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