Help with deciding between ZC fireplace or free standing wood stove

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datemm

New Member
Feb 2, 2022
8
new jersey
Looking for some help deciding between installing a ZC fireplace or a freestanding wood stove. I just moved into a house with a large great room. Has a beautiful stone wall surrounding an ugly prefab fireplace. As the house is large (and very expensive to heat), I'm looking for a way to supplement my heating (not replace entirely).

My goals are to:
1) Reduce my heating bill
2) Enjoy a nice fire
3) Be less reliant on the gas or power company should we have an outage

My options are:
1) Install free standing wood stove in the great room
2) Install a ZC fireplace (likely from both sides for access) but will need to pull down a good section of custom stone work for metals studs and hope we can get it back without being too noticeable

The free standing stove is certainly a cheaper option but adds an item to my floor space, requires a second pipe and doesn't help with the lost aesthetics of the prefab fireplace.

The ZC is going to be a bit more expensive and labor intensive but will be almost entirely reliant on the electric blower (minus the possibility of ducting into another room or maybe 2).

Seems as though heat output ratings for both are generally in the same ballpark. I'm leaning toward freestanding stove because of the total independence AND - why I'm posting - is because I'm afraid the heat output of the ZC won't be close to the wood stove despite claims by manufacturers. (although cost is a factor I plan to be here for 30 years so I'd rather do it right the first time) Not sure if anybody has experience with this or can help guide me.

Much appreciated!
 

jalmondale

Member
Dec 16, 2021
129
NY
If you're worried about power outages, I'd go with the freestanding stove. I think some of your cons there can be mitigated by picking the right stove - a side loading stove, for instance, requires less clearance to combustibles in the front (but more to the side), which might fit better with your floor plan. Similarly, there are some beautiful stoves on the market that might make up for the aesthetic difference - depending on what you like, an enameled or soapstone stove could look really nice when paired with a stone wall. If you want nice flames, I'd stick with a non-catalytic stove.
 
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firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,593
Unity/Bangor, Maine
If it was just a matter of swapping out a ZC fireplace for what is there I would go that route . . . but seeing as it sounds like there is a lot more work involved I personally would go with a free standing unit. Is there a way you can work it so that the free standing stove is vented up the existing flue . . . I only ask since I have seen some very nicely done free standing stoves utilizing the fireplace.
 

savageactor7

Minister of Fire
Jan 25, 2008
3,782
CNY
A free standing stove will put the bigger dent in your fuel bill, and provide more heat as well.
 
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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,990
Philadelphia
I'll be interested on how you decide, on this one, as your list of goals are identical to my own from 11 years ago. Like you, we are heating a larger and inefficient space (8100 sq. ft. of mid-1700's construction), and although our finances don't really require us to save money by heating with wood, it's a nice side benefit to remember when sweating over a log splitter all day on Saturday. The heating through a power outage thing isn't a big deal for us, as our central heating is oil-fired, and the boiler + circulator pumps can be powered by a very small generator, through any extended outage. Since you implied a gas-fired heating system, I suspect you're in the same boat, there. I do rely on the stoves in a power outage, since I don't like to leave the portable genny running all night, but I could easily get away without it.

Assuming you're talking about a sealed ZC unit with a glass door, the distinction really comes down to aesthetics and efficiency. The freestanders generally win on efficiency, and aesthetics are subjective, but you'll find this forum mostly populated with fans of freestanding stoves.

I actually tore out one ZC gas unit, and now I'm running two (previously three) freestanding wood stoves, each stuffed into a formerly open-hearth cooking fireplace. It is a compromise, I really do miss the smell, the noisy crackle, and the routine of running open masonry fireplaces. But I've deemed it an acceptable sacrifice, my family still tends to gather around the stoves like we did 30 years ago around the open hearth, which is the biggest fringe benefit of the entire endeavor.

I guess I really didn't say much of use here, but I'm watching with interest on what you choose. Like others above have already commented, I'd go freestanding stove over ZC, for many reasons. The top few reasons would include aesthetics, ease of swapping or replacement if my needs changed, if my original assumptions or estimates were incorrect, or the advantages that can be had when heating without power.
 
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Brawndo71

New Member
Nov 21, 2021
36
MO
I have an old Heatilator MF36 ZC fireplace circa 1982. It is in a corner install. I am planning on staying with a ZC high eff fireplace. I need to remove all the brickwork, but its not that much, and will redo with a stone veneer floor to ceiling. I envision running this from when i get home from work til the next morning when i leave. I have a natural gas furnace, and only spend ~$750/year on gas total. Not much savings to be had for me. House is ranch, ~2000 sq ft. Needs a new chimney obviously. The SO doesn't like a stove anyways. Its more expensive for the ZC, but it will never be a primary heat source for me. I think it add more value to the house as a fireplace. I plan on staying here another 30 years too. I am maybe a year or two from starting the project. Looking at Osburn, Valcourt, Hearthstone. 2nd picture is what i envision it looking like, depending on which ZC i get.

20180901_193321 (2).jpg Albers_IL_Fireplace_5286_1000_thumb1000 (2).jpg
 
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Tar12

Minister of Fire
Dec 9, 2016
1,821
Indiana
Large great room? My choice for this situation with out a doubt would be a free standing stove...
 

datemm

New Member
Feb 2, 2022
8
new jersey
If it was just a matter of swapping out a ZC fireplace for what is there I would go that route . . . but seeing as it sounds like there is a lot more work involved I personally would go with a free standing unit. Is there a way you can work it so that the free standing stove is vented up the existing flue . . . I only ask since I have seen some very nicely done free standing stoves utilizing the fireplace.
 

datemm

New Member
Feb 2, 2022
8
new jersey
Wow, thanks for the replies. I appreciate all of the thoughts here.

For whatever its worth, I have two friends (one with a ZC wood fireplace and the other a freestanding stove) and both think the heat output from the ZC isn't even remotely close. I've been leaning so far toward the free standing unit that I think I'm looking for somebody to convince to me to take on the bigger project of the ZC. Waiting on final quotes for the options but thinking maybe use the balance above the wood stove option to improve the envelope of the house (seal the attic/ceiling better and maybe increase insulation). Either way I know I'll be happy and warm :)

PS - The unit I looked at is a Jotul F500. Minimal clearances so really reduces the footprint.
 
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raiderfan

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2008
266
Western MA
I have an old Heatilator MF36 ZC fireplace circa 1982. It is in a corner install. I am planning on staying with a ZC high eff fireplace. I need to remove all the brickwork, but its not that much, and will redo with a stone veneer floor to ceiling. I envision running this from when i get home from work til the next morning when i leave. I have a natural gas furnace, and only spend ~$750/year on gas total. Not much savings to be had for me. House is ranch, ~2000 sq ft. Needs a new chimney obviously. The SO doesn't like a stove anyways. Its more expensive for the ZC, but it will never be a primary heat source for me. I think it add more value to the house as a fireplace. I plan on staying here another 30 years too. I am maybe a year or two from starting the project. Looking at Osburn, Valcourt, Hearthstone. 2nd picture is what i envision it looking like, depending on which ZC i get.

View attachment 291371 View attachment 291372
Which Hearthstone were you thinking about, out of curiosity? I currently have the Hearthstone WFP-75 on order, to replace my old VC WinterWarm Large ZC system. Osburn was an option as well, but was looking to stay away from double door models of fireplaces.
 

Brawndo71

New Member
Nov 21, 2021
36
MO
I am looking at that same WFP-75, called Montgomery i believe. I'd like to hear how you do with it, its my leading option, at least until I rip the place apart and get actual measurements. The larger systems won't fit in my corner install, its 88" across. Valcourt has a single door model, same as Osburn. The small PE 16 will also fit. I dont want to heat my self out of the room, which is what i think a stove would do. I've got an open sunroom that pours cold air into the room, any upgrade to ZC high eff or stove will help that. Probably going to install mini split hyper heat first in sunroom, the PTAC heat pump doesn't cut it where i am at.
 

raiderfan

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2008
266
Western MA
I am looking at that same WFP-75, called Montgomery i believe. I'd like to hear how you do with it, its my leading option, at least until I rip the place apart and get actual measurements. The larger systems won't fit in my corner install, its 88" across. Valcourt has a single door model, same as Osburn. The small PE 16 will also fit. I dont want to heat my self out of the room, which is what i think a stove would do. I've got an open sunroom that pours cold air into the room, any upgrade to ZC high eff or stove will help that. Probably going to install mini split hyper heat first in sunroom, the PTAC heat pump doesn't cut it where i am at.
Will do.. My options were the Hearthstone WFP-75, Majestic Warm Magic ii or the Osburn Everest II or Stratford II. I did not see a single door option on a ZC Osburn fireplace. Only saw the Everest II and Stratton (?) II, with both having double doors. My wife isn't the biggest fan of the WFP-75 Montgomery's Hammered Steel look, but I like it. It is on order currently and won't be here until March (keeps getting pushed back). So I have already gotten to the place in my mind that I won't be burning wood until next winter. Anything has to be better and lower maintenance than the Winter Warm.
 

Brawndo71

New Member
Nov 21, 2021
36
MO
The Valcourt single door is called Lafayette II. Same as Osburn, all under SBI parent company. I like the hammered look. Its a lot of work, and I am estimating $7-10k top end to complete. Need a concrete board wall to attach the stone. Redo with metal studs, its drywall and wood now I assume. I could keep the room warm with my Heatilator, but rest of house not so much. It ate wood, rather keep the pile I got now and wait to renovate. Neighbor has large oak coming down soon, ill grab some of that. Post the reno in a thread sometime.
 

ericm979

Burning Hunk
Nov 2, 2018
153
California
I have a Flame Monaco which is an SBI ZC stove similar to the Osburn Stratford I except for external details. It replaced a crappy prefab fireplace with a crappy fake rock surround. If I could have fit a free standing stove without using up a lot of space in an already too small room, I'd have done that. As it is we gained space by using some of the walk in closet behind the stove. Our stove did not require metal studs. Check the manuals for the stoves you're interested in.

Free standing gives you more choices, less reliance on a fan (in a quiet house it's noisy even on low) and the ability to replace the stove easily.

We have a lot of power outages here. According to SBI, if the power goes out while the stove is in use, it's ok to run it without the fan. We have a generator but turn it off at night. I would not reload when the power is out.

Either way (ZC or freestanding) you will probably have to replace the flue pipe with a double wall insulated one rated for modern stoves. That stuff is not cheap. At least with the free standing you will have a length of single wall pipe in the room before it goes into the chase where double wall is needed.

If you're going to be there for a while, spend the $$ to make it both functional and nice. It'll be worth it.
 

Brawndo71

New Member
Nov 21, 2021
36
MO
I know someone that uses an Osburn insert, puts out great heat. Its more demo for a stove for me. Yea my old air cooled chimney all goes no matter what. I have to remove the diagonal wall and refinish both walls of the corner. It would be easier in the future for sure. The ZC just don't slide right out of their installation site. I have time to decide luckily. The SO considers stoves to be not refined enough. Maybe a pretty red one would do the trick.
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
6,598
07462
Whats on the back wall or behind the existing prefab fireplace? if its sheet rock and 2x4's I'd switch out the prefab with a epa zero clearance unit and class A chimney from the back, leaving the stove work untouched, if you cant do that then I'd rip it all out and do the free standing stove in its old foot print. Either way more then likely the chimney has to get changed to class A pipe.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,990
Philadelphia
I've been leaning so far toward the free standing unit that I think I'm looking for somebody to convince to me to take on the bigger project of the ZC.
You won't get much help in that, from this crowd.

For what it's worth, I'm running two freestanding stoves in two fireplaces. One of those fireplaces had a ZC insert installed when I moved in, and I went thru a heck of a lot of work to tear it and all of the associated framing and masonry rework out, to replace it with a free-stander. No regrets, here.
 
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AlwaysStacking

New Member
Aug 25, 2020
15
Syracuse, NY
Just to pile on, when we moved into our house there was an old zero clearance fireplace that had been hacked up to fit a propane insert. My wife loved the look of the fireplace even if it didn't do anything. I pushed pretty hard, unsuccessfully, to rip it all out and use that space for a wood stove but instead ended up putting in a Valcourt Lafayette. My wife and I put a lot of time into building it out and putting up all the stone, and it pains me to know that eventually I will need to rip it all down when I have to replace the fireplace with something else. For that reason alone I wish I had been successful in convincing my wife to go with a freestanding stove.

Another major factor is the lack of access with an enclosed fireplace. You will see a lot of people on here talk about installing various thermometers that you will not be able to use when your "stovetop" and pipe are fully blocked/covered.

Seeing how my old fireplace had been installed (sitting on cinder block) and the requirements for the new install, I don't know if it is realistic to ever say just swap it out the back even if the opening size is correct.

Now that my wife loves the wood heat, she has also grown to appreciate the look of a wood stove, and there are so many different options out there, you should be able to find something that you dont mind seeing every day.

I will say that our fireplace has no problem bringing up the house to 80 degrees regardless of outside temperature so I wouldn't let that be a factor in your decision.
 

datemm

New Member
Feb 2, 2022
8
new jersey
Just to pile on, when we moved into our house there was an old zero clearance fireplace that had been hacked up to fit a propane insert. My wife loved the look of the fireplace even if it didn't do anything. I pushed pretty hard, unsuccessfully, to rip it all out and use that space for a wood stove but instead ended up putting in a Valcourt Lafayette. My wife and I put a lot of time into building it out and putting up all the stone, and it pains me to know that eventually I will need to rip it all down when I have to replace the fireplace with something else. For that reason alone I wish I had been successful in convincing my wife to go with a freestanding stove.

Another major factor is the lack of access with an enclosed fireplace. You will see a lot of people on here talk about installing various thermometers that you will not be able to use when your "stovetop" and pipe are fully blocked/covered.

Seeing how my old fireplace had been installed (sitting on cinder block) and the requirements for the new install, I don't know if it is realistic to ever say just swap it out the back even if the opening size is correct.

Now that my wife loves the wood heat, she has also grown to appreciate the look of a wood stove, and there are so many different options out there, you should be able to find something that you dont mind seeing every day.

I will say that our fireplace has no problem bringing up the house to 80 degrees regardless of outside temperature so I wouldn't let that be a factor in your decision.
I appreciate the reply. Your comments about ripping it down again are what I'm stuck on.

Trying to be diligent I looked at all of the options thoroughly. Swapping my prefab for a high efficiency ZC unit looks like it'll cost somewhere in the 15K range. Not only will it be a tremendous amount of work to do, I'll be almost a guaranteed alteration of my stone work (which was custom done when the house was built and is in numerous locations throughout the house). I'd be willing to do if I thought I could get away with it once but eventually I'll have to repair/manage it thus requiring another partial rebuild. Plus, I'm not really getting a true off-the-grid backup heat source. Major downside is that I'll be placing a wood stove in the same room as this gorgeous 20 foot stone wall with non-functional (ugly) prefab fireplace.

Being as this process is so extensive, I was able to convince the wife on the free standing unit. Trying to find a good location for it is the next battle (combination location in the room and routing of stove pipe with creation of new chimney). This might sound crazy but later on down the road I might covert the prefab to a gas unit for easy on/off usage and aesthetics.

I think I can place a bend in the stove pipe, and if so, that'll make the project a ton easier.
 

BrianVA

Member
Oct 28, 2020
107
Central VA
One pro to consider on ZC fireplace: Some units have the ability to add duct work connected directly to the top of the unit that can be run behind walls to move heat to the second floor or another room on the same floor.
 
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jalmondale

Member
Dec 16, 2021
129
NY
I appreciate the reply. Your comments about ripping it down again are what I'm stuck on.

Trying to be diligent I looked at all of the options thoroughly. Swapping my prefab for a high efficiency ZC unit looks like it'll cost somewhere in the 15K range. Not only will it be a tremendous amount of work to do, I'll be almost a guaranteed alteration of my stone work (which was custom done when the house was built and is in numerous locations throughout the house). I'd be willing to do if I thought I could get away with it once but eventually I'll have to repair/manage it thus requiring another partial rebuild. Plus, I'm not really getting a true off-the-grid backup heat source. Major downside is that I'll be placing a wood stove in the same room as this gorgeous 20 foot stone wall with non-functional (ugly) prefab fireplace.

Being as this process is so extensive, I was able to convince the wife on the free standing unit. Trying to find a good location for it is the next battle (combination location in the room and routing of stove pipe with creation of new chimney). This might sound crazy but later on down the road I might covert the prefab to a gas unit for easy on/off usage and aesthetics.

I think I can place a bend in the stove pipe, and if so, that'll make the project a ton easier.
Can you not put the stove in front of the old fireplace? That seems like it might be the simplest place to install the new chimney, and blocks the unattractive prefab.
 

Tar12

Minister of Fire
Dec 9, 2016
1,821
Indiana
Can you post a picture of the entire room?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
94,547
South Puget Sound, WA
There are some very nice high-efficiency ZC fireplaces that heat very well. Some of these ZCs share the same or similar firebox with their freestanding equivalents. The Astria Montecito Estate even qualifies for the 26% tax credit. If you prefer the look of a traditional fireplace then an EPA ZC can be a very good choice.
 

datemm

New Member
Feb 2, 2022
8
new jersey
Update for anybody who cares...

Had an installer out yesterday. Basically, running the chimney for a free standing stove is going to be super complicated. I'd have to box off some living space upstairs or have my chimney stick out so far from the roof of my house that I'd need a scissor lift to access the cap. I'm totally bummed about it. Looks like I'm going to have to convert the prefab to a high efficiency ZC unit if I want to burn wood for heat.