Texas winter storm ZC conversion

  • 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.

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
Hi all—

Brand new to the forum, and thank you in advance for any help you can spare. You may have heard how Texas had one of its worst winter storms in history a few weeks ago. A lot of folks went without heat for a week. Sinks that were left dripping froze inside the house. People walking for miles to get food and water. Wake up call for a lot of people. We were more prepared than most, but having to use my piece of junk zero clearance "it looks great on Christmas" fireplace to "heat" the house was my own wake up call. Nonetheless, the ZC is off to the graveyard and a freestanding stove is going in its place.

I've searched this forum, contacted distributors, and called manufacturers, and I can't seem to get clear answers (or can't get a call returned). I'm hoping the forum can shed some light on my questions. I've pieced together forum posts, but still need some help.

1. Once the ZC fireplace is removed, it will be lined with full brick (both sides, floor, and ceiling). Given that combustibles are behind the brick (wood studs and drywall for opposite room), would this still be considered a combustible alcove? Or is it a noncombustible alcove given the brick being installed? Makes a huge difference between clearance requirements and the stove size I can get. I've seen stoves just inches away from the sides of a true masonry fireplace, but I've also seen the same thing in ZC fireplace conversions and obviously don't want to run a fire risk.

2. I don't believe I can use the existing pipe. It needs to be replaced with insulated pipe, correct?

3. Confused on alcove ceiling clearances. In every manufacturer's installation manual, I see clearances for mantels and ceilings. However, mantel heights are often much lower than the ceiling height requirement. Am I understanding correctly that, essentially, the hearth/fireplace opening can stay matched to the existing mantel, but the interior ceiling height would be higher? For example, my hearth/alcove opening is 42" but the interior ceiling would be 62" (assuming 62" is the manufacturer's requirement). Picture attached.

I really appreciate your help. Unfortunately, not a lot of fireplace and stove resources down here in Texas.

Lastly, if my ZC conversion would be considered an alcove, then I'm really limited on stove choices given the 42" width. My wife prefers a traditional looking stove, and after searching and searching and searching, looks like the VC Aspen C3 is the only one that will work. Any other suggestions for a narrow stove that has a glass window?

IMG_20210302_154512.jpg
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
89,580
South Puget Sound, WA
This is a common question this year. Review some of the postings by searching on "Alcove"

It's important to start out with the raw dimensions of the chase interior that the ZC sits in. In order to reduce clearances an NFPA 211 wall shielding is required for clearance reduction if the stove manual allows it. Then there is the ceiling height requirement, which for most stoves is 84" for an alcove, though there are exceptions. This leads to a narrow selection of options for stoves that meet all requirements. And yes, the stove will need a class A High Temp chimney with a ceiling support.

Another option is to replace the current ZC with a modern, EPA ZC that really heats well while burning cleanly. If there is access to open up the rear of the chase this can be an attractive option, especially if having a traditional fireplace look with a mantel is important.
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
986
Texas
You’re asking some good questions. I’m not the best resource for giving advice, but I can answer a few.

Bricks in front of wood framing do not make an alcove non-combustible because the bricks transfer heat. Your clearance to combustibles would be measured from the wood (behind the bricks) to the stove. One possible option is to remove wood studs and replace them with steel and to use non-combustible cement board to build a truly non-combustible alcove. Is your wife attached to the current trim/facade?

I agree with you that the zero-clearance is pretty much rubbish for real heating, and it certainly couldn’t have done much against the sustained low temperatures we had with that storm. I’m sure that just makes you want to pull the thing out and replace it. Another possible option to consider, however, is whether there is another location in the house that could work well for a freestanding stove. If there is, consider leaving (and not using) the ZC, but you’ll have a much larger choice of stoves if you’re not constrained by an alcove. The amount of heat that a stove puts off really corresponds a lot to the size of its firebox. A tiny stove to fit a narrow alcove might end up being something of a disappointment if you just can’t load that much wood in it. That’s where Begreen’s suggestion of opening up the chase from the back and going with a high-efficiency EPA ZC makes sense. They really do heat.

What you’re currently envisioning does sound like an alcove. If you’re envisioning having a hidden ceiling up higher inside the alcove with a mantel lower in front, you’ll end up trapping heat inside the alcove. If you don’t have a fan to move that heat out during a power outage, that will be frustrating as well. If you can open the space up more, however, you could really have a beautiful and effective installation.

I can understand if you come back and say that there isn’t another place, and you’ve got to work with the space you have. I sympathize with lack of resources down here in Texas. Just be sure that you don’t settle for any kind of sub-par installation. There are folks who will cram something that fits into a fireplace even if it doesn’t meet manufacturer’s requirements or code, and I’m sure that there will be demand for that after the recent events. The experts on hearth are very knowledgeable and will help you know whether what you’re thinking of will, first and foremost, be safe and also whether it’s likely to meet your goals.

I wish you well.
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
5,936
07462
Things can be done easy as possible or more difficult for design aesthetics while remaining code compliant, its up to the end user who holds the wallet.
A few hand drawings sure can help while designing your space, generally speaking its best to have a few different stove brands lined up and use the min clearances to combustibles and go from there.
Also the existing fp layout is needed, both the font and rear + sides, we dont know if the current fp is built into a small bump out that then is converted into a chase for the rest of the chimney to the top of the house.
Also take note that you are not bound to the space between the two pillars in front of the current fp, more then likely to remove the fp unit (which is a big outside sheet metal jacketed unit w/ flange, those pillars may have to be totally removed (there prob wood w/ dry wall over it anyway)
Back to the easiest design, remove the zero clearance unit from the rear but cutting a hole on the outside of the house, check the chimney and see if its a class a pipe or an air-cooled but, if the latter then it needs to be replaced with class A, install new exit hole above mantel using a T designed for your brand of pipe and a through the wall kit for the brand. on the inside of the chimney chase extend the pipe down below the T with a section of class A and a cap, while patching the hole on the side of your house install a access panel or door so you can remove the bottom cap when cleaning. On the inside on the house fill the old fp opening with cement board and match existing tile, extend tile hearth to match requirements for new freestanding stove (new stoves have reduces rear clearances due to shields on the stove, you will want a min of 16" of hearth in front of the stove, most hearths are ember protection only with new stoves. come out of the stove collar with dvl black pipe and terminate in new through the wall kit coming out of wall.
Sounds like a lot but thats pretty the minimum you can do without getting into so serious calculations and construction. Also be advised, if you dont have a generator, it may not be a good idea to shove a free standing stove into a hole where getting hot air out would be difficult without a blower going.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
1,208
SE North Carolina
I have been thinking about my own emergency heating needs as well. We have stove upstairs (2000 sq ft). We have another 1000 sq in the walkout basement. Our record low temp is 7 degrees colder than Houston’s.

I don’t think I would have had enough dry wood to keep the house warm for a week without power this year if a storm hit after January. It might have stayed above freezing inside. Cant say how the crawl space pipes would have faired.


My thoughts, a 1.2 cu ft stove isn’t going to solve everything at the temps Texas experienced. I’m guessing (based on my 1.7 cu ft stove and temps with daytime highs in the 30s lows in the 20) you could keep 400-600 sq ft warm. The Aspens C3 control means you can’t burn it harder in an emergency.


When a hurricane hit in 2018 the neighborhood was without power for 8 or 9 days. (We evacuated several days before). Gas for generators became difficult to find. My point is even people who thought they were prepared ran into issues. So unless I have 1/3 of a cord of good dry firewood always Available and 50 gallons of gas for my generator and 50 gallons of drinking water and food for a week, I’m not really prepared for an emergency of the scale you and I experienced. Are these once in a 100 year events? No. 50? Probably not. 20-30 more likely. Could they happen next year? Sure.

Get a wood stove because you want to heat with wood occasionally or full time not just as part of an emergency plan and put some thought into your emergency plan. I’d consider one a bit bigger than the C3. Can it go somewhere else in the house like a corner near an exterior wall? My hurricane plans takes about 10 hours of work to get everything prepared. Weather forecasting is good enough to give us enough advanced warning for almost everything with the exception of tornadoes to have enough time to prepare. My two cents.

Evan
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
Thank you everyone for your replies! I must not have notifications turned on as I didn't think anyone replied. I appreciate everyone taking the time to do so.

After speaking with a few (and the only) installers within all of Central Texas (not many to choose from in the hot south), a freestanding stove doesn't appear feasible without major remodel to the existing hearth: removing mantel, increasing height of alcove, rebuilding mantel, etc. I don't want to do a band-aid job and risk burning the house down, so to do it right I'm looking at 14-16k. Not nearly as simple as I thought it would be (tearing out ZC fireplace, a little masonry work, and stove install).

Thus, it appears I'm left with two options: (1) installing a wood burning insert or (2) replacing current fireplace with a newer ZC fireplace that actually works. There are newer models that have doors (which I'm looking for) and seem to be rated for actual heat (instead of just asthetics).

Here's my question: what's the better option? I have more options, I believe, if I replace the old unit. However, even between manufacturers, the term "insert" can mean different things (a true ZC compatible insert vs. masonry only insert vs. not being an insert at all but actually a replacement fireplace). I reiterate that one needs a Master's degree in this stuff!

Going the true insert route, I'm limited to very few options that are approved by the manufacturer for installation into the existing ZC fireplace. My ZC fireplace is made by Superior, model number wrt2042ws.

Insert vs. replacement? If insert is the route to go, any suggestions on models? I cannot thank you enough. If replacement is better, any ideas on models?

By the way, the existing hearth/mantel area is 42x42.

Thanks again everyone.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
89,580
South Puget Sound, WA
Superior WRT2042 WS
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
986
Texas
Good work, @VossDosson! You have learned a lot in a short time. Just the fact that you understand the difference between a ZC replacement and a fireplace insert (and you know that some inserts are pre-fab approved and some can only be put in masonry) tells me that you have been doing some good research. Keep it up, and you’ll end up with a good solution. It will take time and money, but you’re doing it right to understand all these issues.

We had(have) a Superior pre-fab in our home as well. We went through a lot of the decision-making you’re doing, and it actually took us a couple of years to nail down a solution. We ended up going with a pre-fab approved insert with a fully insulated liner, but it was very hard to find anything that would fit our dimensions, and the particular insert we have is no longer sold, I’m afraid, so though I love it, I can’t recommend it to you. We needed to keep our insert shorter than 21 inches, and that really limited our options (because we didn’t want a teeny-tiny firebox).

You mention that the back of your pre-fab is in another room. If it’s easily accessible, it may be best to go in through that wall and do a full replacement ZC. @begreen or @webby3650 would be able to give you options to look at. Our pre-fab was on an external wall, but the back of the chimney actually holds our main power panel, and there’s all sorts of electrical equipment on a pad right there, so it was not a good option for us. It might be the most practical for you.

Do you have easy access to wood? You might want to start building up a bigger supply now. If you really do install a good heater, you might find that you’ll use it a whole lot more than just for emergencies. The good news is that wood seasons really fast here in Texas, so if you split and stack some this spring, it will be good in the fall most likely. We went into winter with a good supply of wood, but with all that freezing weather in February, even we were running lower than we would have wished. We’re building the supply back up again now.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
25,487
central pa
Thank you everyone for your replies! I must not have notifications turned on as I didn't think anyone replied. I appreciate everyone taking the time to do so.

After speaking with a few (and the only) installers within all of Central Texas (not many to choose from in the hot south), a freestanding stove doesn't appear feasible without major remodel to the existing hearth: removing mantel, increasing height of alcove, rebuilding mantel, etc. I don't want to do a band-aid job and risk burning the house down, so to do it right I'm looking at 14-16k. Not nearly as simple as I thought it would be (tearing out ZC fireplace, a little masonry work, and stove install).

Thus, it appears I'm left with two options: (1) installing a wood burning insert or (2) replacing current fireplace with a newer ZC fireplace that actually works. There are newer models that have doors (which I'm looking for) and seem to be rated for actual heat (instead of just asthetics).

Here's my question: what's the better option? I have more options, I believe, if I replace the old unit. However, even between manufacturers, the term "insert" can mean different things (a true ZC compatible insert vs. masonry only insert vs. not being an insert at all but actually a replacement fireplace). I reiterate that one needs a Master's degree in this stuff!

Going the true insert route, I'm limited to very few options that are approved by the manufacturer for installation into the existing ZC fireplace. My ZC fireplace is made by Superior, model number wrt2042ws.

Insert vs. replacement? If insert is the route to go, any suggestions on models? I cannot thank you enough. If replacement is better, any ideas on models?

By the way, the existing hearth/mantel area is 42x42.

Thanks again everyone.
An insert is not an option read the label it clearly says no inserts
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
Good work, @VossDosson! You have learned a lot in a short time. Just the fact that you understand the difference between a ZC replacement and a fireplace insert (and you know that some inserts are pre-fab approved and some can only be put in masonry) tells me that you have been doing some good research. Keep it up, and you’ll end up with a good solution. It will take time and money, but you’re doing it right to understand all these issues.

We had(have) a Superior pre-fab in our home as well. We went through a lot of the decision-making you’re doing, and it actually took us a couple of years to nail down a solution. We ended up going with a pre-fab approved insert with a fully insulated liner, but it was very hard to find anything that would fit our dimensions, and the particular insert we have is no longer sold, I’m afraid, so though I love it, I can’t recommend it to you. We needed to keep our insert shorter than 21 inches, and that really limited our options (because we didn’t want a teeny-tiny firebox).

You mention that the back of your pre-fab is in another room. If it’s easily accessible, it may be best to go in through that wall and do a full replacement ZC. @begreen or @webby3650 would be able to give you options to look at. Our pre-fab was on an external wall, but the back of the chimney actually holds our main power panel, and there’s all sorts of electrical equipment on a pad right there, so it was not a good option for us. It might be the most practical for you.

Do you have easy access to wood? You might want to start building up a bigger supply now. If you really do install a good heater, you might find that you’ll use it a whole lot more than just for emergencies. The good news is that wood seasons really fast here in Texas, so if you split and stack some this spring, it will be good in the fall most likely. We went into winter with a good supply of wood, but with all that freezing weather in February, even we were running lower than we would have wished. We’re building the supply back up again now.

DuaeGuttae: Thank you for your reply. It's been a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, we don't have easy access to the rear wall without doing some major work. Seems like pre-EPA 2020 requirements, there were lots of options. As of now, I can find exactly two, and only one where the manufacturer approved their insert for use in my specific fireplace.

Good news we have lots of hardwood. Working now to get it stacked for the summer heat. Thanks again.
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
An insert is not an option read the label it clearly says no inserts

bholler: I am probably mistaken being a newbie to stoves, but the label reads "Do not use a fireplace insert or other product not specified for use with this fireplace". There are a handful of inserts I found where the manufacturers' manuals specifically approve their inserts for use in Superior ZC fireplaces, although I can only find one that meets my measurement requirements. Am I reading the label wrong? Thanks for your help.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
25,487
central pa
bholler: I am probably mistaken being a newbie to stoves, but the label reads "Do not use a fireplace insert or other product not specified for use with this fireplace". There are a handful of inserts I found where the manufacturers' manuals specifically approve their inserts for use in Superior ZC fireplaces, although I can only find one that meets my measurement requirements. Am I reading the label wrong? Thanks for your help.
Look up the manual. Unless that manual specifies inserts approved for use in that fireplace you can't do it.

Ok so I looked up the manual and it does say if the insert specifies this fireplace you can do it sorry
 
Last edited:

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
89,580
South Puget Sound, WA
As of now, I can find exactly two, and only one where the manufacturer approved their insert for use in my specific fireplace.
Which 2? Lopi lists ok for installation in Superior for the Answer and Medium Flush inserts. Also, IronStrike has some inserts which may work like the Striker 160. Performer C210 and possibly their Montlake 230 insert. Ironstrike is under the same parent company as Superior.
 
Last edited:

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
986
Texas
That’s great that you’ve found at least one insert that is approved and fits. Can you provide details of the insert? If you provide measurements of your fireplace, the experts may be able to point you towards more options if that one doesn’t seem like the best choice.

I’m not as knowledgeable as the folks like begreen and bholler, but I did have to go through lots of research in getting our own insert done. I will tell you that I was told by at least one installer that I did not have to have an insulated liner. I knew enough to know that that was wrong, and we did not do business with that individual. Woodburning is pretty rare in our part of Texas (we’re south central, on the edge of Hill Country); wood burning inserts are rarer still, and it seems as though insulated liners are just about unheard of. I just want you to know going in that a fully insulated liner is probably a necessity for a safe install, but you might encounter some difficulty finding someone willing to do it.
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
Which 2? Lopi lists ok for installation in Superior for the Answer and Medium Flush inserts. Also, IronStrike has some inserts which may work like the Striker 160. Performer C210 and possibly their Montlake 230 insert. Ironstrike is under the same parent company as Superior.

Begreen: Lopi has three models, as does House of Fire (although I think they're the same stove just relabeled). I'm finding numerous inserts that state approved for ZC fireplaces that are "UL 127" rated but don't specifically state Superior. Not sure if the language in Superior's manual about not using an insert specifically approved by the stove's manufacturer is a lawyer thing (or vice versa as to why the UL 127 approved stoves don't specifically list Superior).

So, given that my Superior is UL 127, does this mean any UL 127 insert that fits the dimensional requirements would work? Or are there ratings/testings specific to Superior ZC fireplaces?

One unanswered issue I have is how much weight the Superior fireplace can handle. I need to call Superior as I can't find it anywhere in their manual. My fireplace has a 13" riser to it and I don't know if it can support a 500 pound insert (everything about the fireplace feels cheap, but fingers crossed). Said differently, I'm sure there's combustible clearance requirements underneath the stove and I can't imagine it's sitting on 2x4's. I assume the fireplace has its own legs/support, but not sure if their sturdy enough.
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
That’s great that you’ve found at least one insert that is approved and fits. Can you provide details of the insert? If you provide measurements of your fireplace, the experts may be able to point you towards more options if that one doesn’t seem like the best choice.

I’m not as knowledgeable as the folks like begreen and bholler, but I did have to go through lots of research in getting our own insert done. I will tell you that I was told by at least one installer that I did not have to have an insulated liner. I knew enough to know that that was wrong, and we did not do business with that individual. Woodburning is pretty rare in our part of Texas (we’re south central, on the edge of Hill Country); wood burning inserts are rarer still, and it seems as though insulated liners are just about unheard of. I just want you to know going in that a fully insulated liner is probably a necessity for a safe install, but you might encounter some difficulty finding someone willing to do it.

DuaeGuttae: You hit the nail on the head. I've spoken to the three installers/dealers within 250 miles of where I live, and all but one were knowledgeable. You'd think given how few there are here in Texas, they'd know what they were doing. First one told me to just rip out the ZC fireplace and line it with tile, put the new stove in, and save money by using a 6" to 8" flue collar (ZC pipe is 8"). Not thinking anything of it, I called a second dealer to price shop and they put the brakes on the whole thing—6" insulated liner, cement board, 3.5" brick, one inch air gap, etc. and by the time I was done, I was looking at 14k-16k to have it done, which lead me to the insert. Unfortunately, they have very little experience with inserts (sad to say I likely know more than they do). Third one seems to know what they're doing, but I can't get the actual installer on the phone to schedule a home consult. We're definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to stoves in the south.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
89,580
South Puget Sound, WA
Your safest bet is to stick with an insert that says it is ok for installation in a Superior fireplace. Then the next step is to see what actually fits. Then a dealer & installer have to be found.
FWIW, I haven't heard of a ZC floor collapse with a properly installed insert
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
25,487
central pa
Begreen: Lopi has three models, as does House of Fire (although I think they're the same stove just relabeled). I'm finding numerous inserts that state approved for ZC fireplaces that are "UL 127" rated but don't specifically state Superior. Not sure if the language in Superior's manual about not using an insert specifically approved by the stove's manufacturer is a lawyer thing (or vice versa as to why the UL 127 approved stoves don't specifically list Superior).

So, given that my Superior is UL 127, does this mean any UL 127 insert that fits the dimensional requirements would work? Or are there ratings/testings specific to Superior ZC fireplaces?

One unanswered issue I have is how much weight the Superior fireplace can handle. I need to call Superior as I can't find it anywhere in their manual. My fireplace has a 13" riser to it and I don't know if it can support a 500 pound insert (everything about the fireplace feels cheap, but fingers crossed). Said differently, I'm sure there's combustible clearance requirements underneath the stove and I can't imagine it's sitting on 2x4's. I assume the fireplace has its own legs/support, but not sure if their sturdy enough.
It probably is on framing lumber yes
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
986
Texas
DuaeGuttae: You hit the nail on the head. I've spoken to the three installers/dealers within 250 miles of where I live, and all but one were knowledgeable. You'd think given how few there are here in Texas, they'd know what they were doing. First one told me to just rip out the ZC fireplace and line it with tile, put the new stove in, and save money by using a 6" to 8" flue collar (ZC pipe is 8"). Not thinking anything of it, I called a second dealer to price shop and they put the brakes on the whole thing—6" insulated liner, cement board, 3.5" brick, one inch air gap, etc. and by the time I was done, I was looking at 14k-16k to have it done, which lead me to the insert. Unfortunately, they have very little experience with inserts (sad to say I likely know more than they do). Third one seems to know what they're doing, but I can't get the actual installer on the phone to schedule a home consult. We're definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to stoves in the south.

I have to admit that I’m kind of worried about what the consequences of this winter storm in Texas are going to be in terms of people trying to set up wood heat for the future but doing it improperly (or hiring out supposed professionals who would do something like that first place counseled you to do). It’s great that you found this place for research and that you’re paying attention to what you’re told.

Begreen is right. The first thing you need to do is just figure out the insert. Then you find the dealer and the installer. In my case the latter two were not associated. I had found the installer to see if he could get an insert for me; he couldn’t, but told me that if I found one, he was willing to install it for me (and he traveled more than five hours to do it).

Do you know if your ZC pipe goes straight up or if it has any offsets? Getting an insulated liner down an 8 inch pipe with an offset is not any easy task. My pipe measured nine inches inside, but it has an offset, and it was still something of a nightmare, I’m afraid. I have immense respect for the installer and his helper who accomplished it.
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
So, the saga continues. Right when I thought I had it solved going the insert route (which the salesperson confirmed it would work), the installer said an insert is not an option with my Superior fireplace due to not having enough workable space to actually hookup the insert. The insert itself fits fine, but there's nothing left for the installer to get his hands in there to attach the flue, etc.

So, the salesperson then suggested to just replace the entire ZC fireplace with a high efficiency fireplace. Kinda looks like a stove and has the doors we want, so I said sure. I get to the point of paying for it and the installer, again, said it won't work. It appears that even with a high efficiency fireplace, I'm back to square one with the same clearance requirements of a freestanding stove. For example, the stove we wanted has an 80" top clearance requirement, but so does the high efficiency fireplace, so I'm not gaining anything going with this option.

Am I missing something here? I have to assume that all the pictures I see online of stoves nearly tucked away into a hearth/alcove (where a ZC fireplace once was) were just done incorrectly? Done by installers who aren't certified or who don't care if your house burns down? I'm not the first person to want to remove a ZC fireplace, but it sure seems that others either found a solution that works (which stove dealers here in Texas don't seem to know about) or they're all risking having their house burn down.

At my wits end....
 

woodhtr

Member
Feb 13, 2019
18
Norcal
Hi all—

Brand new to the forum, and thank you in advance for any help you can spare. You may have heard how Texas had one of its worst winter storms in history a few weeks ago. A lot of folks went without heat for a week. Sinks that were left dripping froze inside the house. People walking for miles to get food and water. Wake up call for a lot of people. We were more prepared than most, but having to use my piece of junk zero clearance "it looks great on Christmas" fireplace to "heat" the house was my own wake up call. Nonetheless, the ZC is off to the graveyard and a freestanding stove is going in its place.

I've searched this forum, contacted distributors, and called manufacturers, and I can't seem to get clear answers (or can't get a call returned). I'm hoping the forum can shed some light on my questions. I've pieced together forum posts, but still need some help.

1. Once the ZC fireplace is removed, it will be lined with full brick (both sides, floor, and ceiling). Given that combustibles are behind the brick (wood studs and drywall for opposite room), would this still be considered a combustible alcove? Or is it a noncombustible alcove given the brick being installed? Makes a huge difference between clearance requirements and the stove size I can get. I've seen stoves just inches away from the sides of a true masonry fireplace, but I've also seen the same thing in ZC fireplace conversions and obviously don't want to run a fire risk.

2. I don't believe I can use the existing pipe. It needs to be replaced with insulated pipe, correct?

3. Confused on alcove ceiling clearances. In every manufacturer's installation manual, I see clearances for mantels and ceilings. However, mantel heights are often much lower than the ceiling height requirement. Am I understanding correctly that, essentially, the hearth/fireplace opening can stay matched to the existing mantel, but the interior ceiling height would be higher? For example, my hearth/alcove opening is 42" but the interior ceiling would be 62" (assuming 62" is the manufacturer's requirement). Picture attached.

I really appreciate your help. Unfortunately, not a lot of fireplace and stove resources down here in Texas.

Lastly, if my ZC conversion would be considered an alcove, then I'm really limited on stove choices given the 42" width. My wife prefers a traditional looking stove, and after searching and searching and searching, looks like the VC Aspen C3 is the only one that will work. Any other suggestions for a narrow stove that has a glass window?

View attachment 275948

Hey VossDosson, fellow Texan here, although expatriated to another state at the moment.

So funny I went through the exact same exercise as you about 2 years ago, with all of the same thoughts. I was looking at removing my Superior 42 inch ZC fireplace, building an alcove and putting in a freestanding stove. Hopefully my thoughts here can save you some time.

However, if you start looking in to the details, as others have stated, most stoves explicitly prohibit installation in an alcove, while others demand that metal conducting standoffs be installed over the wall to deflect heat. Its counter intuitive to us Texans, but any sort of material (even brick or stone as you suggested) placed within the minimum clearance specified by the wood stove installation manual is a no go. Looking at some of the clearances for the stoves would require a large alcove, which will cause you to have to do some re-framing work around your fireplace (this is less difficult and expensive as you might think though). Also, as you've already discovered, basically all installations would require replacing your existing chimney (its junk anyway).

In the end I concluded that there are two viable options:

1) Installing a wood burning insert that can fit inside my ZC fireplace. Sounds like your installer said no go on this one. I recommend you look in to getting a second opinion. As you've discovered inserts that will fit in a ZC fireplace are very limited, and you will have to make do with what the aesthetic result is. In my old Superior 42 ZC there was a large damper closing bar that obstructed the opening. Maybe this could be removed? For you in Texas, where you might only really fire this up 10 - 15 times per year, but need it as a backup, an insert is probably your best solution. Cost probably $3000 all in.

2) Rip out ZC fireplace and install ZC wood stove. This is what I did. I installed a FireplaceX 42 Apex Clean Face. It looks pretty rad I believe, and I use it to heat nearly every evening throughout winter. It helps that I can wood rounds for free that I split myself. Fireplace cost $5000 plus $1000 for chimney (air cooled, although wish I had ponied up for an insulated chimney). $500 for stone veneer masonry and other building supplies. Labor supplied by myself. I'm pretty sure it would cost $15,000 all in for the install had I paid someone else to do it. It was a fun project. I can send you pictures if you're interested. I'm not sure if its economical for you with Texas climate, However.
 

woodhtr

Member
Feb 13, 2019
18
Norcal
Am I missing something here? I have to assume that all the pictures I see online of stoves nearly tucked away into a hearth/alcove (where a ZC fireplace once was) were just done incorrectly? Done by installers who aren't certified or who don't care if your house burns down? I'm not the first person to want to remove a ZC fireplace, but it sure seems that others either found a solution that works (which stove dealers here in Texas don't seem to know about) or they're all risking having their house burn down.

At my wits end....

The no alcove thing is specified by manufacturers, not the EPA. They changed their regulations over time to disallow this. FYI some do allow it but will specify very large clearances and metal standoffs. See my above post regarding solutions...
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
The no alcove thing is specified by manufacturers, not the EPA. They changed their regulations over time to disallow this. FYI some do allow it but will specify very large clearances and metal standoffs. See my above post regarding solutions...

Woodhtr: thank you for your reply. It's been a frustrating experience given that our technical resources here in Texas are very limited. Seems like dealers know a lot about outside stoves and backyard setups, and very little about inside residential installations.

To your point on manufacturer requirements, it's been a circular exercise and now back to square one. For example, Lopi, Hearthstone, Vermont Castings, and others allow freestanding stoves placed into alcoves. Then, some manufacturers like Hearthstone that have a huge 84" top clearance, will have a broad disclosure that "clearances may be reduced per NFPA 211 standards". So, I look up the latest code edition, which is 2019, and depending on what heat reduction system you are using, it appears you can go all the way down to 18 inches, which would fit in my alcove. It's all so confusing.
 

VossDosson

New Member
Mar 6, 2021
12
Texas
Hey VossDosson, fellow Texan here, although expatriated to another state at the moment.

So funny I went through the exact same exercise as you about 2 years ago, with all of the same thoughts. I was looking at removing my Superior 42 inch ZC fireplace, building an alcove and putting in a freestanding stove. Hopefully my thoughts here can save you some time.

However, if you start looking in to the details, as others have stated, most stoves explicitly prohibit installation in an alcove, while others demand that metal conducting standoffs be installed over the wall to deflect heat. Its counter intuitive to us Texans, but any sort of material (even brick or stone as you suggested) placed within the minimum clearance specified by the wood stove installation manual is a no go. Looking at some of the clearances for the stoves would require a large alcove, which will cause you to have to do some re-framing work around your fireplace (this is less difficult and expensive as you might think though). Also, as you've already discovered, basically all installations would require replacing your existing chimney (its junk anyway).

In the end I concluded that there are two viable options:

1) Installing a wood burning insert that can fit inside my ZC fireplace. Sounds like your installer said no go on this one. I recommend you look in to getting a second opinion. As you've discovered inserts that will fit in a ZC fireplace are very limited, and you will have to make do with what the aesthetic result is. In my old Superior 42 ZC there was a large damper closing bar that obstructed the opening. Maybe this could be removed? For you in Texas, where you might only really fire this up 10 - 15 times per year, but need it as a backup, an insert is probably your best solution. Cost probably $3000 all in.

2) Rip out ZC fireplace and install ZC wood stove. This is what I did. I installed a FireplaceX 42 Apex Clean Face. It looks pretty rad I believe, and I use it to heat nearly every evening throughout winter. It helps that I can wood rounds for free that I split myself. Fireplace cost $5000 plus $1000 for chimney (air cooled, although wish I had ponied up for an insulated chimney). $500 for stone veneer masonry and other building supplies. Labor supplied by myself. I'm pretty sure it would cost $15,000 all in for the install had I paid someone else to do it. It was a fun project. I can send you pictures if you're interested. I'm not sure if its economical for you with Texas climate, However.

Woodhtr: quick follow up. Thank you for recommending the Apex stove. I hope that I'm getting the top clearance/ceiling requirements wrong as my dealer salesperson also recommended a ZC fireplace like the Apex, but the installer then said no-go because I'm right back to the top clearance/ceiling limitations of a freestanding stove. Attached are screenshots from the Apex manual that shows a minimum top ceiling clearance of 78.5". Did you already have this high of clearance? If not, how did you get around it? My installer is telling me that I have to, basically, raise the alcove height (which means cutting out part of the wall) to whatever the manufacturer says (and then back down to NFPA 211 tolerances). If, for example, I did raise the ceiling height to 78", I'd have a mantel that's nearly 7 feet tall!

Please tell me I'm wrong. I hope there's a solution. Otherwise, I'm likely gonna throw a fireback in my fireplace and move on. Much thanks.