A wood burning fireplace provides the most realistic flames along with the age-old tradition of burning, handling, and smelling real wood. However, the open fireplace of the past doesn’t meet the clean air laws adopted throughout most of California where wood burning is restricted to an EPA Phase II firebox. This type of firebox is certified as clean burning, is much smaller than an open fireplace, and has air-tight gasket doors. However, it enjoys some significant advantages. It is much more efficient, can heat an entire home, and uses a fraction of the wood due to much higher efficiency.
Zone heating saves money
An efficient wood fireplace delivers heat most efficiently to the general area where, it is located. If located in a central part of the house and the central heating is turned off or down, the fireplace will heat the common areas while delivering less heat to the hallways and bedrooms. Heating in this manner generally saves money.
Large common areas are often too cold
Large common areas often have large windows and not enough heating ducts. A efficient fireplace offers supplemental heat and comfort.
Open wood burning is heavily regulated, and more often than not, disallowed for new installations or remodels. EPA approved, low emission wood fireplaces are typically either exempt from “no burn days” or far less restricted.
- High efficiency, low emission wood heaters
Open Wood Burning
- Traditional open fireplaces
- ILLEGIAL in most of California due to high emissions
Key decision points
The general rule is that wood fireplace venting must extend two feet higher than the peak or two feet higher than 10 feet away. For example, venting coming out of a roof with a 4/12 pitch, with the exit point more than 10 feet from the peak, requires 4 X 10 plus 24 inches or 64 inches protruding out of the roof line. Tall wood chimneys should be in a wood chase or secured.
Size is important
Select the fireplace to meet the heating requirements not the opening size you want. Remember, high efficiency wood fireplaces always heat when you light them with very limited adjustment. If the fireplace is too big for the space, you will roast; too small and you won’t be warm enough.
EPA Certified Phase II vs EPA “Qualified”
Building officials know the difference, you should too! There are a number of fireplaces advertising “EPA Approved.” Many of these devices are “EPA Qualified,” but don’t meet the certification standards required by most Air Quality Management Districts (EPA Phase II certified). Check with your building department or industry professional for clarification.