Fireplace Blower Buyer's Guide and Other Information
Adding a fireplace to your home can be a great way to introduce needed warmth. Some models are rated to heat large areas on their own, but are there other accessories that can be added to make a fireplace more efficient? Because fireplaces
are enclosed within a dedicated wall cavity, some of the heat they produce is lost to the void space behind the wall. The most effective way to reclaim lost heat is to utilize a fireplace blower with your unit.
Not only can a fireplace blower increase the thermal efficiency of your newly purchased fireplace, it can help to more evenly distribute the heat in the room and create a comfortable atmosphere. This guide will assist you in determining how to select the correct fireplace blower, as well as helping you determine the proper procedure for installing it.
Points to Consider
Before you begin your search for a fireplace blower, it is important to identify the exact brand and model of your fireplace. It is a common misconception that most fireplace blowers are universal, when the truth is exactly the opposite. Most fireplace blowers are model specific and cannot interchange. This is due to the many variations in size, placement, blower types, and component compatibility. While it may be tempting to try to mix and match, the odds are that one of the above mentioned aspects will prevent a proper installation. Doing so would not only void the warranty, but is also likely to cause premature failure of one or more of the blower components.
Almost every fireplace blower that is currently manufactured requires connection to a 120 volt power source. Most fireplace manufacturers that rate their models for a blower will include special mounting points within the fireplaces, as well as a built in electrical outlet near the blower mounting point. The electrical outlet is shielded to withstand high temperatures and usually includes a wiring pigtail that allows for a quick electrical connection. If you are purchasing a blower at the same time you are purchasing your fireplaces, keep in mind that a branch electrical circuit should be run to the fireplace housing prior to finishing the project.
If you are not planning to purchase a blower at the time of the fireplace installation, it is highly recommended to have the electrical run installed so that power is available when the time comes to purchase a blower. The most difficult scenario is when the fireplace is already installed and no electrical circuit has been run for a blower. Access to the back of the fireplace to run the circuit can be somewhat simple if you have access through an attic chase, but very challenging for an installation encased in stone or tile, with no access points.
We highly recommend consulting with a qualified electrician to determine the cost of running an electrical branch to the fireplace before making the decision to purchase a blower.
Modern linear fireplaces often sacrifice accessibility for style. Many models of linear fireplace will utilize an access panel on the front or rear of the fireplace chassis to allow easy installation of an accessory fan. Once installed however, these access panels are covered and no longer an option for installing a blower. It then becomes necessary to remove the burner, gas valve, or other components, should a user want to install a blower at a later time. This can make for a far more costly installation than if the blower had been installed when the fireplace was being put into place. It is for this reason we highly recommend installing a blower initially if it is available for your model of linear fireplace.
Fireplace Blower Types
Rotary Style Blowers — Wood and Gas Models
By far the most common style of blower is the rotary cage type. Many customers will be familiar with this type of fan, as the design is the same as the fans used in most automotive and HVAC applications. The fan itself consists of a barrel shaped metal cage or basket, with contoured fins that move air effectively and quietly. The cage is usually attached via a small shaft to an electric motor. The entire assembly usually mounts to the fireplace with self tapping screws or fits into preexisting slots or tabs. In almost all cases, felt or neoprene isolators will be used to help cut down on noise and vibration transmitted to the fireplace while running.
Impeller Blowers — Wood or Gas Models
While not terribly common, some manufacturers use blowers with one or more impeller style fans, similar to the propeller of a ship. While these types of blowers are quieter than rotary style fans, they also offer less output. It is this low output that leads to only a very small percentage of blowers being made in this way. These systems are usually only offered in manual on/off configurations, although some do offer an optional rheostat to be added.
Hot Air Distribution Systems — Wood or Gas Models
While conventional blowers and fans are designed to distribute heat from the fireplace into the immediate area, hot air distribution systems work on a larger scale by heating one or more adjacent rooms or even the whole house.
These systems are only offered on certain high output gas fireplaces and high efficiency wood burning fireplaces, due to their ability to remove large quantities of heat from the fireplace. Lower output models would be overpowered. Most of the time, these hot air distribution systems can be used on fireplaces that also have a conventional blower installed, but manufacturers usually recommend against using both systems at the same time.
A hot air distribution system usually consists of a purpose built heat manifold, a high powered fan, a electronic control module, and various brackets. The purpose built manifold usually mounts to the top of the side of the fireplace and is responsible for collecting waste heat. Some designs forgo a manifold and instead have knockouts that allow a heat distribution pipe to be connected directly to the side or top of the fireplace. The heat distribution pipe that connects to the fireplace or manifold is then routed to the desired area to to be heated. This could be an adjacent room or an HVAC plenum on an existing furnace.
The high powered fan must be installed somewhere inline of the heat distribution pipe leading from the fireplace and must be installed so that it is readily accessible for service. The fan can be located in a purpose built access cupboard or can be located in the attic. The heat distribution system will function with an electronic control module to monitor status of the fireplace and control fan speed. The module is usually set up to detect the temperature of the fireplace and will then allow the fan to come on when minimum temperature is achieved. The inline fan can then pull heat from the fireplace and supply it to the adjacent room(s) or to the HVAC furnace.
When routed to a furnace, it is important to note that the in line fan is not meant to distribute the heated air through the entire HVAC system. The inline fan is only designed to supply heat to the plenum and then utilize the furnace fan to push the heated air to the rooms in the home. A baffle must be installed where the fireplace supply pipe meets the HVAC plenum to prevent air being forced back down the pipe to the fireplace.
Open Wood Burning and B-vent Gas Fireplaces
A fireplace blower is a great way to reclaim the lost heat from your fireplace, but it does have limitations as to what it can accomplish. Blowers for open wood burning and B-vent gas fireplaces are purposely low output and designed so that they will not overpower the weak natural force of chimney draft. If the fan was too strong, the negative pressure caused by the moving air could pull smoke or combustion fumes out of the fireplace along with it. Because of this, these blowers are only designed for heating the immediate area where the fireplace is located.
Sealed Wood Burning and Gas Fireplaces
Blower systems for these fireplace types are typically higher output, as they do not risk competing with the air movement in the combustion chamber. They are able to heat not only the room where the appliance is located, but adjacent spaces that are open to that room. These types of appliances are typically heater rated and therefore can make a real impact on how hard your other heating systems have to work to keep the home warm. By far the most effective are the previously mentioned fan powered hot air distribution systems, which feature HVAC grade components. These systems are the only type of fan that will be able to supplement heating of the entire home.
Valor — Valor is a trusted manufacturer of direct vent and power vent fireplace technology, including blowers for their fireplaces. They blend modern design cues with traditional accents, offering a fireplace for almost every application.
Heatilator — This manufacturer has been producing heat circulating fireplaces and blowers for them for over 90 years. The first to bring a truly zero clearance fireplace to market, the brand name is so well known that many circulating fireplaces are generically referred to as "Heatilators". Offering a wide range of wood, gas, and electric models, Heatilator continues a proud legacy of manufacturing that started nearly a century ago.
Napoleon — Starting out in 1976 as a steel fabrication business, the Napoleon name became well known among the industry in 1981 when they created the first single pane ceramic glass stove door. From there, the manufacturer naturally progressed into fabricated fireplaces, introducing innovative log designs and industry leading manufacturing techniques. Napoleon has now diversified into a broad product line, from a variety of fireplaces to all the accessories you could want, including fireplace blowers.
Fireplace Xtrordinair — A brand of Travis Industries and one of the most customizable fireplace brands in the industry, Fireplace X is a luxury line of fireplaces that offers an astounding number of models and individual options, all built to a very high standard that is difficult to match, including their blowers.
Empire Comfort — A family owned business since the original sheet metal shop opened in 1911, Empire has produced quality gas fired hearth products and accessories for decades. Offering a broad line of value based and up-level products, Empire fireplaces have earned a reputation for simplicity, ease of use, and longevity.
If ordered individually, fireplace blowers will ship parcel. Once it has been received from the carrier, it should be closely checked for damage.
Maintenance and Longevity
Almost all modern fan systems use sealed bearings that do not require service, however it is a good idea to inspect the fan during your seasonal fireplace inspection. Any built up dust should be blown away with compressed air.
Fans that are subjected to constant inbound dust or pet dander will fail more quickly, usually lasting between 5 to 10 years. Fans that are operated in a clean home will usually last upwards of 15 to 20 years. Small parts such as rheostats and thermodiscs can fail earlier, but are relatively simple to replace and can be replaced independent of the fan itself. It is recommended to verify that the fan is properly anchored and not making any unusual noises before starting operation for the season. Additionally, follow any other instructions for care provided in the fireplace manual or the manual for the fireplace blower itself.