is it safe to create a 'fireplace' around this wood stove?

maylandJune 29, 2007

We bought a house that has an old woodburning stove. We would like to keep it and use it, but it sits a long way out from the wall in the middle of the family room. Its about 18 inches from the wall to the back of the stove. It sits on a brick hearth. The chimney pipe goes up through the ceiling, thru the attic and out of the roof. Here's a photo:

We would really like to move the stove back to be much closer to the wall, and to build either a brick fireplace around it, or to tile the wall behind and the floor underneath it.

We will be taking off the black heat-proof metal sheet on the wall as we are going to drywall over all of the wood panelling. If we are able to move the stove closer to the wall, will brick or tile on the wall be enough heatproofing?

I have no experience at all with stoves so I don't know whether this a safe thing to do, or whether this is not possible with this type of stove?

Any advice would be much appreciated.

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Actually, the first thing I would is get rid of that old stove! It definitely looks as it's pre EPA and is a polluter.

Replace it with a newer unit that can actually be an airtight fireplace. Complete with mantle. Below is a link to just one of many manufacturers.

But if you choose not to, then I don't recomend putting the stove any closer to the wall than it already is. There are minimum clearances to combustable surfaces. And if the stove is closer to a wall than it already is, you'll have a house fire. Also you cannot put a structure any lower than 84 inches over the top of the stove as it gets to 500-600 degrees when in operation.

But today's stoves can be made to loook just like a fireplace using the existing chimney hole. Just probably needing a 6" flue rather than an 8 inch flue.

Go to your local fireplace shop with that photo. They'll help you find the best solution.

Up here in VT the state is giving rebates to homeowners that rip out those old stoves and replace them with the cleaner and more efficient units.

Just DON'T MOVE that stove any closer to the wall!

Here is a link that might be useful: Vermont Castings stoves and fireplaces

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 7:15AM
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Thanks so much for your advice, this is very helpful. I will find a local fireplace shop and see what they suggest.

I'm sure it is pretty old, probably 1960s, so it makes sense that its a polluter.

The carpenter that is working on lots of other renovation in the house suggested taking off the wood panelling and the wall framing, installing a header and then bricking in the wall (the house exterior is brick) so that we could move the stove (or a new stove) closer to the wall. I need to find out what is code here (Atlanta) and go and look at what options we would have.

Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 10:19AM
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If you go to the city to ask about the applicable code, what you are likely to find is that the building official will ask what the specifications are for the unit you are planning to install.

There are general catch-all codes, but manufacturers have different requirements, and if the "fireplace appliance" is "listed", the building official will generally defer to the specs called out in the listing notice.

There are various permutations of stove (or fireplace insert), clearance to combustibles, and heat shielding construction and materials which combine to make it hard to make any simple blanket statements about a specific design. Your best bet is to find a stove/fireplace supplier, get a list of licensed installers, and follow their recommendations. What your carpenter is suggesting is basically true in theory - by using a different shield design, or a noncombustible wall, you may be able to move the stove closer to the wall, but the devil is in the details. Also, remember the clearances aren't going to apply to just the stove/fireplace, but also the flue.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 2:55PM
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With all due respect I don't think Christopher had any idea of what he was talking about when he assessed the stove in the picture you posted. I may be wrong, but the color of the stove is distinctive as are the feet. Your's is in no way an "obsolete", outdated stove. I'm quite sure of that!

I believe I recognize a soapstone stove in your photo, after nearly 16 yrs of ownership I'm pretty good at spotting soapstone. I have one in my home, although it's not the Hearthstone stove I believe you now own. Our stove is a Woodstock Soapstone Stove (Fireview). I urge you to research Hearthstone stoves before you get rid of your stove in favor a Vermont Castings product. Please! Soapstone is probably the best material to store heat available in stoves. It outperforms cast iron, it's safer, and it's PRETTIER. Find out what you have before you sell it "cheap" to someone better informed than you are.

You should pay very strict attention to the setback clearances specified by manufacturers. This is for YOUR SAFETY as well as to maximize the heat return of your stove.

Here's a link on soapstone. I tried the Hearthstone search but ther was too much attendant crap...

Here is a link that might be useful: A soapstone stove link

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 8:59PM
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My monitor is not a current model and you may be correct.

But if it isn't an EPA CERTIFIED appliance it MUST be replaced, no matter WHAT it's made of! It should AT LEAST have a CAT. And we won't get into the pros and cons of CATs vs secondary burn technologies here bexcause we will not convince each other.

I am in no way recommending Vermont Castings. I just used them as an example of what's out there.

You love soapstone. Great. Not everybody does. I for one do not. But the OP seemed to want a FIREPLACE type of unit so I suggested a FIREPLACE type of installation. And VC (and others) makes zero clearance airtight fireplaces that are actually woodstoves.

The OP is right in going to his local stove shop. I believe he should go to at LEAST two shops. That way a professional can see the photo and visit the home and suggest the best course of action.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 8:22AM
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Did I hit a nerve? C'mon, lighten up. I've been dealing with woodstoves for a really long time now. My aesthetic is different than your's, so what? that's not the point. But your assessment that it was a pre EPA and a pollutor was premature, based on what you can't really "know" from a picture; esp. when you didn't recognize the material used to make the stove.

I tried to link to the Hearthstone site but was outraged by the attendant spam. I linked to a site that will explain what soapstone is and how it works. The fact remains, soapstone is expensive and that stove will probably have decent resale value... a point you missed because you aren't familiar with it. I have several friends with that stove and it's perfectly "pemissable" and well within regs..

I don't need to "convince" you of anything, Chris.. I don't really care a fig about that sort of thing; I'm interested in sharing information and providing a pool of practical knowledge, based on pesonal experience. I share what I know, what I've experienced with the stove we've used and loved for many years now.

The OP only needs a clue to find out what the stove is and what it's worth.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 9:19AM
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Why "if it isn't an EPA CERTIFIED appliance it MUST be replaced".
Is it not safe? Don't know about the law & codes in your state, just because it's not a current stove doesn't mean you can't keep & use it.
The clearance to combustibles & other codes about the flue, etc. & cleaning are what's important. If it's safe & you want it, keep it. Don't worry about EPA regs for new stoves.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 4:35PM
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Pre EPA stoves are DIRTY, it's that simple. They POLLUTE as they don't have any means of cleaning the air that comes out the flue. And some states are considering laws banning the use of these old units. (I have NO idea how they'll enforce it though.)

Woodstoves are the only other thing besides automobiles that are regulated as to emmissions. Pre EPA stoves were and still are common. Fisher was the Rolls Royce of woodstoves in the 70s and 80s. They were cast iron and when you dampened down the fire all you did was shut off the air supply. So the wood would just smolder, and smoke would pour out the chimney. Along came the EPA and the quick fix to this problem was a catalytic converter. Just like automobiles. The converter burns off the secondary gasses and smoke is reduced. But converters have to be replaced at regular intervals and many stoveowners just don't do that. However, responsible stoveowners make sure the cat is functioning properly.

So the stove manufacturers came up with a "secondary burn chamber" that reburns the gasses before they go up the flue. When you damp the fire down you can see blue flames in the stove. Those are unburned gasses. So again the smoke is less and the air is cleaner.

Many states are offering rebates to homeowners that will pull out those old stoves and replace them with the clean units. All stoves made before I believe 1990 should, in my opinion, be replaced. It'll clean up the air and they are much more efficient, meaning you use less wood for the same heat.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 7:43AM
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It is hard to tell from the angle on the photo, but the pipe looks like 8" pipe and it looks like it is too close to the wood wall already without moving it back.
8" pipe as far as I know, isn't used anymore for EPA certified stoves unless they are behemouths. So, in my opinion, the way it is now, it doesn't look like it meets minimum clearances.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 12:53PM
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Thanks very much everyone for all the good info. I will definitely go to a local fireplace/stove place to check out what kind of stove it is, and what options we have with it or a new one that are safe.

Chelone, thanks for the tip that it might be worth something in resale! Thats very handy to know :) I think you might be right about the soapstone -- both our carpenter and tile guy said they think it looks like soapstone.

Our taste overall is more modern. My husband likes the Max Blank stoves, which i doubt we can afford, and I found a Malm Zircon that looks good and is more affordable. However, best for our budget would be to work with what we have if we can establish a safe way to do so.

Xanndra, I am sure you are right that it was not installed to meet minimum clearances.

I think we need to spend some time looking into what kind of stove or fireplace we really want in the house and what we need to do to install safely. Thank you everyone for your comments, its a great help to point me in the right direction.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 3:50PM
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Interesting...I had a Jotul stove back in the mid-70's, the 118 box stove, as I recall, that had a "secondary burn chamber" even then, and was quite efficient. If I came across that stove again, I'd use it, it was the best stove I've had, which includes a Lopi and a Vermont Castings. I have a catalytic converter stove right now that came with our house, and I really hate the catalytic converter. I'd much rather have a cleaner-burning, efficient non-catalytic wood stove than one that had to rely on a catalytic converter for efficiency and low emissions.

The catalytic converters have a short life-span, and require operation in a particular temperature range to get the efficiency of the converter. I'm tired of having to watch the temperature of the stove to make sure that it is operating efficiently. I'd much rather have a stove that's more tolerant of the normal temperature swings that you get with wood heat from opening the stove door to adjust the logs to refueling (cast iron is good for that, too). And that could be used for 10 years without needing a new, expensive catalytic converter...Just stupid, in my opinion.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 7:25PM
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An older stove can be burned efficiently if it is handled properly. Mostly this means never closing off the air supply, but instead carefully regulating the amount of wood you put in and adjusting the airflow for optimum burning.

If you are not going to choke off the air then you must be careful to never load the stove up with too much wood. You must make a few smaller, hotter fires per day. You must never load it up with wood for the night hoping to make the fire last till morning. This is like leaving your car running in the garage overnight so it will still be running in the morning. When you choke off the air to one of the modern stoves you are just shutting down the primary air supply to the pile of firewood. This creates thick clouds of smoke otherwise known as "fuel". The stove is still letting in secondary air to the catalytic converter or secondary combustion chamber where this gaseous fuel, which will be produced as long as the wood is hot, is burned.

If you are judicious with the wood, adjust the air to match, and keep the stove burning hot, then there is not much for the cat or secondary combustion to do. If you shove too much wood in, choke off the air, or both, then the secondary combustion is a big deal. Without it the smoke will continue up the flue pipe. While the stove and flue are still hot this smoke will go out and pollute the atmosphere. As the flue cools the smoke will begin to condense inside on the walls of the flue pipe. This is creosote and it has burned down many houses. When the next hot fire is made, the creosote in the flue, which is distilled, unburned fuel, may catch fire. If it is just a thin coating you may never know and it does little harm. If there is a thick accumulation the ensuing chimney fire can be extremely intense, melting metal flues and cracking masonry. Flames shoot out the top of the chimney.

On top of everything else there is pyrolysis, which is a chemical reaction that takes place in wood after prolonged exposure to heat. Normally it takes several hundred degrees F to get wood to burst into flame, but years of exposure to say 200 degrees can work a chemical change such that someday it might catch fire at not much more than 200 F. This is why it is such a big deal to keep the proper clearance from combustibles. The wood 2x4s in the wall may not give any signs, such as smoking, for years, then may suddenly progress rapidly to the open flame stage. The wooden handles on your barbecue tongs probably take higher heat for short periods, while you are actively holding them, but the combustibles in your walls or furniture can cook for years without coming to your attention.

It is difficult to operate a stove with sufficient attention to detail that you always burn cleanly. The new designs have made it much easier. One last thing you could do is stack up rocks or concrete blocks around the stove to create even more of a heat sink but that would look like what it is, an afterthought. People have done it though and it allows you to let the fire rip for a while, then die out for a while. Efficiency-wise and pollution-wise it gives better results than keeping a fire burning continuously at a semi-throttled condition. Others will point out that the new stoves do a pretty good job anyway but that is the underlying theory.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 7:00AM
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