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Community and Q&A

Best way to have a wood fireplace?

Clara Kim | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

We are building a custom house, and are nearing our final planning stages before bids with our architect. We are planning to have a wood fireplace on the ground floor, within the building envelope. When it is burning, it will likely to burned with any glass doors on the fireplace open, for aesthetic reasons. It is only going to be used as a heat source as an occasional backup. What are the best ways to minimize the energy problems of an wood fireplace? It’ll probably be a zero-clearance type of fireplace. My husband will not agree to a gas or wood stove, so don’t even suggest it! Nor will he agree to having the wood fireplace outside on the patio instead. I’ve done searches on GBA and haven’t seen any discussion about wood fireplaces and how to make the most of them. Thanks!

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Replies

  1. D Dorsett | | #1

    An open hearth fireplace (with or without glass doors) is an inefficient extremely polluting way to burn wood that has no place in a "green" house. They are even illegal to use in some locations due to the particulate emissions problem.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Clara,
    The idea that a wood fireplace can be used "as a heat source" is misguided. In most homes, operating a wood fireplace without glass doors results in a net loss of heat.

    A fireplace can't heat a home. If you are operating a wood fireplace, the best you can hope for is to warm your hands as your house gets progressively colder.

  3. Darryl In Winnipeg | | #3

    Burning anything with the doors open is not a good idea at all.

    I have an EPA certified zero clearance built in stove/fireplace that I use all winter long. With the door closed and the fire shining through the glass I get all the aesthetic benefits I need.

  4. Ven Sonata | | #4

    There may be an exception to the rule that open fireplaces are net energy losers. I read an article a couple of years ago...I think it was in "Home Power magazine" (could be wrong) about a retired woman professor of physics. She had a beautiful country home built for her, but she insisted on open wood fireplace and she had researched the hell out of the subject. She found a custom design that she claimed had all the efficiency of a modern wood stove. She like the reality of crackling mesquite. I have no idea how to find that article but I trust my memory that it exists because I am interested in these matters and she was insistent and confident from a physicists authority that it worked. There you go, sorry I can't be more specific.

  5. Ven Sonata | | #5

    I found something similar at Renaissance fireplaces of Quebec. An updated Rumford which is truly impressive. Optional guillotine glass front sliding door. Rumfords are an alternate design to the Franklin from 200 years back. Check out the site. 50% efficient with door open. Not great compared to some woodstoves at over 80% but still if not used often and only for the aesthetics not a problem.

  6. Lucy Foxworth | | #6

    I think this would a good blog topic. People want their fireplaces even at the expense of energy efficiency. There are some things you can do to reduce the impact of a fireplace, aren't there? Doors on the unit? Design of the fireplace itself like the Rumford fireplace as mentioned above? Chimney balloon, Masonry stoves, thermal mass around the unit, things like that.

    After being on this site for years, I would not now opt for a fireplace, but I would have maybe 10 years ago. I would insist on a wood stove though. Even if it was just on an enclosed porch adjacent to the house.

  7. Keith Gustafson | | #7

    If you are heating your house by other means, then a fireplace is an energy loser.

    Our forebears were not morons, a fireplace will give out a ton of heat, but at a very inefficient rate.

    If you insist on a fireplace here are my suggestions:

    interior, there is nothing dumber than an exterior chimney.

    external air supply. The worst thing about fireplaces is that draw air from other rooms and cool them

    Masonry. the thermal storage can diminish the sin of a fireplace

    close the damn doors. Are ya just silly? Really?

  8. Clara Kim | | #8

    Thanks Lucy and Keith. Those are the things I need information on. I would prefer not to have a wood fireplace but this is a no-budge for my husband. I checked with the building inspector of my town and he has no problems with the wood fireplace in general so we should be able to find an appropriate one for code.

    Yes, my husband is silly and will light the fire with the doors open. The EPA does list the lowest emission fireplaces, and those fireplaces do have an emission rate listed for open versus closed doors (on their individual websites): http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/fireplacelist.html

    It's only going to be lit when he wants to enjoy looking at the fire. It's not supposed to be an energy source, and I want to minimize the negative impact of it during this design phase.

    Is there a preferred way to seal/insulate the doors of the fireplace when not in use? Or is it better to seal the top of the chimney when not in use? Are those chimney balloons actually helpful?

  9. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #9

    Clara, You inadvertently hit on a subject that provokes an outraged response from green building enthusiasts. You would have got a similar reaction to innocently suggesting using windows for ventilation, and will find similar reactions to electric bikes on cycling forums, or to mixed-breed dogs on pure-bred sites. Considering that for occupants of a well insulated and sealed house the plug loads and transportation choices represent a much larger piece of the puzzle than your occasional use of an open fireplace, I wonder when we are going to see a similar reaction to owners who choose a certain type of television or car?

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Malcolm,
    You are overstating the case. If Clara and her husband want to install a wood-burning fireplace, that's fine with me. I simply tried to explain that her plan -- she said that the fireplace was "going to be used as a heat source" -- might lead to disappointment.

    In her most recent comment, Clara wrote, "It's not supposed to be an energy source." So, now that her expectations have been lowered, everything sounds fine.

    Speaking for myself, I never expressed any outrage.

  11. Mark Fredericks | | #11

    Clara, I've never used one of the Chimney balloons but you're right to be thinking of a method to air seal the open fireplace when it's not in use. There are several ways to seal this hole. The balloons might be an inexpensive option to try first. Or you could custom build some air tight doors that cover the opening and latch down to compress a rubber gasket on the face of the fireplace? Or there are other products that can be hidden, like an air tight chimney cap that can be operated from inside the house but be installed out of sight.

    There's more info in this video that also shows how to install one of these air tight caps:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx-7uTyKPFs

    Good luck!

  12. Clara Kim | | #12

    Martin, I never meant to imply that we were going to use the fireplace as a regular source of heat. By saying occasional backup, I was acknowledging that if the electricity goes out, we will probably sit in front of the fireplace. While a wood stove would be much more sensible as an actual secondary or backup heat source, I'm not allowed to get one of those instead.

    Since the chimney itself won't be insulated from the house, I suspect that both the top of the chimney as well as the doors of the chimney are both good targets. The air tight chimney cap seems like a good start, though I don't imagine it has much actual insulation value.

  13. Eric Habegger | | #13

    I think this is an interesting topic. On the face of it just seems absurd to do this traditional fireplace installation and then attempt to make it "green". I'm not criticizing Clara in any way. She's just trying to mitigate an energy efficiency disaster in the making and I'm very sympathetic to her. It must be a bit like occupying a seat in a plane and seeing it's going out to sea when you know it should be going entirely over land.

    I think her husband's silliness stems from a lack of physical intuition and this kind of behavior must be disturbing to those people living around people like that. Perhaps people of all skill levels should be encouraged at some point in there lives to get their hands dirty and understand what actually goes into the world we live in. Maybe a suggestion to the husband that it would be "romantic" to get a horse and buggy would be in order.

  14. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #14

    There's a plethora of airtight zero clearance built in fireplace stoves that have airtight doors, remote air and high efficiency. I sit in front of two of them and then heat 2,000sqft homes.

  15. Clara Kim | | #15

    Sadly, AJ Builder, fireplace stoves are not quite what we're talking about. There are plenty of excellent gas and wood stoves. My job would be easier if it were speccing one of those!

  16. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #16

    Martin, without resorting to emoticons, I was hoping my post would still appear as a light-hearted poke at the over-earnest tendencies of some posters. I think the general tenor of the discussion bears out my observations.

  17. Beth Turner | | #17

    Clara, I have family members in two different 1980s/90s houses with open fireplaces (with glass doors). Both are so drafty that they have to seal them up every winter with rigid foam. Have you looked into the zero clearance fireplaces? Aesthetically, they are not very different from a traditional fireplace. Another bonus is that you can shut the airtight door and leave without putting the fire out (or worrying that your house might burn down). I would also recommend checking with your insurance company. Where I live, I have heard that open fireplaces are uninsurable. Not that I would ever have one--they're just a really bad idea. We are in the process of building a house right now, and I've found that to build smart, you have to be willing to let some things go (especially when it comes to aesthetics).

  18. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #18

    " Where I live, I have heard that open fireplaces are uninsurable. "

    Before making a claim like that, it might be a good idea to confirm it.

  19. Beth Turner | | #19

    Malcolm, that's why I said "I've heard" and not "they are". I don't know. It's just something that you should probably look into. I know a few people who have not been able to get insurance (or who have to pay extremely high rates) for various wood burning devices...mostly unconventional ones. But maybe we take things more seriously here...I live in a very cold climate, and every winter, at least a couple of houses burn to the ground in our small town because of wood burning stoves/fireplaces. For insurance, an open hearth might be fine now, but maybe that will change if they follow the lead of municipalities, who are becoming more picky about these things. Didn't Montreal just ban all wood burning stoves except for pellet? As we become more concerned about emissions and air quality, and considering an open fireplace is one of the worst offenders in that regard, it seems like one might want to proceed cautiously. It's always a good idea to think about where we might be headed in the future and plan accordingly.

  20. Keith Gustafson | | #20

    I have never had an insurance problem with a fireplace

    I have 2 fireplaces and want to put an insert in the downstairs one as if we lost power for and extended period, it would do a good job of heating the house. I have a stupid contemporary house so I do not want a brass ornate thing like this:
    http://www.wayfair.com/Napoleon-High-Country-Wood-Burning-Fireplace-Insert-NZ6000-NPN1385.html

    Which is expensive, but I will bet there are others that are cheaper that are real woodstoves, but can be run as he wishes, with the doors open, then closed afterwards. Worst thing about a fireplace is leaving the flue open all damn night

    I put top mounted dampers on my 2 chimneys, and they prevent drafts.

    Fireplaces are not a 'smart' 'green' idea, but comparing a modern designed thought out fireplace to an antique is not apples to apples.

    If I were to redesign my 2 foot by 8 foot 20 foot tall masonry monstrosity, I would have the masonry stop short of the roof and terminate with metalbestos or somesuch so as to not be such a thermal bypass, and of course built in makeup air

  21. Flitch Plate | | #21

    Don't make any plans or spend any money until you have read, cover to cover, the site: woodheat.org And then read it a second time.

  22. Brian Carter | | #22

    There are dampers that can be attached to the top of the chimney and provide a gasketed, airtight seal. They operate by a cable which comes down the chimney and is grasped inside the fireplace. The seal is good, but the air column in the closed chimney can develop a circulation pattern that brings cold air down into the room if the doors are open, and at any rate cools the masonry. But, this is certainly the case with any masonry chimney regardless of how it's closed. A Metalbestos or similar pipe is a slightly better option, but the size required to vent an open fireplace still puts a big hole in the roof.

  23. Stephen E | | #23

    I hope someday open fireplaces in new buildings will be outlawed. They give wood heating a bad rep by polluting, raising heat cost and safety issues.

  24. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #24

    S E. What about outside fireplaces or fire pits? Where do you stand on campfires?

  25. Flitch Plate | | #25

    Fireplaces and woodstoves are only a problem if installed incorrectly and not looked after. For most people, the aesthetic and nostalgia purposes of having a fireplace and/or a woodstove is just exactly that: so it can be looked after. Now a days, technologies and experience enables us to have efficient (adding, not losing heat), clean and aesthetic stoves and fireplaces. That just wasn't true in the past.

    Creosote build-up is a sign of either improper chimney placement or a badly operated unit, or both. I find that usually folks who don't like stoves and fireplaces don't know much about them and rely on a bad experience with lousy installations. Creosote is why old stove/fireplace designs and dirty chimneys/flues can be dangerous.

    Draft controls, quality and new designs of flue caps, modern mechanical and tight dampers, tight and properly used doors/gaskets, and properly cured wood reduce the waste and losses Martin speaks about.

    A high efficiency wood stove with glass doors can be fitted (new build) or retrofitted inside a fireplace (if you need the look of a fireplace) so that it adds heat, not loses it. Go to Google Images and type "stove in fireplace". Do the same search for "fireplace inserts". Basically you can now have a fireplace (insert or stove with a stone, brick surround) that performs as well as a wood stove and has an openable front. The real issue in terms of performance and waste is in the chimney/flu design and placement in the building, and whether you want to capture heat in mass or move it into the room directly.

  26. Alex House | | #26

    I hope someday open fireplaces in new buildings will be outlawed.

    The expansive reach of building codes is already intolerable, what with things like energy mandates being shoved into the code and which have nothing to do with structural or fire issues, now you want to outlaw fireplaces because they rub you the wrong way.

    If not one's home, where can one go to live life as he pleases without a bunch of bureaucrats telling everyone how they must live? Where can one find sanctuary from butt-in-skis?

  27. Nate G | | #27

    > If not one's home, where can one go to live life as he pleases without a bunch of bureaucrats telling everyone how they must live? Where can one find sanctuary from butt-in-skis?

    Nowhere within civil society. That's not the kind of place we live in anywhere. Those of us who chafe at it best get used to it or become a heck of a lot more active in fighting it.

  28. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #28

    Alex,
    Q. "Where can one go to live life as he pleases without a bunch of bureaucrats telling everyone how they must live?"

    A. Rural areas of the U.S. where no building codes apply.

    The problem with homes that include idiosyncratic features that happen to be bad energy details is that these homes are eventually sold to unwitting buyers who don't realize that the former owner liked to have campfires in the living room -- "damn the energy penalty." It's hard to balance the rights of people who want to be eccentric with the rights of those who invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a home to keep their family warm during the winter.

    For now, our country has decided to protect unwitting home buyers in suburban and urban areas, and to let the campfire-in-the-living-room crowd build their homes in rural areas.

  29. Alex House | | #29

    Martin,

    " these homes are eventually sold to unwitting buyers"

    I once dated a crazy shrew of a woman. Why didn't government protect me from that harm and why didn't the government protect the men in her life who followed me?

    Same principle in play,. Government is going to intrude into my life to tell me that it knows better than me what is in my best interests. In the case of housing it's doing so in order to "protect" POTENTIAL future owners of what I build for myself. What if there are no future buyers? If there are future buyers, why do their interests have preference over my interests?

    Similarly, moving to a rural area, that "moving" rationale doesn't hold much water when other issues are in play, my rights should be uniformly applied where ever I live,

    Balancing rights. A POTENTIAL future buyer of my property should have no rights and no say in how I build my property for myself today. Their only interest arises when they consider buying my house and at that moment, as adults, they're responsible for making their own decisions based on the status of my house - they can buy it or pass. If they're ignorant of building science, then they can hire an expert to guide them, much like people hire financial advisers or tax preparers or dentists. Their ignorance of building science is not a good enough excuse to trample on my property rights and to force government into compelling me to do what government deems is in my best interest.

    Government and best interests. Government decides many things which end up violating human rights. Government decided slavery was ok, then it decided it wasn't, it decided that banning interracial marriage was ok, then it wasn't. Property rights are rights just like other human rights. Government is on the wrong side of this question at the moment. A potential future buyer's rights shouldn't take precedence over my rights in my house which is being built with my money.

    Look, I can score plenty of double paned aluminum windows for free, divert them from going into the dumpster or recycling pile, but building code won't let me put such windows into my house. I have to meet energy standards. The extra energy that my free windows will use will come at a future monthly cost but because they're free, I might decide it is IN MY BEST INTEREST to walk that path rather than spend $50,000 on code-minmum windows in order to save $20 a month on my energy bills. Someone else on this site was writing about how a building inspector forced him to install baseboard heating into every room in order to meet code when his house was well insulated and he had mini-splits already installed. A complete waste of money in order to satisfy a building inspector who presumed he knew better what was in this home owner's best interests.

    All of these "We know what is in your best interests" mandates tend to increase the price of housing and what this does is it drives people on the margin out of the housing market. They want to own a home but they can't afford to buy one built to frivolous standards, so these building codes aren't really helping them. For those of us not on the margin, it's simply burning good money on a bonfire. Installing those baseboards which you will never use means that the money spent can't be spent on something that you would prefer to spend it on, say a new piano for your daughter.

    Working with that free windows example, I could be a bike riding, granola-boy, very tight with my energy expenditures, buying local food, etc but government is forcing me to spend money on code-minimum windows in order to save energy. Meanwhile, the guy across the street puts in above code windows but drives a Hummer, everyone in the family has a car, they jet off to Aspen twice a winter for skiing, then fly to Florida twice per winter to warm up from skiing, then fly to Europe or Asia in the summer in order to culturally enrich themselves. Which of us saved more energy? If saving energy is the goal, then why not shut down air travel and sales of motor vehicles other than little cricket cars? Doesn't government know what is in all of our best interests?

    The Vancouver leaky condo situation arose because government knew best and compelled builders to build a certain way. Oops. Maybe government doesn't know what is in people's best interests.

    Phew, blowing off that steam felt good. /rant off. :)

  30. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #30

    Alex, I agree that if protecting future owners is the issue there are a number of ways that can be done. Here in BC they experimented with opt-out permits that were only inspected for compliance to safety issues like railing heights, exits etc. The type of permit was registered on the land title as fair warning. That has devolved into what we have now: a compulsory home warranty system, but owners can pull their own permits, which again is noted on the title - however the opt out from any code provisions has disappeared.
    My bigger beef is with the prescriptive nature of many energy codes that, for instance, limit the percentage of windows. I wish they set reasonable targets to be met and left it at that.
    I was involved with several large buildings that failed in the "Condo Crisis", followed the court cases, read the Barrett report, and went to the CMHC sponsored seminars. Sure there was more than enough blame to spread around, but I'd have a hard time making the case that it was due to government interference in how those buildings were constructed.

  31. Alex House | | #31

    Malcolm

    My beef goes further than yours. If energy rationing is the concern, then why "allow" people to own pickup trucks and hummers, building codes clearly make the case that government is very comfortable with compelling people to abide by living standards that inconvenience them in the realm of their own home, so why not inconvenience people who like to drive SUVs, pick-ups, Hummers, etc and make them drive little gas-sippers instead? Such a move would certainly save energy, damn the inconveniences to those who are willing to pay more in energy costs in order to buy the benefits of driving a larger vehicle.

    Secondly, many on this site use various forms of home-based power generation, so when such a home-owner is located in BC, with the window limitation in your code, what purpose is being served by the code restrictions if they're generating their own power? Government can't claim that the common good of a power grid is involved.

    Even with distributed power and the desire to reduce the expansion of generating capacity, the most effective solution here is price signals. People can respond to electrical pricing or gas pricing or oil pricing, if they want large windows, then they'll pay for those windows. If they don't want to pay then they can bid up the price of homes with small window exposure and devalue homes with glass walls. As Martin has pointed out, code requires low SHGC windows when in many cases the more energy efficient window is one with a high SHGC. Government compelling people to spend money stupidly in order to meet arbitrary standards based on arbitrary values.

    The business of targets being set by government is problematic because it's very value laden. Whatever happened to valuing diversity? Choices comes with benefits and consequences. A leaky home is cheaper than a tightly sealed home. That lowers the cost of housing. The drawback is that it increases the cost of maintaining the home. The fact that rigorous standards lowers the cost of home heating is of no solace to the young couple who've now been priced out of buying a home. The government has decided that the value of lower heating costs is more important than the value of lower building costs, you know, just like the government had once decided that the value of marriage only within racial group was more important than the loss of liberty associated with choosing one's spouse by one's own standards.

    And back to topic - fireplaces. Energy purists take the position that fireplaces are energy inefficient and the extremists want them banned. I can't begin to tell you how much this rubs me the wrong way - Nannys imposing their standards on others. Martin at least grants people some liberty to do with their home what they please, if allowed by code, Energy efficiency as a principle obviously appeals to the writers and readers of this site but just because we find it appealing doesn't grant this principle any added legitimacy such that it should be shoved onto other people who have different values or priorities. If someone wants a fireplace then terrific for them, they get to enjoy the benefits and suffer the costs. Not my business or anyone elses.

  32. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #32

    Alex, I can't disagree with anything you've said.

  33. Eric Habegger | | #33

    @Alex House,
    I reread just about all the comments just to see if I missed something. I could find only one comment, #23, hoping that they would outlaw traditional fireplaces. The rest were about the problematic details involved in traditional fireplaces.You are indeed on an unprovoked rant when you conjure up a group of government zealots here trying to restrict your or his freedom. There just is no such thing going on.

    I think what you are objecting to is just that it is silly in this day and age to build a traditional fireplace where you intentionally use the house air for combustion as the writer's husband intends to do. Let me say it again: It's dumb. But if he want's to do something stupid then it's his right.

    I think a lot of us just get enough of the Walter Mitty types that want to pretend they are out in the wilderness in a log cabin. It they really are the he-men they think they are then they will have cut down the trees to build the log cabin and will actually use the local trees to also provide the fire. But when one lives in society and has access to all the local amenities... Well, frankly it just reminds most of us of when we were little kids and dressed up as cowboys and Indians. It's simply immature of the commenters husband to not even entertain alternatives and that is what the vast majority of responses originated from, i.e. his rigidity.

    "This isn't the same cowboy hat that Roy Rogers has, Mom!"

  34. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #34

    Alex,
    When you asked the question, "Where can one go to live life as he pleases without a bunch of bureaucrats telling everyone how they must live?", I provided an answer: rural areas beyond the reach of the building code.

    However, most building codes don't outlaw fireplaces. As long as the fireplace complies with your local building code, you are free to install one.

    If you want to install an unusual fireplace that doesn't meet code, you'll have to buy some rural land.

    In any case -- whether we are talking about a code-compliant fireplace or a cowboy fireplace -- my answer was a statement of fact. Building codes exist to protect the buyers of the homes -- buyers who aren't construction experts -- from defects, dangers, and high energy bills. It's perfectly fair to debate whether our current building codes strike just the right balance, or have gone too far, or haven't gone far enough.

    This is a political question, and there is no simple answer.

  35. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #35

    Eric, Did what the OP's poor husband ask for really warrant the abuse you have thrown his way? Maybe that's the one thing he wants in a house - to be able to occasionally sit in front of an open fireplace. For that he gets described as an immature pencil-pusher playing out romantic fantasies at the expense of his wife, his actions also having somehow offended all of us. There's a tone of almost religious zealotry and moral righteousness that slides into some of the green building discussions that is just plain silly.

  36. Clara Kim | | #36

    I am amazed with the continued conversation regarding this topic. I hope people have found it interesting or useful. I will be using an outside air duct, which will hopefully make the fireplace better when it's used with the glass door down. If my husband chooses to use the fireplace with the glass door open, it will be less efficient but he'll have the choice. We'll also put in an airtight chimney cap.

    I think we'll be getting this fireplace:
    http://www.renaissancefireplaces.com/en/renaissance-rumford-1000

    It has a built in ceramic glass door. When the glass is open or closed, it still burns at the EPA clean-burning standards (obviously better with the door closed).

  37. Eric Habegger | | #37

    Malcolm, as Martin said, this is a political issue more than a technical one. My view is the opposite of religious zealotry. My tone was responding to the diversionary tactic of Alex's to turn this into an issue of the government intruding into every facet of our lives, and always doing it for the worse. It is the same old thing of crying victimhood when facts and logic are no longer in one's favor. What I was saying is that the subject of this thread is based on shallow emotional sticking points rather than logic and good sense. I tried to put in the most stark terms I could to get people's attention. Naturally when arguments hit hard enough there is a tendency for the opposing view to claim victimhood. However, I stand by my arguments.

  38. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #38

    Eric, Once again the elephant in the room is what motivates any of the energy saving techniques we all come here to discuss.

    If, as some believe, there is a moral imperative to reduce energy use, then surely there needs to be some clear headed discussion as to whether any of this makes a substantial contribution to that aim. Then there needs to be a further distinction drawn between the useful and boutique building strategies, and what role neutral choices play. Are we going to grade everything in the house by this moral imperative, or can we have other needs and desires apart from saving energy?

    If the motivation isn't driven by anything beyond an abhorrence of illogical decisions I don't think you have a leg to stand on. North American houses are almost completely cultural artifacts in their design. The "logical" building techniques championed here are at best a veneer.

  39. Alex House | | #39

    Eric.

    "subject of this thread is based on shallow emotional sticking points rather than logic and good sense. "

    Luckily for us all, I offered up logic and good sense to counter shallow emotional diatribes like this:

    "I think her husband's silliness stems from a lack of physical intuition and this kind of behavior must be disturbing to those people living around people like that."

    Logic works by arguing from principle. The first principle I invoked was of the form "I know what is in my best interests better than some faceless government bureaucrat or some environmental zealot." The second principle I invoked is that choices come with benefits and consequences and those fall, almost exclusively, on the home owner. The third principle I raised was that much of the building code now focuses on issues beyond safety and structural integrity and is values laden. Energy conservation is a values laden issue - energy is a commodity and energy use has a price attached. To conserve energy almost always involves expending money on the conservation measure, so the issue for the homeowner almost always touches on payback. Tell me, if I can put free double paned windows into my house, aluminum clad with extensive thermal bridging, how is it in my financial interest to be denied PERMISSION by government officials and be COMPELLED to buy new, more energy efficient windows and install those instead? Let's say that the new window cost is $50,000, how long will it take to payback that $50,000 expenditure based on the MARGINAL savings between efficient windows and inefficient windows?

    A fireplace in a home is no different than someone driving an SUV instead of riding their bicycle to their construction job or flying to Disneyworld for a vacation - they all involve energy expenditures and they return some benefit to the person. Why would a DisneyWorld vacation be more justifiable than sitting in front of a fireplace watching the roaring fire?

    Malcolm is correct, there is a religious zealotry to comments like "I think her husband's silliness stems from a lack of physical intuition and this kind of behavior must be disturbing to those people living around people like that." and what really set me off was S.E.'s comment about banning fireplaces based on his own personal ideology.

    "The rest were about the problematic details involved in traditional fireplaces."

    There are energy efficiency drawbacks to fireplaces and then there are value judgements. I can point out the atrocious fuel economy of driving a Hummer and that's different from judging a person, by my standards, based on their driving a Hummer. If someone wants a fireplace, then the costs and benefits fall on them and how they value the costs and benefits is not my business, nor yours. The only exception here is what AJ Builder notes about air pollution but even that is limited in usefulness because those jurisdictions still permit people to drive cars, allow buses to operate, etc and vehicular-caused air pollution is a more serious contributor to poor air quality than people in LA burning wood in their fireplace. His principle though is sound - have a polluting effluent can impact on others and so there is a rational basis to have government intervene in some manner. My only proviso here is that government intervention should be balanced, restrained and equitable. It air quality is an issue, then fireplaces are fair game, but so too are restricting flights into the local airport and shutting down freeways for certain periods of the day. Picking one and letting others slide now becomes a political exercise mostly divorced from the actual issue and when matters get to this point, then better to not exercise the tyranny at all.

    "You are indeed on an unprovoked rant when you conjure up a group of government zealots here trying to restrict your or his freedom. There just is no such thing going on."

    No need to conjure up, the building code(s) are there for us to see with our own eyes. Some codes prevent installation of kitchen sinks which lack UL marks. Now we're well beyond the issue of making sure that your house is structurally sound:

    http://www.canada.com/story_print.html?id=e4e11038-a197-45bc-96f3-f529f77fd2ce

    t might not, but B.C. retailers can still sell it and plumbers or handy homeowners can install it, but don't expect your local building inspector to approve it. That's because the province requires plumbing fittings and fixtures to comply with CSA standards, but do not monitor or control their sales.

    Debbie Hellbach didn't know that. She expected to have a new bathroom, laundry area and living space at the end of her four-month $60,000 basement renovation. Then she got a City of Victoria notice telling her that her new sinks and faucets did not pass inspection.

    "I never expected this," says Hellbach as she looks over her new stainless-steel one-piece counter and sink in her laundry space.

    The fixtures work, but did not pass inspection because they failed to display Canadian quality and safety standards imprints or markings, as set by CSA or one of about seven other certification bodies such as Underwriters Laboratories, American National Standards Institute or the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

    This is far beyond the scope of the purpose of building codes. The woman in that story spent her own money on plumbing fixtures that appealed to her but some government bureaucrat is informing her that he knows better than her what is in her best interest,. That's zealotry and it MOST DEFINITELY constitutes restriction of freedom.

    " It's dumb. But if he want's to do something stupid then it's his right."

    It's not dumb, that's my point. It's only dumb if you hold energy efficiency to be the highest value. You apparently do hold energy efficiency to a very high value, so for YOU it's dumb, but if this man values the experience of watching an open fire and is willing to pay the costs associated with that value in order to capture the benefit, then there is absolutely nothing dumb about his desire or intent. Nothing. His values are different from your values. It's that simple. Values have no place in building codes,.

    "It's simply immature of the commenters husband to not even entertain alternatives and that is what the vast majority of responses originated from, i.e. his rigidity."

    The only rigidity I see on display here is yours "My way or the highway" that you apply to someone's choices IN THEIR OWN HOME. On another forum there was a women showcasing pictures of her home build, part of which included a fireman's pole from 2nd to 1st floor and a slide, right next to the stairs, from 2nd to 1st that her husband insisted on building into the house. I'd never do that in my home but I'm certainly not going to go on a rant about how she should subscribe to my values in her home design.

    Martin,

    "Building codes exist to protect the buyers of the homes."

    This is all well and good when it comes to a spec house but it falls apart when government officials insist that their vision is more important than the vision of the homeowner who is having the home built for himself. Appealing to the need to protect future buyers places more importance on a hypothetical future buyer than on the present owner and compels the present owner to spend his own money on things he doesn't want in order to comply with the dictates of the government official who presents himself as knowing better what is in the best interests of the homeowner. As per my earlier comment in this thread, in the last few months someone in these Q&A threads noted that a building inspector forced him to install baseboard heaters in every room when the homeowner was completely satisfied with the two minisplits he had installed in his GREEN building.

  40. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #40

    Alex house, I have to say that I applaud some of your cogent thoughts. No, you are not really helping with this person's needs to choose... but... some, good thoughts.

    We build zero clearance fireplaces that can be used door open or closed. As to open fireplaces, I live in an area that can handle the exhaust, since there are few of us and no mountains holding in the pollution. Places like LA and Albuquerque are not places where anyone can run dirty fires as the air is shared by all and it can get quite nasty. Do some googling or visiting. Location location location...

  41. David A Flannery | | #41

    We are looking at having a high-efficiency fireplace in our new rural vacation house (on a wooded lot) now under construction. My wife wanted a fireplace, I wanted a wood stove as a occasional back up if the electricity goes out. We compromised with a high efficiency woodburning fireplace. Here are the links to the two final contenders.
    http://www.icc-rsf.com/en/opel-2-fireplace
    http://astria.us.com/products/brentwood

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