Fireplace Conversions



There are two types of open wood-burning fireplaces


- masonry (usually built during construction of the house),  

- or factory built "zero clearance" fireplaces (installed when the house is built or as an addition).


Some facts:


  • The benefits of converting an open wood burning fireplace are numerous.

  • Open wood burning is very inefficient.  When not in use, cold air enters the house by falling down the chimney past the damper.  When in use, it expends large amounts of air already warmed by your furnace.  Although it's thought that glass doors will help improve efficiency on an open fireplace, that's not the case.

  • Energy efficient wood inserts can't be installed into factory built fireplaces.  The reason is that the fireplace is usually too small to receive the insert.  They aren't designed to handle the increased heat created by the insert, and any alterations to the fireplace reduces its clearances (against code).  Masonry fireplaces are good candidates for an efficient wood insert.  One thing to observe is the required hearth projection of 18 inches forward of the loading door.

  • Wood burning inserts require a full-length stainless steel liner that is properly sized and connected to the appliance with a collar and is terminated on the chimney top with a flashing and cap.   Wood contains sulfur (natural ground osmosis).  In the products of combustion, the creosote that collects inside your chimney walls contains sulfur.  Precipitation converts this to acid which corrodes the concrete and mortar of your chimney.  EVERY CHIMNEY NEEDS A CAP.

  • Wood burning is NOT cheaper than burning gas.  Natural gas (and propane) prices in Canada are some of the lowest in the world.  Cord wood prices have gone up.  Plus you need to factor your time to properly store, split, and load the wood; safely remove ashes; clean the chimney regularly (annually at minimum).

  • A wood burning insert may NOT be cheaper to install than a gas insert.  Electric inserts are the most frugal conversions available.  They have a 5000 BTU heater (which is rated to heat 500 square feet) and are more realistic than earlier versions.  Again, it's about reducing cold air infiltration.  Factory built fireplaces can safely be altered to receive an electric insert; the chimney can be insulated;   and a permit is not required to have one installed.

  • Almost, if not all natural gas inserts manufactured today are direct vent.  This "closed system" uses outside air for combustion by running two separate aluminum liners inside the chimney (intake and exhaust).  This means that the cold air currently infiltrating your home can be reduced or eliminated.

  • Efficiency of gas inserts has improved by design.  Most are electronic ignition with interrupted pilot ignition. This means that the pilot is only on when there is a "call for heat".  They have redundant safety systems.  Most come with standard battery back-up, or are available as an option.  So, in the event of a power failure, you can rely on the radiant heat of your gas insert to keep your house from freezing.

  • Most gas inserts have a radio frequency remote control with a thermostat built in.  If it doesn't, a thermostatic remote can be added at nominal charge.  If you are away, you can "set it and forget it". That's added peace of mind.  Some are full function that adjust fan speed and flame height, meaning you never have to "go in" to the unit to make adjustments.  Prices on these deluxe units is coming down as demand goes up.

  • When having a conversion done, it's important to hire a professional that looks at your house as a system to ensure all factors of safety and efficiency are taken into account.