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Basic questions that aren't even in the Newbie sticky.

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Pele, Dec 1, 2012.

  1. Pele

    Pele New Member

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    Hi. I'm new to fireplaces and I'd like to ask a few questions that I haven't found the answers to.

    I've been told that the standard masonry fireplace is actually not good for heating the house because you use the warm air from inside the house to feed the fire...

    Are there any ways to modify the fireplace to use outside (cold) air to feed the fire? I'm thinking knock a few bricks outta the back or sides of the fireplace.



    Even if I solve the oxygen issue. There is very little heat transfer from the fireplace to the rest of the house. I've got the crappy glass doors on the front of the fireplace and the brick hearth of the fireplace for radiation and convection heat transfer. I can add to this by getting a fireplace insert.

    Those things go for a couple grand at the local Ace, I'm going to go used. I figure it's cast iron, nothing to wear out with use.

    What measurements do I need to go by to get one? I can't find a standard fireplace size anywhere... Are these things custom built for each fireplace they go in, or are they adjustable?

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  2. chimneylinerjames

    chimneylinerjames Feeling the Heat

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    Using the fireplace is not very efficient because of the large quantity of air is consumes and sends up the chimney. It almost just as bad as having a window open.

    As you mentioned if you are looking to heat your home, an insert is the way to go. The measurements you would need to get are the 1. height and 2. width of the fireplace opening. The 3. depth of the fireplace, from the face of the fireplace to the back wall and 4. the width of the back wall.
    jharkin and DAKSY like this.
  3. DAKSY

    DAKSY Patriot Guard Rider Staff Member

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    To that I would add: Measure the rear height of the fire box. Many site built fire places have rear walls that begin to taper after a certain height & if you miss that, & your insert doesn't seat correctly, chiseling out fire brick is a PITA.
    I would also say that I fail to see the reasoning behind WHY anyone would even think about buying a hearth product at a hardware or big box store. You're going to put FIRE in your house. Deal with an expert. Go to a hearth shop.
    Jags, Heatsource and WhitePine like this.
  4. Wood Duck

    Wood Duck Minister of Fire

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    If you're putting an insert into a stone or masonry fireplace you will also need to install a flue pipe (typically steel) also called a chimney liner that runs up the chimney from the top of the insert (stove) to the top of the chimney. The liner can be as expensive as the insert/stove. Without the liner you'd have what is known as a 'slammer' install and you probably wouldn't get the insert to work well due to poor draft.
  5. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    Arguably steel is as durable or more so than cast iron. Cast iron cracks under too much strain, steel doesn't.
    As to cast iron's mythical heat resistant properties, it has none that are superior to steel, that I am aware of.
    I have a small amount of experience with the two metals.
  6. blades

    blades Minister of Fire

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    While a fireplace can be impressive to look at, and may influence the resale of a home, the reality is that when using one it generally increases your use of conventional heating appliances. One of my previous dwellings had an absolutely gorgeous fireplace/surround it would also create a small hurricane of cold air jet streaming past your ankles when in use. I put a box store insert in it which helped some ( circa 1985). This thing which was a prefab of some sort as to the fire box had a 13" interior diameter SS flue. Ex still has the place although I doubt weather fireplace has been used since 2000.
    There have been some pretty good advancements in open hearth units in the past few years but, they still can't hold a candle to a well designed stove.
  7. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    Welcome to the forums!!

    I support what everyone else says: for an insert deal with a proper heart store. Don't try to get one at a big box store. They are not as simple to install as a stove.

    Insert would be the way to go depending on the size of the opening with an insulated ss liner.

    One thing nobody has mentioned: start getting wood. I (and most people) who are/were new to the wood burning world assumed wood is seasoned once it is cut, split and stacked for a few weeks. The reality is that wood can take up to 3 years to season properly if sitting in the open sun and wind. Hardwoods which are more dense take longer than softwood (IE Oak vs Spruce). Poor wood can be the root of bad fires, lack of heat and creosote builsup in a chimney: all of which frustrate a new user.

    ANdrew
  8. ansehnlich1

    ansehnlich1 Minister of Fire

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    I think you should try and post up a picture of your fireplace here so we can see what ya got :)
  9. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    I think we can all appreciate that you're looking to keep costs down on this but this is one of those situations where you're pretty much going to get what you pay for. You're probably talking at least $5-10k to get anything decent installed. I'm a DIYer so others here could provide better numbers.

    If you try to go cheap on the insert, stove, liner etc. you're probably not going to be happy with the results.

    One key thing you really need to understand is that its the flue that produces the draft (vacuum) that makes the stove work. The flue and stove (insert) act together as a system. A modern efficient insert is unlikely to work well with a a flue that's too big in cross-sectional area (e.g. 12x12" ceramic). That and for other reasons are why flue liners should be installed.

    Insert versus stove: although inserts are typically installed in former fireplaces, if space allows, a freestanding woodstove can be installed instead. I personally do not like that most inserts require power for circulating fans that I don't want to listen to. Also, in general, I think that inserts are more expensive than stoves for the equivalent heat output, quality, appearance, etc.

    You got good advice on wood quality above. Don't ignore it.

    To convert your fireplace into an enjoyable durable wood heater you need the basics:
    good stove, good draft (flue), good wood.
  10. dave_376

    dave_376 Burning Hunk

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    If money is an issue I would look for a cheap used stove. Make sure you talk to your insurance company about installing one to see what they will require from you. get a new insert that is EPA certified and is UL listed. Get a building permit from the town. Buy a SS flex liner and insulation kit for it. look on youtube for how to install a flew chimney liner. Know what you are really getting into before you buy anything.


    I installed and repaired an older epa Avalon 1196 insert with a chimney liner for around $1100.
    Dune likes this.
  11. Pele

    Pele New Member

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    I was thinking of using Pallets.
    I live about 20 miles south of Washington D.C. I can spit in four directions and hit seven or eight shopping centers with a major retailer in them.
    They're already split, dried, and they're easy to break apart for easy stacking. Best of all, there's usually a pile of broken up pallets beside the dumpster.

    There are a lot of Cedar and Maple trees in the area. I suppose I could haul off anything that someone cuts down for free, but I really don't have space on my quarter acre lot to have logs sit around for a few years. The pallets wold be easy to gather at the source and when broken down, they don't take up much space.

    Holy $%&*! That's getting on what Washington Gas wanted to dig up about 300 ft of road and drop a natural gas pipeline in.



    The insert is only part of the system I want.

    My old house had a Gas fired boiler and hydronic heating provided by water piped baseboards in all rooms. Awesome heating system... Very efficient, didn't circulate dust that bothers my allergies, quiet, low maintenance...

    My new house is on a street that was never piped for Natural Gas; Though it's available one block over.

    New house originally had an electric boiler for a similar baseboard hydronic system. It sits abandoned, though the water lines are still hooked up. I'm guessing an electrical failure or just general inefficiency. Someone decided to install a Heat Pump a few years ago before I bought the place... Now I have a fairly new 4.5 Ton heat pump for a 2000 sq ft house. (Despite it's newness, it's also inefficient because it's oversized for the house; it short cycles.)

    After having Hydronic heat, I dislike forced air heating systems. But even a gas fired forced air system would be better than what I have now. Heat Pumps are the worst... I get to run a compressor under my bedroom window all winter night to put out luke warm air. Unless it's under 20 deg outside, then I get to smell the dust and pet hair burn off the electric supplemental coils as my electric meter spins fast enough to counter the Earth's rotation...



    My goals here are (In order of priority)
    1.) Convert the fireplace to use outside air for feeding the fire with oxygen. (At least I'll get radiant heat without the air use penalty.)
    2.) Use the fireplace to heat water. (Thereby spreading the heat to the rest of the house via the hydronic heating system.)
    3.) Use a free fuel source in the fireplace. Used oil burner, trash, scavenged wood... Don't care so long as it's free. (Because free is good... Though in the interest of safety/combustion buildup in the flue, I'll probably just buy firewood.)

    Appearance is not on the list. If it looks good, that's a bonus...



    I'll post pics of the fireplace in a bit.
  12. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    I can help you with this if you are serious.
  13. brian89gp

    brian89gp Feeling the Heat

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    I have a 1/8 acre lot with a 4 car garage and a very very large house, and I am still able to fit over 7 cords of wod on it. If you can't go out, go up. Can fit a lot of wood in a 7' tall stack.


    I'm not sure your idea there will work.


    Unlikely to get enough heat out of it to make it work. What is the KW rating of your electric boiler?


    Good wood = nice cheap heat source
    Bad wood (unseasoned), trash, etc = chimney fire


    My total cost for DIY install with a used insert was $2800. Half of that was for the 40' liner and insulation. Probably double that if I paid someone to do it.
  14. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    There are quite a few members on this very site that purchased their stoves at a big box store.
    Englander alone has sold prolly 90% the Englanders being burnt on here at the box stores.
    I got mine at Lowes also.
    Nothing wrong with buying a good stove at a chain store.
    More importantly, is to do much research about what you want, the products your interested in, etc.
    Woodburning is definitely not something anyone should just jump into.
    The more informed anyone is, the better decisions they will make.
    BrotherBart likes this.
  15. DAKSY

    DAKSY Patriot Guard Rider Staff Member

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    Well, I disagree, but that's what makes the world go round...
  16. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    Thats ok too. I wasn't looking for you to agree, or your approval.
  17. Pele

    Pele New Member

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    (Addressed in order of asking:)

    I'd LOVE a 4 car garage. I also like having a yard though.
    Also, if I assume that it takes time to amass a 7 ft tall stack of wood. How do I get to the bottom layer if it's seasoned and the top part is not?

    I was thinking of knocking a couple bricks out of the back, near the bottom of the fireplace and adding a squirrel cage blower outside. Fanning the fire should add some heat if it's too small to heat the entire house.
    The hole would double as a way to remove the ash without carrying a bucket of ash through the house.

    Heater ratings from the nameplate are:
    20 KW
    68260 BTU/Hr

    So how do I identify wood? What's good wood and what's bad wood? Can I do it by photo or do I need a moisture detector?
  18. brian89gp

    brian89gp Feeling the Heat

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    Mounded 8' pickup bed is 1/2 cord, most houses if heated by wood will go through 3 cords or more a year. Thats one reason why people push a modern insert or wood stove so much, it cuts down on the amount of wood needed (and thus labor).

    Strategic stacking. Or only get wood that drys at the same rate as all the other wood. If wood is your primary source of heat you will go through a decent amount of wood so you will likely have more then one 7' tall stack.

    Good way to catch your house on fire. Don't do this please.

    If your existing furnace there keeps the house warm enough then it is quite likely that a well placed stove can handle almost all of your yearly heating load.

    With experience you will learn. Until then take a pic and post it here and you will likely get it ID'd pretty quickly.

    Good = seasoned. Bad = unseasoned. After that, better wood is denser. It produces more heat per the same volume of wood.



    Is a free standing stove or an insert even an option for you? Even an old smoke monster is light-years ahead of your open fireplace as far as heating goes.
  19. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Pallet wood makes great kindling, but stuffing a stove full of it is usually the recipe for an uncontrollable overfire. Pallet wood suffers from a deadly combination of too dry and too much surface area per volume. Simply put, you're going to need some cord wood. Plan on storing softwood split and stacked 9 months before burning, most hardwoods at least 18 months, and oak 3 years.

    Photos will tell you what you're getting, but only an experienced hand or a moisture meter can tell you if it's ready to burn.

    Most folks organize their stacks by year. If you're serious about doing the majority of your heating with wood, you'll be going thru enough stacks that you're not going to be worried about the bottom vs. top of a given stack. If stacking on your lot is not an option, you're going to have to get mighty creative to heat with wood!

    edit: Doh! Brian beat me to it.
  20. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    You can't do this. I only responded to your thread because you mentioned an insert in your OP.
    Do you understand how a blast furnace works? It is not an exaggeration that you will burn your house down.

    No fireplace is designed or constructed to withstand the heat of an artificial blast!. The clearances to wood are far insufficient, nevermind the mortor strength,
    to say nothing of the integrity of the bricks themselves. Even firebrick are sold in different temperature ratings.

    You must forget you ever had this thought.
  21. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Two of the fireplaces in the house in which I grew up did have outside air feeds. They came in thru trap doors under the hearth, and we would adjust the opening of this trap door for desired draft. Never caused a problem for us, or the millions of other people with similar setups. Draft fed to an open firebox is much different (lower velocity) than the effect you get when you crack the door open on your wood stove. Consider an open fireplace more akin to a wood stove with the doors wide open, not a stove with a cracked door.

    That said, it's not going to put more heat into the house. It'll just chew thru your wood quicker.
  22. brian89gp

    brian89gp Feeling the Heat

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    ...I think the strong response not to do it is towards putting a blower motor on the outside air feed. Blast furnace if you are lucky (which will probably burn the house down), or blow embers all over the inside of your house if you are unlucky (which will probably burn the house down).
    Dune likes this.
  23. SteveKG

    SteveKG Minister of Fire

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    Thirty yr. ago I as thinking as you are now. I built my cottage and the fireplace from scratch. I incorporated two outside air ducts into the structure of the fireplace, opening in the floor near the front. They work great. You do need a way to block them off when not in use and screen them for critters.

    However, you are wanting to alter an existing fireplace, which is a different deal. You must be very cautious in doing this. I don't blame you for considering it, as I did.

    I built a Rumford fireplace. They are known, and were designed for, maximum heat output [into the living space]. And they work. I can heat us out of the living room if I want, though they will still not heat the entire house, mostly the room they are in and maybe an adjoining room or two. However, most existing fireplaces are not Rumford designs, or at least I haven't seen them.

    And, even with a Rumford, you will still experience less efficiency than a stove or insert. There is no way around it. You will be much better off with an insert and chimney liner. Some expense up front, but much less wood use forever.

    The squirrel cage idea to ramp up the fire in the fireplace is a no-go. You do not want to do this. The fireplace does not need the extra air flow. The fireplace was not designed to be a blast furnace either. Do not do it. I would be afraid to go to sleep at night in a house where something like this was in use.
  24. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    To avoid the crazy markups I'd imagine.
  25. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    You missed the part about the squirrel cage blower I guess.

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