect to be an assistant on the job in order to lower their costs. In some cases, if a heater mason is traveling the homeowner will put him up at their house or a local hotel. When traveling the masons usually work long hours in order to get the project done sooner.

Mark Twain discovered masonry heaters while traveling through Europe and wrote about them: "All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable … Its surface is not hot: you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt. Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day: the cost is next to nothing: the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns… America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? No, she sticks placidly to her own fearful and wonderful inventions in the stove line. The American wood stove, of whatever breed, is a terror. It requires more attention that a baby. It has to be fed every little while, it has to be watched all the time: and for all reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half... and when your wood bill comes in you think you have been supporting a volcano. It is certainly strange that useful customs and devices do not spread from country to country with more facility and promptness than they do."

Find out more about masonry heaters, including technical specifications and testing results, photos of heaters, manufacturers, and a list of heater masons, contact the Masonry Heater Association of North America through www.mha-net.org. There is a chat list set up for anyone interested in masonry heaters at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MasonryHeaters.

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Marge Padgitt is a past board member for the MHA.  She is president of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Her husband, Gene Padgitt, is one of only 32 Certified Heater Masons.

Friday, December 9, 2022

HearthMasters Celebrates 40 Years in Business

 


Local Chimney Company Celebrates Forty Years in Business
 
HearthMasters, Inc. is celebrating forty years in business. Gene Padgitt started the company in 1982 as a one-man chimney sweeping operation, which has grown to become a chimney and fireplace restoration business with multiple employees.
 
Independence, Missouri, December 9, 2022
 
Gene Padgitt was laid off from Safeway Foods in the summer of 1982 and was looking for work when he ran across an ad in Mother Earth News Magazine which looked appealing. The ad said a person could earn as much as $49 to sweep a chimney after purchasing $1,600 in equipment, which included a huge vacuum system by August West. Gene consulted with his future brother-in-law, Frank Kithcart, who worked as a chimney sweep in Seattle, and Frank encouraged him to make the plunge.

In his first season as a chimney sweep Gene made $10,000 after placing a single ad. It was then that he knew he was onto something that could turn into a full-time profitable business, however, Gene also realized that he didn’t know as much as he needed to, and there was more to it that just sweeping chimneys. In 1986 Marge Padgitt joined the company and took over writing reports and estimates, and marketing. They both attended educational seminars and training by the National Chimney Sweep Guild and other industry organizations and got certified by the Chimney Safety Institute. Together, Gene and Marge built the company with additional employees and services which include diagnosis of performance problems, restoration and building of masonry chimneys, fireplaces, brick ovens, masonry heaters, and more. They do residential, commercial, and government work.

Gene is one of only a 32 Certified Heater Masons in the world and has won over a dozen awards for his masonry work. He also specializes in historic chimney restoration, which is quite different than modern chimney restoration. Gene obtained a degree in Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling in 1986, and is an NFI Certified Gas Specialist. He began doing fire investigations in 1996 for a local fire marshal and obtained his State Certified Private Fire Investigator License shortly after. He is the only PFI who specializes in structural fires related to chimneys, fireplaces, and heating appliances in Missouri, Kansas, and other neighboring states, so is in big demand by insurance companies and forensic companies.

Marge Padgitt is a Missouri licensed Private Investigator. She is very active in the chimney industry and served on the board of directors for the Midwest Chimney Safety Council for 25 years; and on the board of directors for the National Chimney Sweep Guild; the Midwest Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association; and the Masonry Heater Association of North America. Marge published the MCSC Magazine and her own Wood-Fired Magazine. She is the author of over 250 articles which appeared in magazines and online newspapers nationwide. She has presented free chimney safety seminars to local homeowner groups and associations for many years.

Marge wrote “The Chimney and Hearth Pro’s Resource Book,” and “Wood-Fired Heating and Cooking,” which Gene consulted on. She has more books in the works and will bring a new show to her YouTube Channel in January 2023 called “The Chimney Lady.” The show will focus on chimney, fireplace, and heating appliance safety, maintenance, and use.

The Padgitts have maintained an office in Independence, Missouri since 1987. Long-term lead employees include Maria McKenzie, Tony Gross, and Ron Schmidt. HearthMasters, Inc. is the only chimney restoration company that holds a Master Mechanical License, which is required in most cities in the greater Kansas City area to do relining of chimneys or installation of hearth appliances.
 
Contact: Marge Padgitt
Cell: 816-365-9492 
Gene showing a customer what the inside of his chimney looks like by using a chimney camera system.
Marge and Gene Padgitt
Gene Padgitt in his tuxedo with his Karmann Ghia in the 1984 Raytown parade
Gene working on an historical chimney in Northeast Kansas City
Historical chimney restoration project on a Queen Anne Victorian home in NE Kansas City
Custom built stone masonry heater built by Gene Padgitt
Everything you need to know about Wood-Fired appliances

Wood-Fired Heating & Cooking is a guide for homeowners, preppers, and homesteaders who are planning to install a wood-fired heating appliance, improve their existing masonry fireplace, or install a wood-fired cooking appliance. Industry veterans Gene and Marge Padgitt explain how each type of appliance works and how to properly locate, operate, and maintain them. Heating appliances covered in this book are masonry fireplaces, Rumford fireplaces, circulating fireplaces, furnaces, wood-burning fireplace inserts, freestanding stoves, masonry heaters, and rocket mass heaters. Wood selection and preparation is included. Cooking appliances discussed are wood-burning indoor cook stoves, indoor and outdoor brick ovens and oven kits, Tandoori ovens, grills, and campfires along with cooking tools and utensils.
$15 each or two for $28.00. Available in our office by appointment or order online.

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Contact: Marge Padgitt 
office@chimkc.com
816-365-9492 cell

Friday, December 2, 2022

Holiday Decor Ideas for Fireplaces 2022

During the holidays, people usually place decor on mantels and around the focal point of the house - the fireplace. Here are some inspiring ideas. Remember to keep stockings away from the front of the fireplace as they can be a fire hazard, and never burn a Christmas tree in the fireplace because they burn too hot and too fast and can cause a house fire. 





Fireplace not working? No problem - use candles for a welcoming atmosphere. 













Above and left: These faux fireplaces work great for focal points for your holiday decorations. 



Real fireplace - real fire - and nice decor without any stockings hanging down in front of the fireplace. We give this one an A+!














Whoops!  Looks nice, but do you see the problem? 













A stunning historical fireplace that is nicely done

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Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. and author of Wood-Fired Heating and Cooking. www.woodfiredpub.com or www.chimkc.com. Sign up for blog notices so you don't miss an article!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

How to avoid chimney fires


Chimney fires occur during cold weather months when people use their chimneys. A chimney fire occurs when accumulated creosote in a flue or smoke chamber ignites from a spark.

All wood creates creosote - even dry hardwoods- so it is imperative that flues serving fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, or fireplace inserts are swept regularly to remove this flammable substance. The NFPA recommends sweeping once per year for fireplaces, and at least twice during the season for heating appliances (wood stoves or inserts). A house fire can occur if the fire in the chimney escapes the flue liner or if burning embers fly out of the top of the chimney onto the roof. (Asphalt roofs can catch fire as well as wood shingle roofs). 

Most chimney fires are of short duration and go unnoticed by the homeowner - with damages usually found later during an inspection by a chimney sweep. 
 
Signs of a chimney fire:
  •  Loud whooshing or roaring or freight train like sound
  •  Flames shooting out the top of the chimney
  •  Red glowing stove pipe
  •  Backup of smoke into the house
  • Sudden poor draft

It is a good idea to keep a chimney fire extinguisher near your fireplace or wood stove and use it if you notice a chimney fire, then get out of the house and call the fire department immediately. Fire can spread to nearby combustibles and cause a house fire. Be sure to keep an eye out for smoke smell or flames even after the fire department is gone because interior wood framing could smolder for hours afterwards and ignite if it gets enough oxygen. 
 
Blown out section of tile liner

After the fire:
Call your local professional chimney sweep to have a thorough inspection and any needed repairs completed before using the appliance again. Most chimneys are severely damaged on the interior during a chimney fire and should not be used until inspected by a qualified professional. Any breaks or blown out sections in flue tiles can be a fire hazard.

For more information about Carbon Monoxide, visit COHeadquarters.com.

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The Chimney Lady, Marge Padgitt, is a veteran chimney professional, trainer, and author. She is the co-owner of HearthMasters chimney and fireplace service in Kansas City, Missouri. Contact her at office@chimkc.com.

Utility flue problems can cause carbon monoxide poisoning

Utility flues serving furnaces, water heaters, and boilers are often forgotten and ignored, yet can pose serious hazards for the occupants of the home. Most problems lie with older masonry chimneys with clay tile flue liners, or chimneys without liners. Homeowners are generally not aware that these flues need to be inspected annually as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association 211 Standard, and that professional chimney sweeps maintain these flues. HVAC contractors do not sweep or inspect flues or install replacement flue liners. 


Masonry chimneys deteriorate over time, starting from the interior, due to exposure to rain and acidic flue gasses, which damage mortar and clay tile liners. Over a period of years, this mortar falls and accumulates at the bottom of the flue, sometimes causing large restrictions that can cause carbon monoxide backup. Flue liners have been required by code since 1927, yet many homes built prior to 1950 do not have liners. Flue liners are installed to provide a complete sealed exit for toxic flue gases. They have mortar joints between each two-foot section of tile. But mortar joints that are deteriorated, have holes, or are missing can allow gases to escape the flue liner and enter the living space via a neighboring flue liner serving a fireplace, or through the masonry chimney. 

Masonry chimneys are designed to last for many years as long as they are maintained. However, lack of homeowner education usually results in improperly maintained chimneys and flues, which can be a health hazard to the occupants and cause appliances to work inefficiently. Flue liner size is very important – and must be correct in order for draft to occur. A flue liner that is too large for the appliance may cause backup of gases. This is common in homes where newer, mid-efficiency appliances have been installed which need a smaller liner, and in cases where a high-efficiency furnace is installed and vented through the side of the house, leaving an “abandoned” hot water heater to vent on its own in a flue that is very oversized. 


Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that is the by-product of incomplete combustion. The current standard for CO alarms is 9 ppm, however, recent testing proves that even very low levels of CO exposure over a long period of time can cause irreversible brain and organ damage. The Environmental Protection Agency states that CO detectors are to be used as a backup and are not a replacement for maintenance of appliances and flues. Even so, the EPA recommends the use of CO detectors placed strategically throughout the house.

Dr. David Penney, author of Carbon Monoxide Toxicity and Professor of Physiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine has devoted years of research to this topic and posts his findings on his website at www.coheadquarters.com. Penney suggests that SIDS may be due to low level CO exposure and that children, the elderly, and pets are more susceptible to its effects. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, 15,000 people visit emergency rooms and 500 people die every year due to CO poisoning. Symptoms of CO poisoning may include flu-like symptoms that go away or lessen after leaving the house, unexplained headaches, nausea, and dizziness; fainting, muscle weakness, inability to wake up, and death. If more than one family member has the same symptoms the EPA recommends visiting a doctor or hospital and mentioning that you suspect CO exposure.

Utility flue safety tips:

       Have the flue checked annually by a Certified Chimney Sweep who will look for clogs caused by bird nests, leaves, debris, dead animals, and mortar or bricks, cracked flue tiles, missing tiles, and missing mortar joints.
       Have a heavy-duty stainless-steel chimney cover installed to keep damaging rain and animals out of the flue.
       Make sure the flue is sized correctly to the appliances
       Never connect another appliance (water heater excepted) to the same flue as a furnace or boiler
       Have the flue examined when changing appliances


According to Gene Padgitt, owner of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri, he has encountered numerous utility flue problems over the years, citing that it is a common issue. “People don't think about the inside of their chimney, and it is usually ignored until a chimney sweep finds a problem or someone gets ill,” said Gene. In one example, another chimney sweep broke out flue tiles and left them in the flue, clogging it completely, which made the homeowners very ill for weeks. In another example, over five feet of debris was removed from a boiler flue that had not been maintained for years and had blocked the flue by 90 percent. The clog caused an entire church congregation to become very ill. 

Resources:

Monday, October 17, 2022

Some Halloween Decor Ideas for your Hearth and Home

Check out these cool ideas to decorate your fireplace and home for Halloween: 

There's nothing like a scary pumpkin on your front porch! 

                                          Looks like these guys could use a glass of water!

                                             A graveyard is not complete without skeletons

                                                              Don't forget the fireplace!

                                        These two lovely ladies are just out for a midnight stroll...






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Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, MO. She loves Halloween. 

Gas Appliance Annual Maintenence Required

All direct vent gas appliances need an annual tune-up service by a professional technician in order to maintain the warranty and assure proper operation. If we or someone else installed a unit for you and it has been used for a season, contact us for an appointment.

Tune up includes checking and cleaning of all components, cleaning the glass, cleaning the logs, doing a test burn, CO test, checking the vent system, and checking the remote. It takes about 90 minutes to complete. 

Tiny spiders build webs inside orifices, and dust can impede the function of the appliance. 

Change the Batteries: Direct vent gas appliances and gas logs with remotes need to have new batteries installed every six months. Be sure to change the batteries in the remote and in the sending unit in the appliance. Check your manual for the location. If your appliance is not coming on - check the batteries first.

Venting and non-venting gas logs also need to be serviced and cleaned periodically, depending on how much they are used. Every three years should be sufficient in most cases. 

Tip: Never move gas logs around. They must remain in the same position or flame impingement could occur!

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