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    The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made When Purchasing a Fireplace

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    This open faced wood burning fireplace is good example of a unit that is easy to install and customize.

    Purchasing a fireplace and having it installed can be stressful – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Above all, you’ll need to make sure your installation is safe and effective. While you want to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes that can derail that process. Below are a few of the key steps in the purchasing and installation, where pitfalls can occur

    Choosing the Installer

    One of the single most important aspects of installing a fireplace – as well as one of the most oft overlooked – is the selection of a suitable installer. The majority of manufacturers will specify in the installation manual of an appliance that the unit needs to be installed by a qualified installer. If this isn’t done, the warranty may be void. There are a few different professionals who are qualified to install a hearth product, and it’s important to know the differences between them.

    There are a few different professionals who are qualified to install a hearth product, and it’s important to know the differences between them.

    The first installer that would be recommended is someone who’s certified by the National Fireplace Institute (NFI). Someone with this certification has taken a rigorous exam in one or more fields, including Wood Burning, Gas Burning, and Pellet Burning. We at eFireplaceStore.com can speak to the thoroughness of these exams, as we have 6 NFI Master Hearth Professionals on staff. NFI certified installers can be found by entering your zip code into the NFI registry (https://www.nficertified.org/public/). It’s important to note that many of the people in your area with these certifications will be installers who work for specific companies that will only install a unit that they have sold. If this is the case in your area, you may not be able to have an NFI certified installer work on a fireplace that you have purchased online. This would be a case where we would discuss the next two installers.

    The second possible installer would be a general contractor. Often they will be more experienced in some of the aspects of fireplace installation, such as the framing of the unit and the building of a chimney chase, due to their construction background. When discussing the installation with a general contractor, you'll want to make sure that they have experience putting in a hearth appliance – and if not, that they have someone on their crew that does.

    The third suggestion would be a licensed plumber or gasfitter. They will be most appropriate if you’re installing a gas hearth appliance, though many with experience in installing the gas will also be able to frame and vent the unit properly. As with the general contractor, you’ll want to discuss their qualifications and make sure they’re the right person for the job.

    When your installer has completed the installation, you should make sure that they test the unit to see that it’s working properly before leaving the job site.

    When your installer has completed the installation, you should make sure that they test the unit to see that it’s working properly before leaving the job site. The overwhelming majority of issues with new hearth appliances can be traced back to installation error. An installer should never leave you with a non-functioning appliance.

    Provided all of these specifications are met, there should be no issue in the event that a warranty claim needs to be filed or manufacturer’s assistance is requested in troubleshooting an issue.

    Consulting Local Code Enforcement

    There is a national code that’s used as a baseline for the installation and use of fireplaces, heaters, and other hearth products, and a hierarchy of guidelines for these units. Above national code is the product manual as provided by the manufacturer of your unit, and above all else is your local code enforcement.

    Make sure that you speak with your local code enforcement officials before beginning any sort of construction or installation for a fireplace.

    Make sure that you speak with your local code enforcement officials before beginning any sort of construction or installation for a fireplace. Many states have overarching laws regarding these appliances, such as the state of California’s outright ban on vent-free appliances for indoor use. It’s important to note, however, that your city or county may have their own guidelines regarding hearth products, and that they must be consulted. Failure to comply with local code can and has come back to haunt many homeowners when it’s time to sell or renovate a home, as an inspector may put your entire project on hold until the installation is up to code.

    Things that code enforcement authorities may have strict guidelines on are clearances to combustibles, in addition to the clearances required by the manufacturer, the ability to install a vent-free appliance in your home, the construction of a chimney, or any other safety feature they deem necessary.

    Determining the Type of Appliance That is Right for You

    A fireplace can change the entire ambiance of a home. It provides warmth, atmosphere, and an aesthetic focal point for any room. Some fireplaces will provide supplemental heat on cold nights, while others serve an entirely decorative purpose. It is important to know which unit provides what you’re looking for before making a purchase.

    Some fireplaces will provide supplemental heat on cold nights, while others serve an entirely decorative purpose

    There are two kinds of wood burning fireplaces: open faced, classic fireplaces, and closed combustion units that are rated by the EPA. An open faced unit will provide you the classic look of a fireplace that was built directly into the home. While circulating versions of these fireplaces can have an additional fan installed to push some of the hot air from the unit, these fireplaces will lose a considerable amount of heat through the chimney, thereby making them, for the most part, decorative. Closed combustion units, however, have both the look and attributes of a wood stove that’s been framed directly into your wall. While wood stoves require a certain clearance to combustibles and floor and wall protection, these units have the ability to be framed. See Figure 1. They are often rated by the EPA and put out a significant amount of heat.

    Superior's WCT6820 fireplace is so clean burning and energy efficient that it qualifies as an EPA Phase II appliance.
    Figure 1

    As with wood burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces and gas log sets also come in both decorative and heating versions. A vented gas log set is – much like with an open faced wood burning unit – going to lose a considerable amount of heat through the venting. If you’re looking for heat, and it is approved by your local code enforcement, a vent free gas log set would be ideal, as there is no loss through the venting. Vent free appliances operate at an efficiency that allows for them to draw combustion air from the room and release water vapor and carbon dioxide during combustion. Please bear in mind that with vent free appliances, people with sensitive noses or bad allergies sometimes complain of an odor which can be caused by the breakdown of mercaptan, the additive that allows otherwise odorless natural gas and propane to be detected in the event of a gas leak.

    This will be the same case with gas fireplace installation. Direct vent gas fireplaces operate at a higher efficiency from open faced units, so they’ll provide you more heat than a vented log set, but will still lose a portion of heat through the venting. They have a closed glass front and venting that allows for both the exhaust of flue gases and the drawing in of combustion air.

    While they are less common than they were in years past, there is also the option of a B-Vented unit, which will draw air for combustion from the room and exhaust gases out of an aluminum chimney. These are considered purely decorative, and will put out almost no heat.

    Determining Which Unit Your Home’s Size Can Accommodate

    The size of your home will be a big part of the decision making process when purchasing a fireplace. If not done correctly, you can under or overheat your house, or you could find that your fireplace is either non-functioning or only works for certain amounts of time. The BTU (British thermal unit) output of a fireplace will give you an idea of the unit’s heat output. As a general rule of thumb, 35,000 BTUs will heat 1,000 square feet. As such, you can divide the BTUs of any unit you are looking at by 35 to determine the square footage the unit can heat.

    In addition to being a good idea to determine what kind of heating you would like in a vented appliance, it’s also an imperative part of selecting a vent free appliance. Vent free appliances will list in their product manuals the minimum cubic feet necessary for oxygen levels in the room to stay safe. All vent free fireplaces will come with an oxygen depletion sensor, which is a hole in the pilot where air is drawn. If the oxygen level in the room goes down, the unit will shut itself off before the level drops in any dangerous way.

    The size of your home will be a big part of the decision making process when purchasing a fireplace.

    As well as the size of the area you are heating, you will also want to consider the altitude of your home. Gas fireplaces will have a guideline to determine whether your altitude can sustain the amount of oxygen in the air needed for the unit to function. While certain higher elevations can be accommodated for, by either switching out the gas orifice or modifying the gas input, this is a crucial step that your installer must take to make sure your fireplace can perform optimally.

    Proper Venting and Accessories

    Lastly, you will need to make sure that any venting and accessories purchased for the fireplace are appropriate. All fireplace manufacturers have specific venting and parts that are meant for use with the unit. They have been tested together and are the only products that are approved to be installed with a certain fireplace. This includes optional brick liners, blowers, surrounds, and others. All proper parts will be listed in the product manual for the fireplace.

    The venting of a fireplace must be done exactly to manufacturers’ requirements with the appropriate parts. Manufacturers don’t offer adapters that can allow for new fireplaces to connect to older pipes, even when made by the same manufacturer. Woodburning fireplaces have two different kinds of pipes: air cooled pipes with no insulation between the inner and outer walls for open faced units, and insulated pipes with packed insulation between the inner and outer walls for closed combustion units. With gas fireplaces, you will have units that are direct vent, meaning they have a closed glass front and venting that not only exhausts flue gases but also draws in combustion air. Additionally, there are some B-Vent fireplaces with aluminum pipe and a very small space between the inner and outer wall. Again, the manufacturer will specify the exact type and brand of venting that can be used with the fireplace you purchase, and this must be followed exactly.

    The venting of a fireplace must be done exactly to manufacturers’ requirements with the appropriate parts.

    Accessories will also be tested and approved for a fireplace. This is not only a safety issue but the way to determine what will fit your fireplace. Manufacturers often don’t list the size of things like fireplace doors, brick panels, or surrounds. They will be designated for specific fireplaces, which takes out the possibility of purchasing the incorrect part. Provided all of these steps are taken into consideration, you should have a new addition to the décor of your home that will delight company and comfort you and yours, whether by giving warmth or through the familiarity of a cozy fire.

    At any point in the buy process, please lean on the experts at eFireplaceStore.com. We have the knowledge and expertise to make sure you avoid these and other common mistakes.

    About the Author

    Brennan Whalen

    With two years under his belt here at eFireplaceStore, Brennan is one of our National Fireplace Institute (NFI) certified technicians. Additionally, he is an NFI Master Hearth Professional, which means her is certified in all three fields — wood, gas and pellet.

    During his free time, Brennan is a singer/songwriter that plays in two different bands, one folk punk and one metal. Born here in Memphis and the oldest of three, he is married to his wife Jessica and they have a pit bull named Nattie

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