Nothing says cozy like a fireplace during the wintertime, especially if, like me, your toes are perpetually cold from November until February. But aside from being able to light a gas fire with a match, I had no clue what the fireplace installation process entailed until I caught up with HMI Fireplace Shops on a job this fall.
I was surprised to find just one installer from HMI when I arrived at the jobsite, a lakeside property in Hollister. That installer was Dave Newland, who liked to joke around and could use a saw better than anyone I’ve met. When I asked him how long he’d been in the business, he said, “This is my second job, and the first one went really bad.” It took me a minute to catch onto his dry sense of humor. In reality, Newland is a 30-year veteran of the industry.
The first thing he taught me? That a heat stove, or a zero clearance unit, is a type of fireplace that doesn’t require a buffer zone like a traditional brick fireplace and can be ventless or vented. Vented stoves have a flue similar to a chimney, but ventless stoves do not. Turns out I was there to observe the installation of a vented stove.
“Some love it,” Newland says of the ventless stove. “Some hate it.” Overall, he says vented units are more popular, but they are also more expensive.
The owners previously had a ventless stove in their dining room for years but decided to replace it because of a greasy residue it left on the walls and ceiling. The shiny new replacement, a Lopi Northfield cast iron gas stove, would eventually have a vent from the unit through the wall so exhaust could escape outside.
By the time I arrived, Newland had removed the old stove, which was now sitting in pieces on the deck and in the driveway. The bottom portion of the new stove was inside, and Newland was determining where to saw into the wall by measuring the height and diameter of the flue. With a divider and pencil, he drew a circle to match the thickness of the flue, then used a power saw to cut through the drywall. A knife quickly cut through some insulation padding, and then came the more challenging part of determining where to saw the outside of the house so the holes aligned.
To solve this problem, Newland started by drilling a screw through the outer siding at the center of the hole he had just made. He was then able to draw another circle on the outside of the house based on the end of the screw. Next, he cut the vinyl siding and wooden substrate using the power saw, and there was a perfect hole all the way through the wall. “Thank god I’m in the same spot,” Newland joked.
After that, he started attaching all the pieces of the flue and putting them in place. Once finished, the double-wall flue pulls air from outdoors at the same time that exhaust leaves the unit through the inner tube, eliminating the need to clean the exhaust. Finally, it was time to connect the gas line and add the finishing touches.
HMI Fireplace Shops has a wide array of unit styles perfect for rustic cabins and sleek, modern abodes.
The Bells and Whistles
Once Newland arranged the hand-painted logs within the stove, he took a ball of brown fiber and started brushing it around the logs with a metal brush. Not expecting this, I asked him what this was all about. Newland told me the fiber is actually ceramic rock wool, a material similar to insulation but without the glass typically found in insulation. The properties allow the wool to slowly burn and recreate the glowing appearance of a fire’s embers. With the door and top securely in place, Newland discussed the remote control and all of the settings available on this particular model, including various flame settings, temperature control and a full-time or intermittent pilot. (Pro tip: Use compressed air to clean out pilots annually.) “Electric has evolved,” he says. “It’s amazing what they’ve done with the technology. That’s what makes this job fun.”
The stove was a far cry from the fireplace of my childhood, but Newland was right: It was pretty amazing that one machine could have so many options. Sitting on a couch engrossed in a good book with a cup of cocoa in hand, you might not even be able to tell the difference.