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My house currently has a gas fireplace with (as far as I can tell) a metal firebox and a metal flue running up a non-masonry chimney. Are there any options available to me to convert this fireplace to wood-burning? This isn't out of a desire for increased efficiency, just a personal preference for the flame and smell of wood instead of gas.

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You may be able to install a wood burning stove with just a few modifications, but if you want a fireplace you'll need a proper chimney. –  Tester101 Oct 11 '12 at 13:33
    
Step 1: Verify that your locality allows this. In many areas, you are prohibited by law from creating new wood-burning fireplaces. –  Matthew Oct 11 '12 at 16:40
    
@MatthewPK: Thanks, while I appreciate the heads up, this question is about the logistics and physical feasibility, not legality. For what it's worth, there are no such restrictions where I am. –  Adam Robinson Oct 11 '12 at 17:10
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2 Answers 2

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There is no way to convert a gas fireplace to burn wood, unless you are very lucky and the gas fireplace is an insert in a properly functioning solid fuel fireplace (in which case you basically just remove the insert, and have the fireplace inspected).

In situations like this, you have a couple options.

Install a Solid Fuel Stove

This option will require the least amount of work, though can still be quite expensive and time consuming.

You'll have to follow all local codes that deal with this type of project, but for this example we'll use National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards (NFPA 211 Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances).

Clearances

You'll need 36" clearance from combustible materials on all sides (top, left, right, front, and back).

Floor protection

You'll need a floor protector under the unit, that extends 18" in all directions (except up/down, that would just be silly).

Listed Stoves

The floor protection requirements will be provided by the manufacturer, for listed stoves.

Unlisted Stoves

For unlisted stoves, the floor protection requirements are determined by the length of the legs on the unit.

0" - 2"

Stove must be placed on non-combustible floor.

2" - 6"

4" hollow masonry laid to provide air circulation through the layer, covered with 24-gauge sheet metal.

6" and Greater

Closely spaced masonry not less than 2", covered with 24-gauge sheet metal.

Reducing clearances

There are ways to reduce the clearances, by installing special materials around the stove. Check your local codes for methods to reduce clearances.

Stovepipe

You'll need 18" clearance around the stove pipe, as well as a stovepipe thimble where the stovepipe passes through walls/ceilings.

Thimble

Chimney

If you don't have a proper masonry chimney to attach the stovepipe to, you'll have to use a factory built metal (A.K.A. prefabricated, Class A, all-fuel) chimney. You likely won't be able to use the same pipe used by the old gas fireplace. You also don't want to connect the stovepipe to the chimney used by your other gas appliances (furnace, water heater, etc.).

Build a masonry fireplace

If you've got the cash and time, you could have a proper masonry chimney/fireplace built (or build it yourself). This option will require modifications to the building structure, lots of masonry skills, a healthy bank account, and a good bit of time.

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This was what I suspected. If what I'm going for is the aesthetic value of a wood fireplace and not to use it as a significant heating source, would a wood stove (or other solid fuel stove) be something I should look at? –  Adam Robinson Oct 11 '12 at 17:12
    
Wood stoves are more for heat than anything else, unless you like watching fire trapped in a small box. –  Tester101 Oct 11 '12 at 17:22
    
I was lucky enough to have a true fireplace that simply had a gas insert installed. I ended up buying something at the local hardware store that allowed me to simply use the gas line as a starter for the wood. Works great and while I do enjoy watching fire in a box I personally prefer the sound that you get from burning wood vs a gas fireplace. –  Jared Oct 11 '12 at 20:08
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Wood fires burn much hotter than gas and put up sparks, soot, and other sediment as well. You will probably have to install a new chimney and use a smaller box to have greater clearance/insulation to the surrounding wall.

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