Friday, March 11, 2016

Springtime bird and animal problems in chimneys 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. 

Masonry Heater Workshop in North Carolina

The Masonry Heater Association of North America will host the annual meeting and workshop in North Carolina in April of 2016. Members will construct masonry heaters and brick ovens at this event. For more information visit

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The 2016 MHA Design/Build Contest is Here!

 Masonry Heater Association of North America Members (and potential members)
The 2016 MHA Design/Build Contest is Here! 
Get your project photos and descriptions ready to go!
See the contest rules and entry forms here: 
- Masonry Heater: Primarily a masonry heater but may have attached heated bench, bake oven,or  heated water. 
- Bake Oven: A stand-alone bake oven with no other attached appliances. 
- Masonry. If it doesn't fit in one of the above categories it should go here. Can be a whole house, a wall, outdoor room, heater/fireplace/oven combo, etc. 

See the rules for more detailed information. Don't wait until the last minute to put your projects together - it takes time to do this right. 

For more information contact Marge Padgitt at

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How to Cut, Stack and Store Firewood

Experienced wood-burners have a few tried and tested methods for storing firewood that can prevent wood from rotting and dry it out efficiently. Choosing the right wood, and cutting, and splitting properly are also factors to take into consideration to prepare for the next season.

Firewood cut, split, and stacked to allow air circulation

When cutting wood in the forest look for dead trees first before cutting down and good healthy tree.
Make sure the tree has not rotted out, then cut into lengths appropriate for the fireplace or wood stove. 

Next, split larger logs in to pieces so that the interior wood is exposed to the air. Wood that has not been split will not dry out. Spitting wood is good exercise, but there are hand mechanical, electric, and gas-powered wood splitters available from $150 to $1,000 to make the job much easier!

The next step is to prepare a location for the stacked wood that is away from the house and open on both sides to allow for wind to blow through and dry the wood out. Place 2 x 4's or blocks on the ground lengthwise, then stack the wood loosely in rows. Avoid the temptation to tightly pack wood so it takes up less space. By not placing wood directly on the ground it won’t rot out.

Place rebar in the ground vertically or other support at each end of the stack to hold the wood in place. Cover with a tarp or lean-to to keep weather off of the top of the wood while allowing air to circulate through the ends.  If you use a lot of wood you may want to build a permanent structure with a roof. Let wood dry for at least 6 -12 months before burning. Be sure to purchase or cut wood at least six months before needed for the season to make certain it is dried out. If purchasing wood from a firewood vendor, order very early in the spring or even place your spring order in the fall of the previous year it will be needed.

Wet wood at more than 20% moisture content uses a lot of energy and time to dry the wood out before it will burn. For this reason, an inexpensive moisture meter is a good investment. Bring pieces of wood indoors several days before burning and place then a couple of feet away from the side of the masonry heater to dry it out if necessary. The optimal moisture content is 15 - 20%. 

The Top-Down Burn Method: To start a fire, place two to three large logs on the bottom, then two to three medium sized logs on top of that, then very small pieces of wood, and finally kindling. Add a couple of pieces of Fatwood to the top and light the fatwood with a match. ( Dry Fatwood is the center part of the pine tree with high resin content and lights very easily). This is the top-down burn method which has been proven to be cleaner burning, emits less CO, and is longer lasting. 


Marge Padgitt is the publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine and president of HearthMasters, Inc, in Kansas City, Missouri

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Masons Exceed Expectations at 2015 Contest

The Masonry Heater Association Annual Contest was held in April at Wildacres Retreat, Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Masons and craftsmen were asked to present their best work in three categories: Masonry, Bake Ovens, and Masonry Heaters. There were three trophies awarded in each category. This year, some of the best work yet seen was entered in the contest. 

Each entrant was required to take before, during, and after photos, and provide a detailed explanation and description of the project and materials used for judges to examine. Judges did not know who did the work in order to assure fairness in the contest. Some entrants missed placing by only one point, and all of the projects submitted were top quality, demonstrating the outstanding craftsmanship of the participants.

Materials used in the designs were varied and used in unique ways. Entrants used such products as custom-cut steel, stone, brick, and custom-fired clay Kachels in their work.  

There were 16 entries from several countries, including the United States, Canada, Scotland, and Germany. Attendees and instructors at the MHA annual meeting came from all over the world. 

Masonry Category:
First Place
: Derek Kowalchuck, Fiddlerock Masonry, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Second Place: Jeff Owens, JTO Masonry Construction, Riverview, MI
Third Place: Ryan McCutchan, Homboldt Hearthstones, Blue Lake, CA

Bake Oven Category
Tie for First Place: Jessica Steinhauser, Stonehouse Pottery, Guelph, Ontario, CA
Tie for First Place: Martin Swift, Swift Masonry, Sooke, B.C., CA
Second Place: Jeff Owens, JTO Masonry Construction, Riverview, MI

Masonry Heater Category:
First Place:
Dave Wilcox, Wilcox Masonry, Wapakoneya, OH
Second Place: Martin Ruzicka, Stovemason Masonry Heater Builders, Ardovie Lodge, Brechin,Scotland
Third Place: Axel Schmitz, Masonry FireTube, Elterlein, Germany

The Masonry Heater Association of North America holds this contest annually. Only members of the MHA may enter the contest. Contact Richard Smith, Executive Director of the MHA at 850-883-0191 or email for more information about the MHA.
Photos for all of these projects are on the MHA website at and may be used by the media with credit to the owner and the MHA. 

The MHA is a non-profit organization of builders and manufacturers of masonry heaters and masonry wood-fired bake ovens whose purpose is to promote the industry, sponsor research and development, shape regulations, standards and codes, inform and educate the public, and further the expertise and professionalism of its membership. Some of the best masons and related craftsmen/women in the world are members of the MHA. 

The MHA sponsors professional educational programs in the U.S. and Canada throughout the year, and members also offer private workshops and schools. The association has an annual meeting in North Carolina where industry professionals share different construction techniques. The MHA certifies Heater Masons, and will soon offer a certification program for oven builders. Currently there are 33 Certified Heater Masons in the United States and Canada. Books on masonry heaters, bake ovens, and masonry are available on the MHA website. 

Contact Marge Padgitt, contest organizer at or 816-461-3665 for questions about the contest. 

See the photos here:

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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Masonry Heater Contest April, 2015

The Masonry Heater Association of North America is hosting a contest at their annual meeting in April of 2015 at Little Switzerland, North Carolina. The contest categories are Masonry Heater, Masonry, and Bake Oven. To be eligible to enter the contestant must be a member of the MHA and submit a portfolio of the project at the annual meeting. First, second, and third place winners receive a trophy and their project is featured on the MHA website. The entrant does not need to be present to win. To see the complete rules and entry form and past contest winners visit