Friday, March 11, 2016

Springtime bird and animal problems can be avoided

Spring is early this year in the greater Kansas City area and this could mean some sooner-than-normal issues with birds nesting inside chimneys where they don’t belong. Birds look for dark and safe places to nest and lay eggs in the spring and an open chimney can be an irresistible location for expecting bird parents.

Unfortunately for homeowners, nesting birds inside chimneys can mean big problems. Besides the obvious fire hazard from flammable nests, there may be constant annoying chirping of baby birds.  And perhaps not so obvious, the health hazard from bird droppings which can contain the disease histoplasmosis.

Squirrels and raccoons also like to keep house inside chimneys and these creatures can cause even more havoc for homeowners. Squirrels are noisy and build large nests that block flues, and raccoons carry roundworm and rabies. If either escapes into the house through a damper, , they may damage the interior of the house.

Therefore, it is best to stop birds, squirrels, and raccoons from entering masonry or prefabricated chimneys in the first place. This can be accomplished by having a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover with bird screen installed on top of the flue liner of a masonry chimney, or a proper cover installed on a prefabricated chimney pipe. Some older prefabricated chimney pipe covers were not adequately designed to keep birds out of the inner and outer chimney walls, making this type of pipe an even more serious fire hazard.  The addition of a screen in this area will stop the birds from entering but any nesting materials should be removed if found between the chimney walls.

According to the National Chimney Sweep Guild and Midwest Chimney Safety Council, all chimneys should be inspected annually and swept as necessary by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. During inspection, the sweep will look for nesting materials, dead birds, flammable creosote, and other issues and remove them. Chimney sweeps can install chimney covers that will keep birds and other animals out of flues. Covers come in different sizes and shapes such as individual covers to fit on a single flue, or multi-flue covers that cover two or more flues.

It is important to get a chimney cover installed in early spring before birds and squirrels start to nest.  According to the Migratory Bird Act, no nesting birds may be removed from chimneys, and to do so can result in a hefty fine for the homeowner and chimney sweep. If birds do get in a chimney flue before a cap is installed homeowners need to wait until the birds leave in order to have the flue cleaned out and a chimney cover installed. The MCSC advises against using inexpensive black steel chimney covers found at box stores because they rust and stain the chimney. Stainless steel chimney covers are long lasting, are a deterrent to animals such as squirrels and raccoons, and will never rust. For these reasons it is worth the extra expense to purchase stainless steel chimney covers rather than black steel covers. 

Marge Padgitt is the CEO of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City Missouri. The company designs and builds and maintains  masonry heater, brick ovens, chimneys, and fireplaces. Marge is the author of the Chimney and Hearth Pro's Resource Book and others. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

National Chimney Safety Week brings needed awareness to the public

By Marge Padgitt

For National Chimney Safety Week September 9 to 18, 2015 the Midwest Chimney Safety Council reminds homeowners and restaurant owners to be diligent about maintaining their chimneys serving fireplaces, furnaces, boilers, wood stoves, and restaurant ovens.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission released the latest statistics for residential structural fires which indicates that 21,200 hostile fires were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys or chimney systems in 2012, with an average of 22,700 occurring annually from 2010 to 2012.
 According to the National Fire Protection Association in 2011 heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. 

While these numbers continue to decline due to public-awareness efforts by the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, the Chimney Safety Institute of America, chimney sweep companies and firefighters, the message is still not getting to everyone. 

Mr. Charles Stanley of Lee's Summit, Missouri experienced a chimney fire in early 2015. "I didn't know that a chimney flue needed to be swept at all, much less annually. I burned wood in the fireplace for eleven years without having it swept out, but after an experience like this I won't forget to have the chimney cleaned," said Stanley. The fire was contained to the chimney structure, which sustained over $20,000 in damages. A local chimney company removed the damaged flue liner and installed a replacement liner, then repaired damaged bricks on the interior and exterior chimney. Charles said that had he known that chimneys needed regular service he could have avoided the chimney fire. 

The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual inspection of flues of all types that serve gas or wood-burning appliances, and sweeping as necessary to remove flammable creosote. Creosote should be removed when ¼” has accumulated on the flue walls. Depending on the amount of wood burned restaurant ovens usually need monthly or bi-monthly sweeping, open fireplaces typically need annual sweeping, and wood stove flues and chimneys may need sweeping two or three times during the burning season.

Creosote accumulates when any type of wood is burned including hardwoods. Gas appliances don’t produce creosote, however, the flue needs to be in good condition or it could be a carbon monoxide hazard. Common issues with gas flues are gaps or cracks in flue liners, clogs in liners, and missing flue liners. Correct flue sizing is critical to proper operation. This is something a professional chimney sweep can check when doing an inspection.

The MCSC recommends that a professional chimney sweep who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America do the inspection and sweeping. CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps are trained in sweeping methods, inspections, codes, and clearances. The proper equipment is needed to do a thorough inspection and remove creosote, which involves a chimney camera system and other tools of the trade.

There are now over 1,500 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps across the United States with more added annually. To find a professional chimney sweep visit the Midwest Chimney Safety Council website at or the Chimney Safety Institute of America website at

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spring preparation tips for wood burners

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 wind can blow through and dry the wood out. For the serious wood-burner, a wood shed with a permanent roof will offer years of protection from the elements. 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.

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. 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.

Another maintenance task that should be completed in the spring is chimney sweeping. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council suggests that a professional CSIA Certified chimney sweep do the job. Professional sweeps are trained to check things that the layperson may not be aware of such as proper chimney and connecting pipe installation, clearances to combustibles, wall and floor protection. If used for primary heating purposes, wood-burning stoves and insert flues or chimneys should be swept at least twice during the wood-burning season and once after to be sure that flammable creosote is removed.

Chimney sweep at work. HearthMasters, Inc. 
All wood creates creosote- even dry hardwood, and removal is critical to avoid chimney fires. Chimney fires can not only damage chimneys and connecting pipes, but may escape into the home and cause a house fire.

Check exterior masonry chimneys in the spring for damaged, missing, or spalling bricks (brick faces popping off due to moisture penetration), missing or deteriorated mortar joints, bad flashing or gaps in the flashing, cracked or deteriorated cement crown, and missing or improper chimney covers. Apply masonry water repellant sealer on a dry, calm day to help slow down the deterioration process.
For a prefabricated chimney check the wood chase for wood rot, holes from woodpeckers or squirrels, rusted metal chase tops, and damaged chimney covers.

All of these chimney maintenance items are best addressed in the spring and summer before cold weather sets in and makes work more difficult and expensive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hearth workshop for professionals August 8-10, 2014

The Midwest Chimney Safety Council is hosting a charity hearth workshop August 8 - 10, 2014 at the Boy Scout Camp at Lake of the Ozarks. 

The workshop includes installation of a wood-burning freestanding stove, installation of a Class A stainless steel chimney, different methods of crown building, how to build your own chimney chase top, and Business and Personal Risk Management. Instructors are Steve Hoover, Gary Hart, Gene Padgitt, and Lisa Hatcher.

An auction will be held with auctioneer Steve Hoover and items donated by suppliers and manufacturers in the industry. 

Camping is available on site or stay at a nearby hotel. 

CEU's have been applied for from the Chimney Safety Institute of America and the National Fireplace Institute.

The MCSC will also hold their annual meeting.

All hearth and chimney professionals and their employees are invited to attend. Visit the website at for registration and pricing information.