Wood Burning Insert Newbie Safety Advice, Help, & Discussion

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OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
Hello All,

This is my first post, I came here for some help after reading a ton of various inputs on this forum (such great information!). Anyway, I grew up in a home that was partially heated by wood heat and have loved and missed it for more than two decades. I recently moved into my first home and am interested in making upgrades so that we can burn wood in a wood burning insert. Unfortunately, the small house floor plan (1400 SF) and SO killed any plan of a free-standing stove, so what I have is what we have to work with.

What we have
We currently have a Travis Industries gas burning insert that was put into an existing pre-fab and then tile was added to the surround in lieu of a metal surround panel (See photo). While we love this unit and it gives off plenty of heat, we miss the romance of a wood fire and the gas unit itself is getting up there in age. After discussion with a certified (NFI gas and wood, and certified chimney sweep) hearth professional, turns out these units are installed into existing fireplaces so after paying them to cut out some tile, we discovered our pre-fab fireplace which we did not know we had. Based on a few pictures of the circa 2005 remodel performed by a previous owner, we can glean that our pre-fab/ZC fireplace is made by Majestic (see remodel photos). We have no other information on this unit (no tag, no serial number, brochure, nothing but a white label on the chimney that we cannot get to because it is walled off by drywall and stone tiles.)

Measurements
  1. 36 inches wide
  2. 21.5 inches front height
  3. 18.5 inches deep
  4. 22 inches rear width
  5. 16 inch hearth depth

Problem and Advice
After removing our current gas insert and inspecting the fireplace and chimney, it is our hearth professional's opinion it is in good enough shape to house a wood burning insert. The firebox is quite small, so he is currently recommending the only insert that will fit: Lopi Answer II (which is the Answer but updated for 2020 EPA requirements). We love this stove, its perfect for us - we are just trying to add supplemental heat to our ~800 SF main floor and den area. My concern is the safety. The only thing I know about the existing pre-fab is that is is made by Majestic, and I only know this based on a picture taken in 2005 or 2006 while remodeling the addition. There is no tag or identification whatsoever in the firebox, and there is no manual in the crate of receipts where these pictures were found. We do not even know if the previous owner put in this Majestic (making it new in 2005) or retained it from way back when. The addition was built in 1979 per our building department and the "MAJESTIC" ink on the external fireplace seems old - so its possible this is a relic from 30+ years back. It is my understanding that installing a wood burning insert inside an existing pre-fab is pretty controversial, but as long as the existing pre-fab is in good shape and was originally listed to burn solid fuel (UL 127), you could make the bare bones argument that its safe (even though its not 100% agreed upon in this community). We have told our insurance company about our plans, and they are fine with it but did not inspect anything or really ask any questions, just gave a blanket $25 per year premium for "solid fuel". Additionally, someone in our family is a fire inspector for the neighboring town, he thinks our plans are totally safe and whatnot based on pictures I sent him as well as the Answer's manual. Everyone else thinks I am overthinking this.

My concern is that based on pictures of the empty firebox, it really strikes me as odd that there are no refractory panels; this thing really is just made of three air separated bends of sheet metal. My installer said he contacted Majestic and they told him some models did not have refractory panels, but had an extra layer of metal instead. This strikes me as odd, because even though wood burning pre-fabs are lesser quality than their full on masonry counterparts, they are still at least rated to have open wood fires in them. I guess my question is, based on the pictures, can anyone ID this unit of fireplace or comment on the overall safety of this install? I am no expert, so I do not necessarily want to offend my installer just yet if he (and you all) know something I do not know. Again, he and most of this staff are NFI certified and this is a family business that has been around a long time, so they seem like they know what they are doing and I trust them. I normally would not trust a sales person trying to make a sale, but hearth businesses are not built by people who burn down their customers' homes. Its just that based on the appearance of my current pre-fab, it does not seem a snowball's chance in hell that it could (or ever could) handle an open wood fire and if that is the case, I cant really see how having a 300 pound flaming steel box in it can be any safer. The installer did say once they do the install, I can never have a wood fire in this again - so he seems to think this thing is rated for wood.

My fear is that perhaps this pre-fab was a gas only unit back in the day. If this thing was originally rated for gas only, and we stick a wood insert in it, that strikes me as very unsafe and something to be avoided. I am also not entirely sure of the hearth extension and what it is made of. Its 16 inches deep, with half inch stone tile, so maybe this thing was made to burn wood (16 inches, from what I gather, used to be fire code), but there is also an outlet on the side which makes me think its hollow (also it feels solid and the pictures of the remodel show some white brick before the tile was added - Remodel #2).

Other pertinent information:
The Answer II requires 30 inches of sidewall clearance, but because this wall is on a 45 degree angle, the manufacturer Ok'ed the current clearance of 20 inches. I have this in writing, not sure if that makes any difference.

Any and all advice would be appreciated. Thanks and happy burning!

Fireplace #1.jpg Fireplace Before Tile Cut.png Remodel #3.jpg Fireplace #5.jpg Fireplace #4.jpg Fireplace #3.jpg Remodel #2.jpg Remodel #1.jpg Chimney:Chase:Termination.jpg Fireplace After Tile Cut.jpg Fireplace #2.jpg Flue.jpg
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
The problem is there are no majestic fireplaces that old that allow for the install of any insert in them at all. Because of that doing so would be a code violation and because it is untested we have no idea what potential safety problems there are.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,810
South Puget Sound, WA
The chimney also looks short and possibly in violation of the 10-3-2 rule. The best option is probably to replace it with a modern ZC fireplace or a freestanding stove, but it looks a bit late for that decision. So maybe it is best to leave the gas insert installed instead. Is there another location where a freestanding wood stove could be installed?
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
The chimney also looks short and possibly in violation of the 10-3-2 rule. The best option is probably to replace it with a modern ZC fireplace or a freestanding stove.
Yes, assuming we went forward, the installer would add 3 feet to get us to the 15 foot minimum.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,810
South Puget Sound, WA
Is the chimney greater than 10' away from the 2nd story eave?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,810
South Puget Sound, WA
As noted, it will not be to code so you are relying on the installer to make it safe. Will this be permitted? If so that might be another hurdle. If so it might be better to keep the gas insert. Is there another practical location for a freestanding stove?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
Yes, assuming we went forward, the installer would add 3 feet to get us to the 15 foot minimum.
How? If the chimney is that old you will never find compatible sections. And you can't just slap any old pipe ontop of an air cooled chimney.
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
As noted, it will not be to code so you are relying on the installer to make it safe. Will this be permitted? If so that might be another hurdle. It might be better to keep the gas insert. Is there another practical location for a freestanding stove?
Not really. We are not against ripping everything out and purchasing a new, modern, EPA wood burning fireplace. I just dont know where to even start with those in terms of options. I have no idea what the clearances are behind that tile, so I would hate to rip it up then find out there is no room for anything wood burning. However, we want to do this right, so spending another 6-8K on the more expensive modern ZC wood fireplace is fine, just need some guidance before we go down that hole.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
It is currently 9.5 feet away, our installer said the chase is so hollow that if we went forward, they would make us a custom piece to gently angle the last three feet of pipe to get us those 5 inches.
Honestly I would be very concerned about that installer. He either doesn't understand the applicable codes or doesn't care. Either way do you want them working on your house?
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
How? If the chimney is that old you will never find compatible sections. And you can't just slap any old pipe ontop of an air cooled chimney.
Sorry if I was unclear, if we went forward, the installer would be installing a full stainless re-line, so that 6 inch stainless pipe would span the entire 12 foot chimney, then protrude another 3 feet above.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,810
South Puget Sound, WA
In a tearout it would be less expensive to put a freestanding stove on a new hearth. There are smaller sized modern ZC fireplace too that I think will be smaller than the existing unit.

PS: thanks for the good visual documentation. That helps!
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
In a tearout it would be less expensive to put a freestanding stove on a new hearth. There are smaller sized modern ZC fireplace too that I think will be smaller than the existing unit.

PS: thanks for the good visual documentation. That helps!
I agree, I actually want a freestanding stove more than a real fireplace. If you had to guess, would we be able to at least get some sort of EPA modern ZC fireplace in there and finished up for under 12K?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
Sorry if I was unclear, if we went forward, the installer would be installing a full stainless re-line, so that 6 inch stainless pipe would span the entire 12 foot chimney, then protrude another 3 feet above.
But how would they transition to 6" chimney ontop of an unknown air cooled pipe?
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
But how would they transition to 6" chimney ontop of an unknown air cooled pipe?
Please forgive my ignorance, I am not sure what you are asking. It was my understanding that wood stove inserts utilize a 6 inch diameter high temp stainless steel chimney pipe that runs from the insert's fire box all the way up to the termination. So any install would include feeding an independent 6 inch stainless chimney pipe through the existing 8 inch air cooled one. So at the top, the longer 6 inch pipe would stick out 3 feet above the chase and the cover would be affixed to the top. I did not think the two pipes would be joined in any way other than one being physically inside of the other but I may just be confusing terms.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
Please forgive my ignorance, I am not sure what you are asking. It was my understanding that wood stove inserts utilize a 6 inch diameter high temp stainless steel chimney pipe that runs from the insert's fire box all the way up to the termination. So any install would include feeding an independent 6 inch stainless chimney pipe through the existing 8 inch air cooled one. So at the top, the longer 6 inch pipe would stick out 3 feet above the chase and the cover would be affixed to the top. I did not think the two pipes would be joined in any way other than one being physically inside of the other but I may just be confusing terms.
You are right if allowed an insulated stainless liner would be run from the insert to the top of the chimney. But once it reaches the top of the chimney to extend it you would need to transition to 6" chimney pipe which needs to be anchored securely to something. There is no anchor plate made to mount to the top of your air cooled chimney that won't interfere with the air flow needed to cool the chimney. Because of that it can't possibly be done to code. And the safety is questionable.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
And regardless you cannot put any insert in that fireplace and meet code.
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
Seriously I cannot thank you all enough. This is JUST what I needed. I am lucky I had the sense to read the Answer's manual and started to ask questions before I cut a check for the deposit.

The installer actually is now suggesting the new ZC idea as well. That is probably our best bet at this point, as we want to update the floors in that room anyway with tile so thats a good excuse to change the fireplace stone as well. Will a qualified installer be able to suggest new EPA ZC fireplaces before they rip apart the wall? I understand zero clearance does not actually mean zero clearance, but I want to know something will fit before we take a sledge hammer to the fireplace.
 

OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
You are right if allowed an insulated stainless liner would be run from the insert to the top of the chimney. But once it reaches the top of the chimney to extend it you would need to transition to 6" chimney pipe which needs to be anchored securely to something. There is no anchor plate made to mount to the top of your air cooled chimney that won't interfere with the air flow needed to cool the chimney. Because of that it can't possibly be done to code. And the safety is questionable.
I had no idea that was even an issue, thanks for sharing!
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
I had no idea that was even an issue, thanks for sharing!
That is why I said to be careful about that installer. A homeowner generally don't know any of this. They rely on the professional they hire to know and follow all of the rules and regs while looking out for your safety. This guy seems to be making up his own rules.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,696
central pa
Seriously I cannot thank you all enough. This is JUST what I needed. I am lucky I had the sense to read the Answer's manual and started to ask questions before I cut a check for the deposit.

The installer actually is now suggesting the new ZC idea as well. That is probably our best bet at this point, as we want to update the floors in that room anyway with tile so thats a good excuse to change the fireplace stone as well. Will a qualified installer be able to suggest new EPA ZC fireplaces before they rip apart the wall? I understand zero clearance does not actually mean zero clearance, but I want to know something will fit before we take a sledge hammer to the fireplace.
They should be able to yes.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,810
South Puget Sound, WA
I agree, I actually want a freestanding stove more than a real fireplace. If you had to guess, would we be able to at least get some sort of EPA modern ZC fireplace in there and finished up for under 12K?
A freestanding stove installation is going to be less expensive. If that is what you want then I would stick with that plan. It is hard to say how much, there is a lot of variance in stove prices, but the installation should be straightforward with a new chimney of the correct height. I would expect that cost to be under $5000.
 
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OakNCherry

New Member
Jul 21, 2020
15
Chicago, IL
A freestanding stove installation is going to be less expensive. If that is what you want then I would stick with that plan. It is hard to say how much, there is a lot of variance in stove prices, but the installation should be straightforward with a new chimney of the correct height. I would expect that cost to be under $5000.
Sorry, I was referring to a new ZC wood burning fireplace, not a free standing stove.
 

PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
1,271
MA
I know you're looking at other options now. I have a Lopi Answer. Like it a lot. My use sounds like yours. Warm the den and kitchen evenings in winter. Good little unit.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,810
South Puget Sound, WA
Sorry, I was referring to a new ZC wood burning fireplace, not a free standing stove.
It's important to get the terminology right for consistent bids. Look at 2cu ft ZC fireplaces by Astria and RSF for starters.