Travis 42 Apex

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mjbroz

Member
Mar 6, 2018
14
WA State
Hi all.

I thought I would start a thread to pass on my thoughts and experience for my fireplace insert decision, install, and burning experiences for the new home my wife and I are building.

Background:
  • My wife and I are building (what we hope to be) our retirement home on some property in WA state (east slopes of the Cascades at ~2200 ft, Dec and Jan typically have lows in singe digits, but a few weeks will get to low -teens at night), averages 3' of snow on the ground from Dec thru March). Summers also get to upper 90's for a few weeks in Aug. To say I'm concerned with good insulation and tight home construction would be an understatement.
  • A friend drew up the plans (he's an architect) and spec'd a back-to-back, full masonry rumford fireplace (one fireplace in the living room, one on the front porch). He designed and help build the same thing in a home down the street so we had the ability to see it working in action.
  • My wife loved the look and design (and I agree), but I was cringing at the amount of heat that would go up that chimney (and through the masonry). The amazing warmth a Rumford will throw into a room once the fire is going is impressive (you have to experience it to believe it), but it's not very practical in any other respect.
  • After much research and "discussion", we ended up with a hybrid approach. The fireplace will look like a single unit, but will actually be a masonry Rumford on the front porch with a Travis 42 Apex inserted into a wooden fireplace chase covered with real stone veneer on the inside. The two are separated by a fully insulated 6" wall. The masonry Rumford on the outside transitions to a wooden chase with stone veneer filled with class A insulated stove pipe just above the mantel and the Apex stove pipe transitions through the wall into that same chase. And yes, if you are wondering, we had it all drawn up, engineered and approved by the building department before we got started.
  • As you can imagine, this turned our "fireplace" budget into an area of considerable focus. In the end, it's a significant investment that is as much about looks as it is about heat.
Why the 42 Apex?
  • As you can imagine, there were a lot of factors to consider before we decided on the 42 Apex. The primary concerns were:
    • Efficiency and EPA certification. We get a lot of burn bans in the winter and wanted to maximize our burning capabilities. The Apex is now approved for 2020 emissions. Hurray.
    • Aesthetics. My wife really wanted the look of a fireplace (rather than a wood stove). This was a big topic for us and it took a while to find a compromise. The Apex has a large glass area for very nice fire viewing (~24"x13"), we both like the square look with the "Metropolitan" grill (see photo attached), and I liked the single door design (for better sealing). The handle design is unique and some probably don't like it, but I think it's very nice and it's low profile keeps it out of the way. It does get hot though.
    • Size. It was the right size for us. 3.5 cu ft firebox taking 24" logs seems big enough to load up, but not so huge that we can't build smaller fires on occasion. This is not our primary heater, but it could certainly heat the home with some help from the ceiling fan.
    • Unlike some inserts, it does not require power to burn fire. It's hard for me to believe that is a requirement of some devices.
    • I like the built in fan/blower (quiet, multi-speed, hidden) and controller. It is nice it shows you the current temp at the cat.
    • The external air intake system allowed us to hook up 2 vents that go straight down. I wanted as much air as I could get and the rep I contacted confirmed we can run 2 vents instead of just one. We built a platform for the stove to sit on and ran vents to both of the bottom air duct hook ups. This allowed me to run the ducts down and out the rim joist and into a mostly enclosed foundation area under the outside fireplace away from anything that could catch on fire from an extreme backdraft event but still have lots of fresh air for the intake.
    • The 7" pipe is certainly more expensive than 6" (but less than 8" or 10" for some systems we looked at). This was a consideration since we have something like 25' of stove pipe (it's a 2 story house).
Progress:
  • The outside Rumford fireplace is mostly complete. We have not had a fire in it yet, but that will happen a few times this winter I am sure. The mason we found did an AMAZING job with the stone veneer (real stone cut about 1.5" thick, including special cut corner stones). Photos attached.
  • We got the Apex installed and did a couple of test fires before summer hit this year. I did a sort of lame video that I think you can view here:
  • Overall, I am very impressed with the heat it puts out (especially with the blower going). I was just burning some scrap 2x material (fir) for an hour or so. Not the best test, but it did allow it to get up to temp and let me experiment with the cat and damper settings. There were times the heat coming out of the top was so hot it was difficult to hold your hand in front of it.
  • Being able to see the cat temperature is really nice. I don't know how accurate it is, but it does have a nice psychological "oo's and aaahh's" factor. :)
  • The air intake seems less effective than I had hoped. Even with 2 vents hooked up, it seems like the fire is starved for air until the chimney comes up to temp. We have a very tall and fairly straight stove pipe so draw should not be a problem. We do have a couple of angles in the pipe to get it to transition through the wall, so that might be part of the problem. The air intakes are short (less than 5'). I did an experiment and put a little fan on one of air intake vents just to see what happens. It definitely helped, but most of the air just got pushed out the other vent rather than into the stove. Since my house will be fairly tight, I plan to continue to experiment with ideas, but it's quite possible I'll be stuck cracking the fireplace door and the window next to it while the fire gets started. We'll see what happens this winter when it's really cold out and the house is fully buttoned up.
  • The stone veneer, mantel, and hearth for the inside Apex is not complete yet. The chase is done and mostly ready for stone. We'll probably not work on those until the spring ('19). We have more critical projects that need to go first. Note: since the Apex does not allow combustible mantels, we are going with poured-in-place concrete for the hearth and mantel (outside fireplace will also have a concrete hearth, but a log mantel). We installed some 2x2 steel bars (with some holes for rebar later) so they are self supporting and won't need any knee braces, etc. Photo attached.

I'll post follow up info as the winter progresses and I get a chance to do some real burning as well as construction photos as we get to the stone and concrete work.
 

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Sounds like it will be quite a home. The "porch" fireplace setup is spectacular. Draft will improve as the temperatures drop and the house gets tighter.
 
Sounds like it will be quite a home. The "porch" fireplace setup is spectacular. Draft will improve as the temperatures drop and the house gets tighter.

Thanks begreen. The place has grown in many ways since I started planning it over 15 years ago, that is for sure. I may get to do a test fire this weekend as nightly temps are dropping to freezing these days. I am quite curious to see how well/poorly the draft does with cold temps since we violated the "keep your chimney inside the building envelope as much as possible" rule. I am hoping the chase enclosure helps avoid excessive cooling influences once a fire is going.
 
Thanks begreen. The place has grown in many ways since I started planning it over 15 years ago, that is for sure. I may get to do a test fire this weekend as nightly temps are dropping to freezing these days. I am quite curious to see how well/poorly the draft does with cold temps since we violated the "keep your chimney inside the building envelope as much as possible" rule. I am hoping the chase enclosure helps avoid excessive cooling influences once a fire is going.
It will be just fine. It may take a little bit to get it going but once you establish a draft it will be fine
 
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Just a quick follow up. The inside fireplace (42 Apex) surround including steel mantel and hearth are finally installed. Photo attached. Yes, it really has taken us 2 years since the first fire-up. As far as draft goes, it works very well after it gets warmed up but initial start ups are little slow in my opinion. In my opinion, the way the Apex draws it's air through vents/spaces along the side of the firebox and out holes near the glass (to keep the glass from getting too sooty I imagine) is not the best design...it restricts the airflow pretty significantly during first lighting. It's not a huge deal as I just crack the stove door, but it seems to me like they could design an adjustable baffle that bypasses those restrictions during lighting to get better airflow. The house is fairly tight, so I will probably crack a window or door when first lighting to help airflow when I crack the stove door. All that aside, I'm very happy with the stove (it heats up nicely and throws a lot of heat (especially with the fan running). The fan is very quiet (most noise is from air passing thru the front grills). It does take a while for the sensor to decide the stove is hot enough to turn on the fan...I've contemplated bypassing it with a manual switch, but I really like how it runs the fan during the cool-down phase to get the most out of the hot stove. Since it's spring time, I probably won't have a lot of feedback on how it heats the house now that it is fully insulated, etc. until next winter.
 

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Looks awesome
 
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And here is a photo of the outside fireplace after we took the form off of the concrete hearth. It's kinda cool having a 6" thick, 700lb concrete hearth floating with no visible supports :cool: .
 

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Nice work. The whole setup is gorgeous.
 
Hauling up and fitting those stones near the peak must have been fun.
 
@begreen - that is for sure...but after he did the outside fireplace the year before, the inside one was much less daunting...lol
 

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I just wanted to add a follow up entry now that the house is in a relatively normal operating mode and winter is on us. Note that I have had to combine info about the stove usage/performance along with info about the house to provide the full context.

This is kind of long, so sorry about that.
  1. First, the house has about 1600 sq foot footprint. There is second floor that is about half of that (due to cathedral ceilings in the living room/entry areas), and a full, finished basement.
  2. I don't have any of the fancy add-ons that push air from the fireplace to other parts of the house. Just the built in fan and wall mount digital temp/fan control
  3. Note that I installed a toggle switch on the fan sensor because, as many folks noted, it takes way too long for the fan to kick on (even when I scrape the ashes away from area where the sensor is). For example, I could have the digital thermostat reading over 700 degrees and the top of the faceplate too hot to touch within 20 min of starting the fire, but the fan would still take an additional 20 min to turn on. So I wired in a toggle switch that has 2 settings: normal ("auto") mode, and an "always on" mode. I turn on the fan (mid range speed) once the thermostat reached about 250 degrees and get some mildly warm air out of the top of the face plate. After an hour or more (whenever I think of it), I swap it over to "auto" mode so it will run normally and then turn itself off automatically when the stove goes cold.
  4. Mechanical heating/cooling for the house is via a central heat pump system with the cold air return on the second level open to the cathedral ceiling area.
  5. The house is pretty well insulated, but not to "passive house" levels of insulation.
My normal fire mode:
  • load it up with kindling and a medium sized log (fir or alder)
  • open a window for initial startup, light the fire, and leave the stove door cracked for a minute or so
  • close the stove door (damper full open, obviously)
  • override the central furnace so it runs the fan continuously at 1/3 speed and never kicks in the heat (or AC obviously)
  • wait for it to burn down a bit (30 min or so) and add a full sized log
  • increase the stove fan speed to about 75% (plenty of low, but still quiet)
  • kick in the catalytic when the thermostat hits about 500 degrees
  • cut the damper down when the thermostat hits 600 or so (and try to keep it between 500 and 700)
My results:
  • With the initial load of kindling + 1 medium log, and adding 1 normal sized log, the fire lasts about 5 or 6 hours. For example, this morning I started a fire around 5:30am, I added one additional medium log after the full sized one burned down, and now, 9 hours later, I am down to some coals, the stove front is warm but not hot, and the fan is still pushing warm air out the front
  • With the central fan pulling warm air from the upstairs and pushing it around the house, I usually get about a 5 degree increase in temp (from mid 60's to low 70's) according to the thermostat that is about 20 feet from the fireplace. Note: today it was in the 20's outside when I started the fire, and warmed up to about 30 degrees during the day. Inside, the temp went from 67 to 75 in about 2 hours, and then started to cool down after about 6 hours. 9 hours in, and it's saying 73. Depending on how quicly the house cools down, the central furnace may not need to run hardly at all until tomorrow morning (thermostat is set for 71 during the day, but 66 at night). Obviously, the system would not work as well with the power out so that the fan in the stove and central furnace were not working.
  • Once the fire is going, I get almost 0 smoke emissions from the chimney (you can not see or smell smoke outside). I only get a little smoke in first 5 min or so of the fire starting. The stove is rated to run during a level 1 burn ban in WA state and we do get those in my county quite a bit. So it's nice I can be legal and also not be adding to the smoke in area.
  • As most folks note, the glass front does get dirty (mostly bottom corners) pretty quickly. I use a fireplace glass cleaner by Stove Bright that works well to clean it up.
So far, I am very happy with the stove. We'll see how it works over time.
 
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How many hours will it still have enough coals to restart on? Overall it sounds like its been very successful. Nice.
 
How many hours will it still have enough coals to restart on? Overall it sounds like its been very successful. Nice.
My guess is: if I stuff the firebox with a couple full size logs, I could get 8 to 9 hours and still have good enough coals for it to restart on it's own no problem. It really does depend on the wood. I mostly have douglas fir, but I do have a little maple and some apricot from an orchard not far from here. It's not the biggest firebox in the world, but that works good for me because I'm not usually trying to do overnight fires.
 
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