I want my home to be heated by a wood-burning fireplace, but there isn't one in my home. What options do I have to install a fireplace or other wood-burning system?
A wood-burning fireplace is a great way to warm your home during the cold winter months. But if your home doesn't have a fireplace already built-in, there are several options available for wood-burning systems that can be installed.
- Masonry fireplaces are primarily decorative or aesthetic, and are not considered an efficient means of providing heat to a home.
- Factory-built fireplaces and associated chimneys are manufactured in components for field assembly, and may include ductwork, auxiliary fans, etc.
- Freestanding wood stoves are used to meet all or a portion of home heating requirements.
- Wood-burning cook stoves are similar to freestanding wood stoves but are also specially designed for cooking or baking, and may include a tank for heating water.
- Fireplace inserts or hearth mount stoves are installed within or partially within the combustion chamber of a fireplace. Both are usually installed to convert a low-efficiency fireplace into a viable heating appliance. These types of stoves require a steel liner to be installed within the existing masonry chimney for safety.
Installation ConsiderationsThe installation requirements for wood-burning systems are complex. They are stipulated in different documents depending on the type of system under consideration and may include federal and/or state building codes as wet as detailed manufacturers' specifications.
Regardless of the type of appliance or component under consideration, the primary issue is providing adequate and continuous clearance between the wood-burning system and combustible materials in the home. Sometimes homeowners discount potential safety concerns with inadequate clearances of existing appliances because they have "never had a problem with overheating;" however, they may not be aware of pyrolysis. Pyrolysis occurs to wood and other combustible materials when exposed to relatively low levels of heat over a long period of time. As pyrolysis occurs, the ignition temperature of the material decreases and the fire risk is increased. In many cases, the clearances to combustible materials can be reduced by 33% to 50% with proper installation of masonry or steel "shields."
Insurance company requirements should also be a consideration in evaluating wood-burning appliances. Insurance companies minimize their risk by ensuring that wood-burning appliances are properly installed. In certain cases, upgrades to wood-burning systems may be required to obtain insurance coverage. It is advised to consult with your insurance company to further verify their requirements.
An installation of a wood-burning system that has been "safe" for years may potentially be a fire hazard and should be inspected by a qualified inspector or contractor to ensure safety.