Fireplaces and Chimneys

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(September 1996)

This time we'll talk about fireplaces and wood stoves. Adding a fireplace is one of the few improvements that can pay for itself when you sell your home. With today's pre-fab gas and wood fireplaces, having a fireplace can be surprisingly affordable. And of course a fireplace or wood stove contributes to the beauty and charm of your home.

The first decision you will have to make is whether you want a fireplace or a wood stove. Here are some of the advantages of each:

The second decision you will have to make is whether you want to burn natural gas or wood. Here are some advantages for each:

You should visit a good fireplace store to look at gas and wood-burning fireplaces and wood stoves. Make sure you ask about clearances from combustible materials required by the building codes. Virginia Hills houses do not have a large number of places where there is sufficient room to install fireplaces and wood stoves. One such place is the outside wall of the living room. Another may be in one of the corners of the basement. Remember, if you are going through the roof with the chimney, you MAY NOT cut any of the roof trusses to get the chimney through. All of these factors can affect the installation and therefore the model that you buy. A good fireplace store can be very helpful here.

Prices of these appliances vary widely. A basic direct vent gas fireplace will cost about $900, while a mid-sized wood stove may cost $2700. Installation of each may cost about $1000, depending on the chimney type you elect. Installing one of these systems is not a job for an amateur, and I strongly recommend that you get professional help with your installation.

Under no circumstances should you try to install such a system without county building permits. A fireplace or wood stove will require both a mechanical/small appliance permit and a building permit. A gas fireplace or wood stove will require a plumbing permit as well to hook up the gas line. You will need to have two inspections, one before you put up any drywall or close in a chimney chase (the box around the metal chimney). Then you will need a final inspection. Make sure your installer complies with all county inspection requirements. If something were to happen, you would not want your fire insurance to deny coverage because you did not have a legal installation.

One feature that I would strongly recommend on any fireplace or wood stove is an outside air kit that will pull combustion air for the fire from outside the house. Otherwise the air that the fire needs to burn is going to be the inside air that your furnace is heating, and it will go up the chimney. Also, if your house is well insulated and tight, you may have trouble getting your chimney to draw without outside air, especially if you are running your dryer or a bath or kitchen exhaust fan. For a wood-burning fireplace, an outside air kit and glass doors will enable you to close up the fireplace at the end of the evening as the embers die. You won't have to sit and wait for the fire to go out.

Copyright Doug Boulter, 1996

Chimney Caps

(February 1996)

Can birds get down your furnace chimney? Yes, they can. I've seen a bird get down the chimney, through the furnace, and into the duct work. In newer furnaces, they won't be able to get any farther than the bottom of the chimney. If this happens in the winter when the furnace is on, they'll be asphyxiated and will die there.

The first thing you should do about this is to check the bottom of the chimney every winter as part of the annual service on your furnace. Remove the three screws holding the bottom cap and be prepared for a lot of debris to fall out. Clean it out and put the cap back on.

Can you screen the top of the chimney to keep the birds out? Yes, and no. Furnace exhaust gas is extremely corrosive, so screening you put up won't last long. You could put temporary screening up there in the summer and remove it in the winter, or you could get a sheet metal shop to make you some stainless steel screening for the chimney cap. The easiest solution is just to clean out the occasional dead bird. As long as the chimney isn't completely blocked, it won't be a problem.

Copyright Doug Boulter, 1996

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