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15 April 2021

All fired up

A guide to installing a wood-burning fireplace in your home


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Nothing beats the ambiance created by a real wood-burning fire. However, by law, you can no longer use or install an open fireplace into your home in an urban area, due to their inherent inefficiencies and toxic emissions. There are however modern solutions that are both cost effective and clean burning.

We spoke with Richard Miller, Architectural Advisor Lead for Escea, Australasia’s leading fireplace manufacturer, about the rules and practicalities around installing and running a proper, wood-burning fireplace in a home in Auckland – plus what options are available.

“If you live in a villa or bungalow, you’ll probably have at least one chimney and a couple of fireplaces somewhere in your home. Unfortunately, in most cases, the business end of these relics are no longer serviceable, and now perform a purely decorative function,” he says. “If your heart is set on a real wood fire, there are options in the marketplace, but any new indoor fireplace will need a permit and will also need to meet the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality*, meaning it will discharge of less than 1.5 grams of particles for each kilogram of dry wood burned (g/kg) and have a thermal efficiency of at least 65 per cent.”

Richard says he doesn’t know of any open-fronted, wood-burning fires that meet the clean air emissions standards, so any new fireplace would need to be enclosed, behind glass. “The Spartherm range that we manufacture comes in single-sided, double-sided and corner units, so there are a variety of models to suit most residential situations and needs,” he says. “From a practical side, you will need to consider the size of the space you are going to heat and get some advice if you have open stairs or voids open to another level as the heat will always try to move up.”

“The saying you get what you pay for is so true. I am a big fan of value rather than cost. I often find the cheaper units don’t offer anywhere near the value of the mainstream or premium brands.”

When it comes to installation, Richard strongly recommends using a NZHHA (New Zealand Home Heating Association) registered installer, who has been fully trained and certified in solid fuel installations. Many councils will significantly reduce their consent fee on an installation if it is NZHHA endorsed.

As far as running costs, Richard says the average home will use 4-6 cubic metres of wood over the winter, at around $350.00 per cubic. “Unless you have free wood, I do not think an average wood fire is any more cost effective than piped town gas, but both will be cheaper that the most common forms of electrical heating that is used in New Zealand. Many brands have a wet back option, but this will reduce the heat you receive in the room – but it’s is a great option if you have free wood, ” he adds.

New certified wood fires have to meet a minimum heat emission, meaning they have be at least 65% efficient. Be aware, however, that many brands offer a peak output for their fire, which is based on its maximum heat achieved in laboratory conditions. It is far better to find out what its nominal output would be – say 16.5kw peak to 9.5kw nominal average output, says Richard.

* Here’s a link to a list of wood-burning fireplaces that meet the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality: https://www.mfe.govt.nz/woodburners

Alfresco Options
One of the great pleasures of summer evenings is sitting outside and enjoying a glass or two of wine, as the last rays of the sun disappear. When the leaves start to turn and the evenings feel a little cooler, this may seem a less inviting prospect, but with an outdoor fireplace, you can keep warm and still enjoy your terrace or courtyard for most of the year.

If you’re looking for a fireplace primarily for its ambience, plus create some warmth, then a gas fireplace is probably your best option. However, if you want to feel some real heat along with that ambience, then a wood-burning fire is recommended.

Generally, an outdoor wood fire will require a building consent from the council. The model you choose will also need to be able to function as a ‘cooking appliance’ (AKA BBQ) to meet the Resource Management Act requirements. The positioning of the fireplace in relation to your home and its boundary is an important part of the consent process. If the fireplace is to be attached to an outside wall of your home, a building consent will be essential. If it is positioned away from the boundary, separate from the building envelope of the house, you may not, but you will still need to consider any possible annoyance to you neighbours. To gain consent and be issued a code of compliance from the council, it is necessary to have a producer statement from a registered installer. Without that, you may find that your house isn’t covered by insurance in the event of a fire.

A flue-less gas fire can be installed without the same restrictions as a wood fire. If you’re on a budget, a simple fire pit is compact, cheaper and generally quicker and easier to install – however, they are generally covered by the same restrictions as wood fires.

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