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Fireplace insert (C) Daniel Friedman Convert Zero Clearance Fireplace to Woodstove
Safe installation of a woodstove to replace a zero-clearance fireplace

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Installing a woodstove in an existing fireplace opening:

This article discusses the safety questions that arise if you are installing a wood burning stove - a woodstove - where there is an existing fireplace or an existing zero-clearance fireplace - a case giving rise to special fire clearance worries. What components of the existing fireplace are safe to use? How do we assure that the wood stove installation will be proper and safe?



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Convert a Zero-Clearance Fireplace to a Woodstove Installation

Typical zero-clearance fireplace installation framing sketch (C) InspectApediaReader Question: who can install a woodstove where we have a zero clearance fireplace?

I'd like your opinion as to what type of contractor I need, or if we need one at all.

We have a 1990's Lindal log home with a heatilator fireplace installed. I believe this is a zero clearance fireplace with no actual masonry except for the faux rock surrounding it.

[Click to enlarge any image]

We would like to have a wood burning stove instead.

or

If we remove the entire heatilator, I don't think there is any actual masonry inside the rectangular "chimney".... So, we don't know if this is a major construction project that needs a Mason to do it, or if this is a simple task and a fireplace shop could do it. (Of course we'd have to buy their wood stove.

Can you tell me what kind of company I should be dealing with to take this on? - S.D. 11/30/2014

Reply:

Woodstove unsafe (C) Daniel Friedman The topics we need to consider when thinking about installing a woodstove into an existing fireplace include at least these:

Above next to your question I have included a sketch of a typical zero-clearance fireplace installation to show how framing surrounds the fireplace. The image is adapted from an installation manual provided by Travis Industries and cited at REFERENCES.

The studs are wood or in some installations the manufacturer requires that metal studs be used. Shown is a zero clearance fireplace that uses a vertical chimney.

Some zero-clearance fireplace units such as those heating by a gas log rather than burning actual firewood may vent horizontally out through a wall with no actual chimney.

Other zero-clearance fireplaces include a blower unit and outdoor air circulation around the unit serving in part as a source of cooling to reduce fire risk.
See FIREPLACE INSERTS for more about zero-clearance fireplaces.
And
see FIREPLACE INSPECTION PRE-FAB to assess the condition of the existing zero clearance fireplace.

Other features such as the fireplace hearth are not shown in this drawing but are usually present. The typical fireplace hearth will be too small to carry a conventional woodstove, as you'll see in our photograph at left.

Fireplace insert into chimney (C) Carson Dunlop Associates ZERO CLEARANCES [Image]

These features do not immediately fit a conventional woodstove installation in the same location without substantial modifications.

I'd be very careful about trying to make any use of the existing zero clearance fireplace to support a woodstove - the temperatures, fire clearances, other safety variables are just too unknown.

It would be more straightforward to remove the existing fireplace, inspect the chimney for type and condition so as to determine if it's usable for a different heating appliance, and consider also modifications to permit safe fire clearance distances around any connections to the new chimney - as well of course as fire clearance distances and heat shielding for the new woodstove itself.
See FIRE CLEARANCES INDOORS.

You can probably install a woodstove with adequate heat shielding and provided it is connected to a properly-sized chimney approved for that appliance.

Start by choosing the woodstove by size and type and by noting where you think it might fit. Don't buy one that's too large or you'll not be able to run it hot enough to avoid creosote issues.

Companies who sell wood and coal stoves often provide installation services, as do some certified chimney sweeps (Chimney Sweeps Guild Members).

Hire a wood stove installer based in part by how receptive the installer is to obtaining a building permit - as is required in most jurisdictions. An installer who is familiar with local fire codes and who welcomes appropriate approval inspections by your fire inspector, combined with those actual inspections, should make the job safer - so we all can sleep better.

Don't forget proper smoke detectors and in my OPINION I'd want a couple of properly-rated fire extinguishers - placed close to nearby exit doors.

Reader follow-up:

We've wanted to do this for almost 2 years now and always come to a wall. There is really nothing out there that I can find about un-installing a heatilator fireplace.

One fireplace guy told us we could probably do the hearth thing if we found a stove that had a flue hole out the back, and another told us it should be removed, but really didn't want to do it. Mostly because it is all mortared into the faux rock. I will take your suggestion and find a dealer who has a stove we like and work with them. I had kind of hoped for an antique stove, but will nix that idea. With an all cedar house, probably better to go the safest route. - S.D. 12/1/2014

Reply:

Basically a zero clearance fireplace insert is a metal fireplace inserted into a wood-framed opening and connected usually to a metal chimney that passes to above the roof in a wood-framed chimney chase. There is little in that structure that would be useful for a woodstove installation except possibly making use of the chimney.

And for zero clearance fireplaces that vent horizontally out through a building wall there is in essence no chimney that would be useful for a conventional woodstove in that location, though the wall opening might be used to pass a properly-rated metal chimney out through the wall to connect to a new vertical metal chimney.

The fireplace guy you spoke with about a woodstove with a flue hole in the back is on track. The wood stove height and the routing of its flue vent connector between stove and chimney are key in determining how to connect a new wood stove to an existing chimney.

If your woodstove is not able to use the existing fireplace chimney,
see SUPER CHIMNEYS, 629 CHIMNEYS designed for use with wood stoves and wood burning appliances.

That is, all of the heat and fire safety of the insert depended on its own construction and on clearances from combustible framing in the insert opening.

Typically a woodstove will not fit within the original opening for a zero-clearance fireplace and still meet safe fire clearance distances unless it is quite small and unless adequate heat shielding can be installed. In particular it would be difficult to meet the overhead fire clearance distances for a woodstove it were stuck into the insert opening. And it certainly won't fit into a fireplace insert that were left in place.
See also FIREPLACE DAMAGE & UNSAFE HEARTHS

More likely you'd remove the fireplace and then either close off the opening and install the woodstove out into the room or you'd have to re-frame the opening to make it much larger.

See what your woodstove installer has to say and let us know.

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Continue reading at FIRE CLEARANCES, WOOD & COAL STOVE FLUES or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see DEFECTS LIST - HEAT, WOOD APPLIANCE

Or see WOOD STOVE INSPECTION CHECKLIST [Document Image] for a safety checklist provided by State Farm® Insurance.

Or see FIREPLACE INSERTS

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WOOD STOVE INSTALL CONVERT at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to BUILDING FIRE SAFETY

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