Caring for your Factory-Built Fireplace

Factory-built fireplaces differ from traditional, site-built masonry fireplaces in that they are typically made of metal and are installed as a complete system.

These fireplaces may appear to be true masonry fireplaces on the surface, because they can commonly be covered with a masonry facing and can have a real masonry firebrick lining.  However, these factory-built (or prefabricated) fireplaces are typically constructed of metal and insulated with a double-wall chimney system specified by, and usually exclusive to, the fireplace manufacturer.

These fireplaces allow for increased flexibility in their installation locations since they don’t require a masonry foundation like a traditional fireplace, offer many styles and options, and are much less expensive to purchase and install.

Along with the convenience of a factory-built fireplace, there are a few complications.  This category of fireplaces and their components are susceptible to over-firing of metal components, refractory (brick panel) breakage from rough or excessive use, and must be installed exactly as prescribed in their installation manuals, or they may constitute a real fire hazard.  Even the installation of non-approved fireplace doors or chimney caps can restrict necessary cooling air flow into the firebox and chimney that could cause excessively high operation temperatures.

These considerations can be frustrating to homeowners when their system is deemed to need repairs or is found to be improperly installed.  Factory-built fireplaces are typically designed to be primarily decorative appliances.  When they are over-fired, excessively used, service is neglected, or if the system is damaged by a chimney fire or other event, a repair may not be possible.  That fireplace and chimney system may need to be completely replaced.  This typically requires removing the stone facing and reframing that portion of the building before the new unit can be installed.  This situation frequently occurs when a fireplace is beyond its warranty period and parts (commonly refractory panels) specific to that model are no longer available.  Occasionally the fireplace manufacturer has gone out of business and there are simply no components being manufactured.  Since a fireplace system must be tested with each component in one of the testing laboratories to obtain its safety listing, generic replacement parts are not an option.

The good news is, that with proper installation, inspection, and maintenance, a factory-built fireplace can provide many years of service and enjoyment.  This starts with proper installation by a qualified fireplace technician. The National Fireplace Institute (NFI) provides training and industry certification for hearth professionals.  This credential should be sought when planning and installing a new factory-built fireplace.  Communication between a fireplace expert and the builder or general contractor is also critical to ensure that the fireplace is finished properly, the hearth is constructed properly, the chimney top built correctly, and to prevent many other installation problems.

After the initial installation, the system should be inspected and swept as needed (at least yearly) by a qualified chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).  This service will ensure the proper weatherization of the chimney, help to determine any likely future maintenance concerns, and remove any flammable creosote deposits that could lead to a chimney fire.  Aggressive sweeping methods could damage or disconnect prefabricated chimney pipes, and you should have your chimney swept and inspected frequently by a professional in order to prevent excessive creosote accumulation that can be very difficult to remove.

Burning wood is an important part of life for many Flagstaff residents and hopefully it can continue to be done safely far into the future.  In addition to properly scheduled maintenance, I would like to offer some wood-burning tips and good habits:

  • Always dispose of ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. The container should then be placed outside, away from any combustible materials until completely cool.
  • Operate your wood burning fireplace with the spark screen closed to prevent any embers from escaping into the room.
  • Burn only well-seasoned and split firewood with a moisture content of approximately 20-25%. Firewood moisture meters are available to verify proper moisture content.
  • Never overfill your firebox with too much firewood.
  • Avoid the excessive use of paper (especially glossy magazines) for starting fires and never burn trash or garbage.

Enjoy the warmth and ambiance that only a real wood burning fireplace can provid, and have a great fall and winter!

Jason BrownJason Brown

Fireplace Department Manager| HomCo Lumber & Hardware

Chimney Safety Institute of America

-Certified Chimney Sweep #8167

National Fireplace Institute Master Hearth Professional

– Woodburning, Pellet, and Gas Specialist #160574

{Jason Brown has been at HomCo since 2003. He got his NFI Pellet Burning Specialist certification in and Wood Burning Specialist Certification in 2009, his Gas Burning Specialist Certification in 2010, and he has also been CSIA certified since 2014.}

Flagstaff Fireplaces