Our home has an interesting story, it burned, it literally caught fire and burned. In a set of really unfortunate circumstances a realtor and contractor renovated our home 2 years before we came along. Our house was built in the 50’s and still had the original oil furnace in it when a realtor and contractor bought the house to flip it. The house had not been lived in for about 5 years before renovations started. They had it for sale and then under contract. The furnace was started to heat the home before inspections could happen, then it caught fire and the house burned. The damage was kept to mostly the roof, but the smoke, heat and water damaged most everything else in the home. It had to be taken down to studs and rebuilt all over again.
The house was then renovated/rebuilt for the second time. The original structure below the roof remained intact. We stumbled upon the relisting by chance, not sure it was for sale at all. We sent an inquiry, got a response and went to view the house within a week. As soon as we walked in, we knew that this home was for us. We made an offer within 15 minutes of leaving and the rest is history!
There were little to no changes that we wanted to make to the inside of the home. But, we always dreamed of having a wood burning fireplace in our home and wanted to eventually make the change. We soon learned that it would be a bit of extra work to put one in. The top portion of the chimney was missing and encapsulated by the new higher pitch roof line (no chimney exiting the roof) and the hearth was simply filled with a concrete pour.
After a few years of living in the house, we started researching various ways of adding a wood burning fireplace to the home. We opted to go with a wood burning fireplace insert from Regency Fireplace. After measuring out our fire box, we found that we could fit the smallest fireplace insert that Regency produces and with even more effort, we could fit the next size. The larger size would be capable of heating 2500 sq-ft(our home is 1700 sq-ft). We wanted the wood burning insert for a variety of reasons. Mainly, to reduce our heating bill during the winter months. However, there was one major problem, we didn’t have a good source for wood.
Back in October 2017, an EF2 tornado went over (and I mean literally “over”) my parents place in Hickory, NC where I grew up. Luckily, no damage was done to the home. But, there were four 100’+ tall (we measured) white and red oaks that were blown down along with half a dozen other large trees. WELL, we had found our source of firewood and we started thinking about that fireplace insert again!
It took over 2 months but we (Dad and I) cut, split and hauled all of it 40 minutes south to our place in Dallas, North Carolina. To say it was a lot of work is an understatement. We ended up with 14ish cords of split oak which is some of the best wood to burn for heat, once it is dried.
But that is only half the story.
We had been thinking about installing a wood burning insert in our defunct fireplace previously. The project was further down on the list because our property only has pine available. You can burn with pine but it requires the wood to be 100% dried and it provides considerably less heat when burning. Having access to all that split oak simply jump started the fireplace insert install project.
I started the process of figuring out how to retrofit the chimney and boy I was naive at this point. It turned out to be such a massive project! If you’ve ever tried to retrofit anything you know nothing goes as planned. We ended up having to:
- Rebuild the hearth pad
- Remove lots of stone veneer on the fireplace
- Install a new insulated chimney liner(requiring removing the clay flue)
- Retrofit our brick chimney in the attic to stainless double wall flue
- Cut a new chimney out of the roof
Hearth Pad: I cut out a new and larger hearth pad (per state regulation this is 18″+) and quickly found issues with the old hearth pad. I removed a poured slab of concrete 2″ thick (old pad) and then correctly built up a new hearth pad. The pad was built with cement board and mineral fiber board to reach the insulation r-value needed in the pad. This is important to have in the hearth pad, it insulates the sub-floor from the heat that the fireplace insert creates. This required about 1.5″ of thickness which left the hearth 3/4″ off the floor. Functionally this works, aesthetically it does not. So, we raised the hearth an additional inch allowing us to use the same pieces of stone veneer in a single row under the rock slab top.
The rock slab was one of the coolest projects I have done. We purchased a few large flat rock slabs (about 2.5″ thick) to cover the hearth. I researched a bunch of alternative methods to cutting the rock. I ended up finding a technique that has been used for a very long time. With some patience, I was able to hand split the rock using a simple rock chisel, 2.5# hammer and t-post. Worked like a charm!
Firebox: The larger fireplace insert would not fit without removing the stone veneer on the inside of the fireplace. I hand chiseled off some of the front face pieces of stone veneer. Allow the face plate of the fireplace insert to sit flush against the original fireplace brick.
Chimney(existing): The existing chimney was unfit to burn wood since it had been partially disassembled. Some retrofits can leave the clay flue liner in place, however in order to fit the recommended 6″ insulated stainless in our flue we removed all the original clay flue liner. Insulated liners are required by the manufacturer. I learned this after making the mistake of purchasing a non-insulated liner and installing it. Reading directions is important! For instance, the handy directions is where you can find out that the warranty would be void without an insulated liner! Removing the clay liner to install the insulated chimney liner was an extremely messy process that required the use of a mini drill operated wrecking ball to literally smash the clay liner. Once the old clay flue was removed, we poured a concrete cap on the top of the chimney to seal it off. After it was cured, we added the adapter cap to the top of the newly formed concrete cap and moved on to the extending the chimney.
Chimney(new): Installing a new double wall chimney pipe is relatively straight forward. The only hiccup in our installation was that we had to use two angled sections to relocate the pipe between two rafters to avoid re-framing part of the roof. Some additional bracing under the roof is needed to support the flue pipe that extends up from the concrete cap. It is recommended that an additional brace is installed on the outside of the roof to any chimney that extends more than 4 feet to add support in excessive wind.
The Insert: Once the main pieces of the project were complete, it was time to install the fireplace insert. We discovered our fireplace had three lintels, which created an issue where the new liner was actually farther away from the face of the fireplace. The fireplace insert once in its place, was not deep enough to reach the new liner (about 6 inches away). After hours trying to figure out what to do, I finally found an offset box for the top of the insert that barely fit. Once that was installed, we slid the fireplace insert back into place and it was finally done!
Our insert is the Regency Classic I2400 Wood Insert. The insert comes with everything you need and there are a few choices and accessories. We got the 2-speed blower with our on a deal when it was free with the insert. The blower automatically turns on and off with a temperature sensor so you never have to worry about it. I would not install a fireplace insert without a blower or some fan setup, it is invaluable in moving the air to heat the home faster.
The installed fireplace insert is pictured above, it took a lot of extra work to resolve all kinds of unforeseen issues, but we have peace of mind that it was done right.
This is easily one of the things in the home we are most proud of. It is also currently heating us out of the house! We regularly have a window open to cool it off a bit even on a 25 degree day!
We are still figuring out how much we can offset our heating bill, so far this season we have not had the heat on at all with temps in the low 20s outside.
Thanks for reading,