Zero Clearance Fireplace

There is nothing like the heat and “atmosphere” created from burning wood, and no place is a wood burning fire more appreciated than at a camp or cottage. It just doesn’t seem right to have a camp or cottage without some form of wood burning appliance to provide heat and ambiance to a room.

Your ability to burn wood depends on a number of factors, including whether or not your camp has a fireplace, chimmney, woodstove, etc. It can also depend on the size of your cottage and the room(s) you may want to heat.

Wood Burners Require Space

While they are getting bigger, camps and cottages are often not very large. Therefore, installing a wood stove requires some consideration. Woodstoves and their required clearances take up floor space.

If it doesn’t, and you want to add a wood burner, there are a number of factors to consider.

The size of the area you want to heat is one of the factors to consider when buying a wood heating device. Burning wood provides a good deal of heat, and depending on the stove or fireplace it is not always easy to regulate the amount of heat.

Too Much Heat

In my experience, the problem is typically too much heat as opposed to not enough heat. This is especially true in smaller camps and cottages, and can depend to a large extent on the layout of the cottage and the natural air circulation.

In addition, the rule of thumb generally applied to wood burning is to buy the smallest stove to fit your heating needs and burn it hot. That helps avoid the buildup of creosote and the subsequent danger of chimmney fires.

Conventional woodstoves, which is what we use at our cottage, require a fair bit of structure. You need a chimney for one thing, which can be expensive.

Space Requirements

Depending on the stove and it’s location, you will need space. While it varys depending on individual stoves, woodstoves typically need clearance from combustibles.

This usually means installing some kind of fireproof pad for the stove to sit on, plus adding fireproof materials and an airspace behind them to the walls. You also need a fireproof hearth of some sort in front of the wood burner.

It’s very do-able, but it can take up quite a bit of space in a small area. Also, when it heats up, you are not going to want to be sitting right beside a woodstove, you’re going to need room to sit back from it.

When you add in the distance our woodstove takes about 16 square feet out of our living room area where it is installed. I figure we stay about four feet from the woodstove on all sides when sitting around.

Zero Clearance Fireplace

But all is not lost. There have been some amazing innovations in home energy in the past 20 years, including something called, “zero clearance fireplaces”.

These can be installed and used inside wood-framed walls close to flammable materials. Zero Clearance Fireplaces are usually pre-manufactured units that are made for installation without typical masonry hearths, chimmneys etc.

Zero Clearance Fireplaces are what the name suggests. They don’t require a lot of space around them for safe installation, nor do they usually require a large hearth in front.

However, regardless of what they claim, in my opinion, if it burns wood, and you open a door to put firewood in the fireplace, you should have a fireproof hearth of some sort in front of the opening.

Typically zero clearance fireplaces are made with a double-walled metal box. That box traps air and provides insulation from the surrounding materials. Zero clearance fireplaces usually draw air from the outside through a pipe designed to bring in the necessary amount of air for combustion.

Unlike traditional fireplaces, zero clearance fireplace is an efficient fireplace that makes the most of the wood to maximize the heat you can obtain.

Fan Forced Air Circulation

Zero Clearance Fireplaces usually have a fan forced system to push warm air into the room similar to the fans on some conventional woodstoves.

As the saying goes, where there is fire there is smoke…or something like that. Usually these fireplaces vent smoke from the fire through a pipe that connects directly to the firebox and then to the outside.

Depending on the installation and type of fireplace, the size of the chimmney may not necessarily be a large for a zero clearance fireplace.

Wendy loves to split firewood for the camp!!
"wood chopper"

Vent Pipes and Chimmney

The type of vent pipe or chimmney you will need with a zero clearance fireplace depends on the design of your home and where the exhausted smoke travels. You don’t want it turning the exterior of your house siding black, nor do you want it exhausting near where you may be sitting or working outdoors.

Also, because of the efficiency of some of these stoves, and depending on the type of wood burned, the amount of smoke produced can differ.

There are also models that are described as “vent free” which to be honest, I am not sure about. Your best bet is to discuss this option with your woodstove retailer or manufacturer.

Depending on the particular fireplace, there are available options that can make these types of wood burner particularly useful. For example, some have heat exhaust fans that allow the warm air from the fire to be exhausted outside, thus providing you with the ambiance of a wood fire without the heat.

Most have a type of ‘thermostat’ that you can set to control the amount of combustion air into the stove which regulates how hot it burns.

Speaking of Air

Speaking of “air” these fireplaces either pull fresh combustion air in from the room, often from floor height, while others have a vent pipe to the outdoors that brings the combustion air inside the stove. That is an important feature to discuss with the installer/retailer. Woodburning appliances can actually ‘suck’ the oxygen out of a room if they are not sized for the room and vented properly. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.

Expert Installation

I know that cottagers are often do-it-yourselfers but this is one time when I really don’t recommend that approach. I think in the long run having the fireplace installed by a professional is the wise choice. They will insure it is set up properly, address all your concerns and ensure it will work at maximum efficiency.

WETT Certification

Depending on the size and design of your cottage, a zero clearance wood fireplace might be an asset. While manufacturers of zero clearance fireplaces make them available in do it yourself kits, Again, I would highly recommend you have an expert do the installation and have the installation WETT certified.

If you install any wood burning device it should be Wood Energy Technology Transfer Inc. (WETT Inc.) certified to ensure it satisfies your insurance company requirements and, most importantly, to keep you and your family safe. (I cannot afford to have anything happen to you, my only reader)

Propane and Natural Gas Versus Wood

I should note that the above applies to a wood burning zero clearance fireplace. You can also install these fireplaces that burn propane or natural gas.

Propane and gas fireplaces somewhat different than a wood burner and some models called “vent free” don’t require a vent or chimmney, or less of a chimmney than is necessary for wood burning.

The absence of a vents, both for bringing air in and pushing it out, make them less expense than vented fireplaces. It also means you can install a vent free zero clearance fireplace in almost any room in the cottage, including bedrooms.

There is something to be said for not having to deal with firewood, cutting, splitting, stacking, drying, etc. Plus there is the constant need to add fuel in the form of firewood.

The absence of the need for firewood means natural gas and propane fueled stoves are good in the sense that you don’t have to cut, dry, stack firewood. However, you will need a natural gas line connection or propane tanks etc.

Not all cottage areas have natural gas availability and propane can be a nuisance, as well as downright scary sometimes.

We have an oil burning stove in our home, it is efficient and essentially trouble free, no electricity needed, no wood to cut, similar to gas and propane. It’s good, and I speak very well of it.

However having an oil burner also means we have a 200 gallon oil tank. These days, oil tanks beside water courses like lakes and rivers can be an expensive nightmare in the event of an oil leak.


In conclusion, I hope you appreciate how I can take something I essentially know very little about and turn it into a 1500 word essay, Ha Ha !! Researching this has been an interesting way to spend the afternoon learning something new. I want to thank Dianne, one of our readers, who emailed me asking me what I knew about these types of fireplaces.

Feasible Option

I think that in terms of wood heat at the cottage, zero clearance fireplaces might be a very feasible option. However, because zero clearance fireplaces are, at least in my mind, quite technical in terms of proper setup, I think you need to discuss options with a supplier to determine if they are a good fit for your individual application.

Below I have included a couple links to additional information regarding zero clearance fireplaces and wood burning applications in general.

More Information On Zero Clearance Fireplaces

Here is a brochure detailing a Zero Clearance Fireplace – Kozy Heat

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has produced a very useful publication about residential wood heating. It is available for download(pdf) at no cost, here: A Guide To Residential Wood Heating

Lots of useful wood buring info available here too:Woodheat Info

Loon Picture:

>Wilkipedia Creative Commons-John Picken
Loon with chicks:

>Wilkipedia Creative Commons Pete Markham

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