Clearance issues with Pacific Energy FP25 fireplace replacing old pre-fab

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hutchpatel

New Member
Mar 19, 2021
2
Houston, TX
OK so admittedly I have not gone about this in the best possible way but here we are! First time posting here

Background:

I live in Houston and started lurking here around March of this year, reading posts from other Texans trying to figure out how to efficiently heat their homes with wood during power outages. I am also just hoping to save some money on our electric bills, which are outrageous in the winter. We do not have gas on our street and I believe we have a heat pump (??) because our air conditioner is also our heater. I know we're not known for our harsh winters down here but they have gotten more extreme in the past 10 years or so and our totally unregulated power grid doesn't help.

We have an existing prefab fireplace that came with the house (built 1981). It’s the regular, inefficient, open kind. My partner has asthma so we have never used it.

I bought a Pacific Energy FP25 fireplace to replace it. I looked at the clearances and didn’t think too much about it because our chase looks huge from the outside. I drove an hour outside of Houston to buy this unit because every fireplace seller in Houston only carries Hearth & Home products, and the Heatilator Constitution starts at $5500 (equivalents under the same family of brands are even more expensive), while the FP25 is only $3500 with a higher heat output (our house is 2400 sq ft, 2 story living room, still very inefficient, we’re working on it).

The people at the store told me their installers don’t go to Houston and I was on my own as far as getting someone to install it. OK fine. I was determined to get this taken care of so I put a down payment (50%) on the unit so they could order it and apparently I got the last one in stock at the factory. Only after I made the down payment and the unit was shipped, I decided to make an exploratory hole in the wall above the mantle and check it out (I know). The fireplace is on an outside wall in a brick chase (whole house is brick). Inside the chase is wood framing and plywood. I looked at the minimum framing requirements/clearance to combustibles found in the manual. It needs a space 56" W x 24" D x 7' H

The Clearance Issues:

1. I used a laser to measure the inside of the chase and… it’s not *quite* wide enough, by about 1-2”. There are plywood boards inside the chase and the ones on each side will need to be removed in order to allow the bare minimum width. I drilled through the plywood and whatever is on the other side is either mortar or stone board perhaps. It’s just about 1” thick.

2. About 6.5 feet above the foundation, the chase narrows to approximately 2 feet wide (on the inside). This results in the upper clearance to combustibles (7’) being compromised by about 6”, for about a foot on either side. I can see what looks like metal supporting the bricks, but also again, there’s wood framing in that space. Past that the chase is open the rest of the way up. The ceiling in this room is about 18 feet but I believe there is nothing in the chase all the way to the top. From the attic I can actually see a little sliver of the chase and the chimney pipe inside.

3. There is also wood framing about 2-3” into the clearance area at the very bottom, and there are some 4” beams on either side of the fireplace that will need to be moved away from each other by about 3” each in order to meet clearance requirement. The installers said they can handle this but what if the beams are load bearing?


I have selected a contractor to do the install, they really seem to be the most competent and professional of the several that came out to give quotes. I have brought all these issues to their attention. They want to build out the front wall a couple of inches; the unit technically does not require any clearance in the back, and there is enough space for it, but given how tight the other dimensions are, I figure this can’t hurt.

Delimma:

They don’t seem worried about the clearances. I have asked about replacing the wood framing inside the chase with metal studs, up to about 8ft. They didn’t seem to consider it. Are there logistical hurdles? Is it possible to replace existing wood framing inside a chase with metal studs? Is it outrageously expensive? I don't think it needs to be welded
Is there anything else that can be done to mitigate this?
Can we cover the intruding framing in non-combustible insulation?
Can we leave the chase uninsulated so the bricks can act as a heat sink?


At this point I accept that I should have just gone with the Heatilator Constitution, which requires much less empty space around it. I have also accepted the possibility that I might have to try and sell the FP25 and go with the Heatilator and a much simpler, safer and cheaper install, but I am worried about being able to sell the FP25. I cannot get a refund from the store because it was a special order item, though I've only paid 50% on it so the other option is not picking it up and taking a $2000 loss, but obviously that's a terrible option as well.

I'm still haunted by an offhanded comment from our former next door neighbor, originally from Maine, who jokingly said "oh, just leave the fireplace, get a wood stove and run a new chimney pipe through your ceiling!" Yes, that would be WAY more economical and efficient. But here we are. If you've read this far, thank you. Any advice is appreciated

***For anyone wondering about building codes, as far as I can tell, there don't seem to be any requirements for a replacement like this, only for new builds. I will make sure they get the proper permits and everything. I may also call the fire department and see if they can have someone come out and inspect it even if it's not required.
 
Last edited:

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
1,504
SE North Carolina
It has been my experience with contractors that planning ahead takes time they could be working on a job. I find this frustrating as the homeowner but I understand you really can’t make a complete plan until demo is done. There are ways to make up 1-2” until there aren’t.

I would be very clear with the contractor that clearances to combustibles must be met. Seems like the vertical clearance is the issue.

So I guess your options are open it all up and see if you can make clearances. What happened if you can’t. Contractor might suggest being 1” short isn’t a big deal. 6” is that a big deal? What would your insurance company say?

Right now with supplies of wood stoves and fireplaces the way they are I bet you could sell it unused for almost retail new price. Ask the stove shop if they would refund you minus a restocking fee? 10%? So I think you have some more thinking and exploring todo.

Just some thoughts.

Evan
 

hutchpatel

New Member
Mar 19, 2021
2
Houston, TX
It has been my experience with contractors that planning ahead takes time they could be working on a job. I find this frustrating as the homeowner but I understand you really can’t make a complete plan until demo is done. There are ways to make up 1-2” until there aren’t.

I would be very clear with the contractor that clearances to combustibles must be met. Seems like the vertical clearance is the issue.

So I guess your options are open it all up and see if you can make clearances. What happened if you can’t. Contractor might suggest being 1” short isn’t a big deal. 6” is that a big deal? What would your insurance company say?

Right now with supplies of wood stoves and fireplaces the way they are I bet you could sell it unused for almost retail new price. Ask the stove shop if they would refund you minus a restocking fee? 10%? So I think you have some more thinking and exploring todo.

Just some thoughts.

Evan
Thank you for the reply Evan. I am leaning more and more towards the Constitution. I checked all the clearances and it would be a perfect fit, likely without any need for reframing. I would rather do everything by the book and have the peace of mind that my house won't burn down.
 
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