Q&A Kiva Fireplaces

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New Member
Staff member
Nov 27, 2012

Tell me a bit about kiva fireplaces (answer below credited to Raymond D. Goldman CSIA #2627)


Kiva fireplaces are sometimes called beehive fireplaces because their shape resembles the mound shaped hives that bees were once kept in. Basically a kiva fireplace is a modified dome with an opening for the firebox and another on top for the flue. Corner kivas display the mound shape on the exterior much better than wall kivas. Often kivas are equipped with butterfly dampers in the flue rather than at the throat, but most masons create a smoke shelf and install a traditional lever type damper. The good masons place the lever damper at the rear of the firebox which creates pockets around the arch of the firebox wall and the straight line of the damper frame, the other masons place the damper across the top of the firebox opening creating a ledge that acts as a dam and restricts the flow of exhaust gasses. Other than the aforementioned dam, kiva fireplaces are very efficient at expelling gasses because their shape channels the flow.

True kiva fireplaces are constructed of adobe bricks, rammed earth about 12 inches wide, 18 inches long, and 4 inches tall, which gives the structure considerable mass. Once heated this mass conducts, convects, and radiates its stored heat into the surrounding environment. True kivas are probably the most efficient open fireplace ever designed. Most kivas are constructed of cinder blocks now, but they are still much more efficient than a traditional open fireplace.

Because most kiva fireplaces incorporate compound curves into their structure they are not very insert friendly. There simply are no flat faces for the surround panel to lie against. Additionally the firebox opening is generally a narrow arch that is higher than it is wide, so without modification of the opening a stove generally won't fit. One answer is to place a small stove directly on the hearth (legs removed generally), line it as you would any other insert and leave off the surround. This is not the best of options as most of the stoves that fit are radiant heaters, not convective so much of the heat is wasted heating the fireplace and not the home.
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