Options for burning wood in existing fireplace in 1898 home

  • Active since 1995, Hearth.com is THE place on the internet for free information and advice about wood stoves, pellet stoves and other energy saving equipment.

    We strive to provide opinions, articles, discussions and history related to Hearth Products and in a more general sense, energy issues.

    We promote the EFFICIENT, RESPONSIBLE, CLEAN and SAFE use of all fuels, whether renewable or fossil.

biondanonima

Member
Jul 9, 2018
21
NYC
We have a foursquare home built in 1898 with an original brick fireplace in the corner of the living room. Chimney extends into the basement and runs through the master bath on the second floor, a closet in the attic then out through the roof. It is currently not lined, but aside from needing a bit of repointing in the attic, it seems to be in fine condition. Brick hearth is intact in the basement (we'll be replacing the ugly floor tile and hopefully restoring the original wall tile surround). The fireplace itself is on the small side, with the opening inside the original iron face frame measuring just 22"wx25"h. Not sure whether the existing fire box is original or not, but it is in rough shape and would presumably need to be replaced. Here's a photo:

20211113_154004.jpg

DH and I have considered converting it to gas, but we both really love the atmosphere of a wood burning fireplace, and we preserved the chimney during our recent bath remodel in order to retain the wood-burning option. I have been looking at the various options for wood burning inserts and stoves, though, and I am completely confused and overwhelmed. Do I correctly understand that modern fireplace inserts are more fuel- and energy-efficient than an old-school open fire, but that a stove insert would be even more efficient? Do stoves small enough to fit inside this fireplace even exist (most I have seen are minimum 23" wide)? We don't need this to produce a ton of heat - we'd mostly be using it for atmosphere and/or warmth during power outages - if it reduces our oil costs a bit that would be a bonus. However, we do want it to look as period-appropriate as possible and be relatively easy to use and clean. Would appreciate your suggestions!
 
  • Like
Reactions: clancey

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
We have a foursquare home built in 1898 with an original brick fireplace in the corner of the living room. Chimney extends into the basement and runs through the master bath on the second floor, a closet in the attic then out through the roof. It is currently not lined, but aside from needing a bit of repointing in the attic, it seems to be in fine condition. Brick hearth is intact in the basement (we'll be replacing the ugly floor tile and hopefully restoring the original wall tile surround). The fireplace itself is on the small side, with the opening inside the original iron face frame measuring just 22"wx25"h. Not sure whether the existing fire box is original or not, but it is in rough shape and would presumably need to be replaced. Here's a photo:

View attachment 285340

DH and I have considered converting it to gas, but we both really love the atmosphere of a wood burning fireplace, and we preserved the chimney during our recent bath remodel in order to retain the wood-burning option. I have been looking at the various options for wood burning inserts and stoves, though, and I am completely confused and overwhelmed. Do I correctly understand that modern fireplace inserts are more fuel- and energy-efficient than an old-school open fire, but that a stove insert would be even more efficient? Do stoves small enough to fit inside this fireplace even exist (most I have seen are minimum 23" wide)? We don't need this to produce a ton of heat - we'd mostly be using it for atmosphere and/or warmth during power outages - if it reduces our oil costs a bit that would be a bonus. However, we do want it to look as period-appropriate as possible and be relatively easy to use and clean. Would appreciate your suggestions!
You would need to pull out that old coal fireplace to see what the actual firebox size is behind that
 
  • Like
Reactions: clancey

biondanonima

Member
Jul 9, 2018
21
NYC
old coal fireplace
Is that what the iron and cracked cement (I think?) thing is? I had no idea...no wonder I'm confused! 🤪 I'll have to enlist DH's help - will return with correct depth measurements once we figure out how to remove. I think the white thing floating above it is a piece of styrofoam the previous owners shoved up there. Little wonder we keep the entire thing covered at all times!
 
  • Like
Reactions: clancey

Woodsplitter67

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2017
2,081
Woolwich nj
An open fireplace while pretty doesn't really heat. Majority of the heat goes right up and out of the house while drawing in a lot of cold air to replace what is going out the chimney. An insert with a block off plate and an insulated liner will give you a nice fire view while heating the house. the block off plate will keep the heat inside while the blower will blow the heat into the room heating the house. A stove is free standing and doesn't need a blower. The insert/stove efficiency is based per manufacturer most are around the same.. mid 70s to mid 80s are a general range. cat stoves/inserts burn longer and give off an even heat. Stoves/inserts non cats dont burn quit as long. If you considering burning with any modern stove get your wood supply and storage together now before you purchase your stove as most sell wet wood and say its seasoned. Unseasoned wood makes for a poor burning experience and most are on here figuring out why the stove isn't running correctly. You will need wood with a moisture content of less then 20%
 
  • Like
Reactions: clancey

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
Is that what the iron and cracked cement (I think?) thing is? I had no idea...no wonder I'm confused! 🤪 I'll have to enlist DH's help - will return with correct depth measurements once we figure out how to remove. I think the white thing floating above it is a piece of styrofoam the previous owners shoved up there. Little wonder we keep the entire thing covered at all times!
Yes that is an old insert of sorts but there are lots of parts missing.
 

john26

Minister of Fire
Oct 27, 2008
714
Wildwood MO
There are a number of manufactures that make cast iron and cast iron clad inserts that would look close to period correct.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
There are a number of manufactures that make cast iron and cast iron clad inserts that would look close to period correct.
Yes but finding one that fits is the problem
 
  • Like
Reactions: clancey

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
Plus I imagine the chimney will need to be renovated with an insulated liner. .
Absolutely. And if it was built for a coal burner to start it may not be large enough
 

armanidog

Feeling the Heat
Jan 8, 2017
386
Northeast Georgia
I was looking at NYC regulations and you are allowed to use a wood stove/insert/fireplace if it is pre-existing before 2015. I imagine the building inspector will be involved in any renovations to an old fireplace.
Firewood in NYC is expensive-a "city" cord is $124 and it is actually a quarter of a face cord. At least it is kilned for bugs and they say the moisture content is 8-12% and they offer white glove delivery.
 
  • Like
Reactions: biondanonima

biondanonima

Member
Jul 9, 2018
21
NYC
Thanks everyone for your responses. We are actually just north of NYC in southern Westchester (in a private home), so hopefully no building inspector required. When we had our other chimney fixed and lined a couple of years ago, we had them inspect this one as well, so we know we'll need an insulated liner and a bit of repointing in addition to whatever insert or stove we decide on. I will start researching inserts with block off plates that might fit the space in addition to stoves (thanks john for the tip about cast iron versions). If anyone has recommendations for smaller models, I would be very grateful!
 
  • Like
Reactions: clancey

biondanonima

Member
Jul 9, 2018
21
NYC


Minimum Fireplace Opening*
Width (front)25 in.
Height19 5/8 in.
Depth15 in.
Dimension Notes: *with standard flue
Thanks armanidog. I saw this one, but it looks as though the width is just a few inches too large for my 22" opening. Unless that iron face frame is part of the coal-burning insert that is going to have to be removed anyway and there is a larger opening hiding behind?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
Thanks armanidog. I saw this one, but it looks as though the width is just a few inches too large for my 22" opening. Unless that iron face frame is part of the coal-burning insert that is going to have to be removed anyway and there is a larger opening hiding behind?
The cast iron frame it part of the insert
 

biondanonima

Member
Jul 9, 2018
21
NYC
The cast iron frame it part of the insert
Well, that's a bummer, isn't it? I love the look of it and I would really like to preserve as much of the house's history as possible. I wonder if a fabricator could use it to create a custom surround for an insert?
 

PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
1,133
MA
Look onto your city regulations. I pulled a building permit myself just to replace an old insert with a new one in 2018 here in MA. Building inspector came over to sign off before I had my first fire.

He had me remove the insert surround, looked at the liner, and checked clearances against the worksheet I provided with the permit application. I just have a small insert and easily was over all clearances.

My fireplace guy argued with me that a permit wasn't needed. It most definitely is.
 
  • Like
Reactions: biondanonima

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
Well, that's a bummer, isn't it? I love the look of it and I would really like to preserve as much of the house's history as possible. I wonder if a fabricator could use it to create a custom surround for an insert?
I have done a few gas units where I used the old coal surrounds modified. The proportions of wood inserts generally aren't right at all.
 

PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
1,133
MA
Oh, welcome. My mom, 1923 - 2016, was born and raised in the Bronx by Yankee Stadium.

I get Yonkers as on of two places I talk like on the NY Times dialect quiz. Other is Newark/Patterson. Dad, 1919 - 2010, was born in Garfield.
 
  • Like
Reactions: biondanonima

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
Look onto your city regulations. I pulled a building permit myself just to replace an old insert with a new one in 2018 here in MA. Building inspector came over to sign off before I had my first fire.

He had me remove the insert surround, looked at the liner, and checked clearances against the worksheet I provided with the permit application. I just have a small insert and easily was over all clearances.

My fireplace guy argued with me that a permit wasn't needed. It most definitely is.
That depends upon local requirements. A permit absolutely is not required in many places.
 

PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
1,133
MA
BTW, there was just a recent thread of someone looking for an insert for a small fireplace. My Lopi Answer was an option to look at. There were a few others, too.
 

PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
1,133
MA
That depends upon local requirements. A permit absolutely is not required in many places.
I would be surprised if one isn't needed in Westchester.
 

biondanonima

Member
Jul 9, 2018
21
NYC
I have done a few gas units where I used the old coal surrounds modified. The proportions of wood inserts generally aren't right at all.
I've been looking around online and that definitely seems to be the case. I've found several UK-based sites that have suitable options, but they don't seem to have US distributors. Anyone know where I can pick up one of these? https://www.stovax.com/stove-fire/tiled-convector-fireplaces/victorian-tiled-convectors/

What type of repairs would I be looking at if we tried to use the coal surround converted to gas? Or is ours too far gone?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,958
central pa
I've been looking around online and that definitely seems to be the case. I've found several UK-based sites that have suitable options, but they don't seem to have US distributors. Anyone know where I can pick up one of these? https://www.stovax.com/stove-fire/tiled-convector-fireplaces/victorian-tiled-convectors/

What type of repairs would I be looking at if we tried to use the coal surround converted to gas? Or is ours too far gone?
You would buy a valor gas insert and find a fabricator who can modify the surround and fabricate missing parts
 
  • Like
Reactions: biondanonima