Fireplaces/Stoves with Proper Ventilation

Scope Images
Outside air is provided directly to the fireplace
Outside air is provided directly to the fireplace
Scope

If fireplaces are installed, ensure that ventilation air is provided directly to the fireplace and conduct combustion safety testing to ensure the fireplace will not be backdrafted by other exhaust fans in the home.

  • Meet applicable code requirements for the installed fireplace, woodstove, pellet stove, or masonry heater.

See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

Description

A fireplace needs adequate combustion air to function properly and safely. Combustion air can come from inside the home or from outdoors. Like other combustion appliances, fireplaces come in three types: natural-draft, mechanically drafted, and direct-vent sealed-combustion. The first two take all or some of their combustion air from the indoor space. The third, direct-vent sealed-combustion, takes 100% of its combustion air directly from outdoors.

A direct-vent fireplace has a dedicated combustion air inlet that ducts air from the outside directly to the fireplace box and tight-fitting glass doors across the face of the fireplace opening to prevent room air from being used as combustion air. Direct vent fireplaces are typically gas fueled. Because a direct-vent sealed-combustion fireplace draws its combustion air directly from outdoors, it is not affected by house air tightness or exhaust fan size.

A direct-vent sealed-combustion fireplace takes its combustion air directly from outside through a dedicated air inlet ducted to the firebox and vents combustion products directly outside

Figure 1. A direct-vent sealed-combustion fireplace takes its combustion air directly from outside through a dedicated air inlet ducted to the firebox and vents combustion products directly outside. Tightly fitting glass doors (not shown) cover the firebox combustion chamber and prevent the fireplace from back-drafting.

The mechanically drafted fireplace uses an exhaust fan attached to the top of the chimney. The exhaust fan pulls combustion gases up and out of the chimney while the fireplace is in use. Some, if not all, of the combustion air typically comes from the conditioned space. Mechanically drafted fireplaces are less affected by building air tightness or indoor exhaust fans but they do have the ability to backdraft other naturally drafted appliances.

Natural-draft fireplaces are the most affected by the combination of building air tightness and mechanical exhaust systems. When a natural-draft fireplace is in full operation or at maximum burn, the natural draft of the fireplace will be hard to overcome; it can move as much as 400 CFM of air up the chimney. Because of the density expansion factor (about 1.6), only about 250 CFM is actually being exhausted out of the building. Nevertheless, it is possible for a natural-draft fireplace, at full burn, to backdraft other natural-draft-vented combustion appliances in the home.

However, when the chimney is cooler, such as when a fire is just getting started in a cold fireplace or when a fire has burned down or is on a low flame, the natural-draft fireplace is more vulnerable to being backdrafted. During these conditions, a small kitchen or bath exhaust fan (50 CFM) could backdraft the combustion pollutants from the fireplace into the home. To avoid this, install a dedicated combustion air duct to bring outside air directly to the fireplace for combustion air and select a fireplace with tight-fitting glass doors.

For wood-burning stoves and other appliances EPA implemented the Residential Wood Heater New Source   Performance Standard (NSPS) and two voluntary programs - the Fireplace Program and the Hydronic Heater Program to help improve wood-burning devices and substantially reduce pollutant emissions to the outdoor air while maintaining energy efficiency.

EPA-Certified wood stoves meet the requirements of the NSPS, which has governed the manufacture and sale of wood stoves and certain wood-burning fireplace inserts based on emissions testing since 1988. EPA-Qualified appliances, such as wood fireplaces and wood hydronic heaters, meet emission levels set by EPA’s Voluntary Fireplace and Hydronic Heater Programs. An EPA-certified appliance must adhere to regulatory emission requirements established by EPA, while appliances that meet the voluntary emission standards set by EPA are considered "EPA-qualified."

EPA-Certified wood stoves typically use up to one-third less firewood than older, less-efficient stoves. When wood is not completely burned, a complex mixture of gases and particles is created and emitted as wood smoke. In EPA-certified stoves, most of the wood is burned, resulting in more heat for the home from the same amount of wood. EPA-certified wood stoves are designed with better insulation and improved airflow, which promotes more efficient combustion. This overall improved combustion process reduces the risks of producing pollutants from incomplete combustion, which could leak from the appliance itself directly into the indoor environment. Additionally, as more gases and particles are burned inside the stove, less smoke and fewer chemical and particulate pollutants are emitted from the vent stack or chimney into the ambient outdoor atmosphere. This helps improve outdoor air quality and reduces the amount of pollutants that could be drawn back into the home (or neighboring homes) through imperfect air barriers or other openings in the building envelope.

EPA maintains and periodically revises the list of EPA-Certified and EPA-Qualified wood-burning appliances to help housing professionals and homeowners make better purchasing decisions. The listed models have been tested and shown to burn cleaner and more efficiently than other, similar models. Any wood stove or fireplace that meets the requirements of the EPA Certified or EPA Qualified designation are identified with metal tags. See the References/Additional Information section below for lists of EPA-certified wood stoves and EPA-qualified wood hydronic heaters and wood fireplaces.

The Washington State Department of Ecology publishes Wood Stoves, Fireplaces, Pellet Stoves, and Masonry Heaters along with a list of wood stoves compliant with Washington state standards.

How to Test for Proper Ventilation of Natural-Draft Fireplaces

  1. If installing a natural-draft fireplace, install a dedicated combustion air duct that brings outside air directly into the firebox. Install a fireplace that has tight-fitting glass doors across the face of the fireplace opening.
  2. The rater will verify that the total net rated exhaust flow of the two largest exhaust fans is ≤ 15 CFM per 100 ft2 of occupiable space.
    • Calculate the total occupiable space of the house. Per ASHRAE 62.2-2010, occupiable space is any enclosed space inside the pressure boundary and intended for human activities, including, but not limited to, all habitable spaces, toilets, closets, halls, storage and utility areas, and laundry areas.
    • Calculate the net rated exhaust flow of the two largest exhaust fans. Per ASHRAE 62.2-2010 and published addenda, the term “net-exhaust flow” is defined as flow through an exhaust system minus the compensating outdoor air flow through any supply system that is interlocked to the exhaust system. Add together the rated exhaust flow of the two largest exhaust fans in the home. Subtract the air flow of any dedicated supply ventilation.
    • Verify the total net rated exhaust flow is less than or equal to 15 CFM per 100 ft2 of occupiable space:
      15 CFM per 100 ft2 (Largest Fan Rated Flow) CFM + (Second Largest Fan Rated Flow) CFM - (Supply Outdoor Air Intake) CFM ) / (Occupiable Space) ft.2

Or, the rater will verify that the pressure differential is ≤ -5 Pa using BPI’s or RESNET’s worst-case depressurization test procedure. Raters shall use either the Building Performance Institute’s (BPI’s) Combustion Safety Test Procedure for Vented Appliances or RESNET’s Interim Guidelines for Combustion Appliance Testing & Writing Work Scope and be BPI-certified or RESNET-certified to follow the protocol. If using RESNET’s worst-case depressurization protocol to evaluate fireplaces, the blower door shall not be set to exhaust 300 CFM to simulate the fireplace in operation, but the remainder of the protocol shall be followed. Note that the fireplace damper should be closed during the test.

Ensuring Success

If a fireplace is installed, make sure it has adequate ventilation. If the fireplace is naturally drafted, the rater must verify that the total net rated exhaust flow of the two largest exhaust fans is <= 15 CFM per 100 ft2 of occupiable space, or the rater must verify that the pressure differential is <= -5 Pa using BPI’s or RESNET’s worst-case depressurization test procedure.

Climate

No climate specific information applies.

Videos
Publication Date
Author(s)
Washington Department of Ecology
Organization(s)
Washington Department of Ecology
Description
This video shows home owners how to operate their wood stoves more efficiently to get more heat with up to one-third less wood..
CAD

Compliance

The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

DOE Zero Energy Ready Home (Revision 07)

Exhibit 1 Mandatory Requirements.
Exhibit 1, Item 1) Certified under the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Program or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program.
Exhibit 1, Item 6) Certified under EPA Indoor airPLUS.

EPA Indoor airPLUS (Revision 04)

5.1 Combustion Equipment Located in Conditioned Spaces.

  • Mechanically draft or direct vent all gas- and oil-fired furnaces, boilers and water heaters located in conditioned spaces. Naturally drafted equipment is allowed in Climate Zones 1-3 if the Rater has followed the combustion safety test procedures in Section 805 of the RESNET Standard (ENERGY STAR requirement).
  • Fireplaces that are not mechanically drafted or direct-vented to the outdoors must meet maximum allowed exhaust flow (ENERGY STAR requirement).
  • Do not install any unvented combustion space-heating or decorative appliances within conditioned space.
  • Ensure that all fireplaces and other fuel-burning and spaceheating appliances located in conditioned spaces are vented to the outdoors and supplied with adequate combustion and ventilation air according to the manufacturers' installation instructions.
  • Meet the following energy efficiency and emissions standards and restrictions for all fireplaces and other fuel-burning and space-heating appliances located in conditioned spaces: 
    • Traditional masonry fireplaces designed for open fires are not permitted, with the exception of "masonry heaters" as defined by ASTM E1602 and section 2112.1 of the 2012 International Building Code (i.e., fireplaces engineered to store and release substantial portions of heat generated from a rapid burn).
    • Factory-built wood-burning fireplaces shall meet the certification requirements of UL 127 and shall have tightfitting, gasketed glass doors and a dedicated outside air supply. Advisory: Factory-built wood burning fireplaces qualified under EPA's BurnWise Program are recommended. 
    • Wood stove and fireplace inserts as defined in section 3.8 of UL 1482 shall meet the certification requirements of that standard, AND they shall meet the emission requirements of the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for new residential wood heaters.
    • Pellet stoves shall meet the requirements of ASTM E1509 AND they shall meet the emission requirements of the EPA New Source Performance Standards for new residential wood heaters.
    • Natural gas and propane fireplaces shall have a permanently affixed glass front or gasketed door, and be power vented or direct vented in accordance with ANSI Z21.88/CSA 2.33. Decorative gas logs as defined in ANSI Z21.84/CSA 2.33 are not permitted.

Note: Unfinished basements and crawlspaces (except raised pier foundations with no walls) and attached garages that are airsealed to the outside and intended for use as work or living space, are considered “conditioned spaces” for the purpose of this requirement.

ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, Version 3/3.1 (Rev. 09)

National Rater Field Checklist

HVAC System.
10. Combustion Appliances.
10.2 Fireplaces located within the home’s pressure boundary are mechanically drafted or direct-vented. Alternatives in Footnote 59.55, 56, 58

Footnote 55) The pressure boundary is the primary enclosure boundary separating indoor and outdoor air. For example, a volume that has more leakage to outside than to conditioned space would be outside the pressure boundary.

Footnote 56) Per the 2009 International Mechanical Code, a direct-vent appliance is one that is constructed and installed so that all air for combustion is derived from the outdoor atmosphere and all flue gases are discharged to the outside atmosphere; a mechanical draft system is a venting system designed to remove flue or vent gases by mechanical means consisting of an induced draft portion under non-positive static pressure or a forced draft portion under positive static pressure; and a natural draft system is a venting system designed to remove flue or vent gases under nonpositive static vent pressure entirely by natural draft.

Footnote 58) Naturally drafted fireplaces are allowed within the home’s pressure boundary if the Rater has verified that the total net rated exhaust flow of the two largest exhaust fans (excluding summer cooling fans) is ≤ 15 CFM per 100 sq. ft. of occupiable space when at full capacity. If the net exhaust flow exceeds the allowable limit, it shall be reduced or compensating outdoor airflow provided. Per ASHRAE 62.2-2010, the term “net rated exhaust flow” is defined as flow through an exhaust fan minus the compensating outdoor airflow through any supply fan that is interlocked to the exhaust fan. Per ASHRAE 62.2-2010, the term “occupiable space” is defined as any enclosed space inside the pressure boundary and intended for human activities, including, but not limited to, all habitable spaces, toilets, closets, halls, storage and utility areas, and laundry areas. See Footnote 44 for the definition of “habitable spaces”.

Please see the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes Implementation Timeline for the program version and revision currently applicable in in your state.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 211: Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances, 2013 Edition

This standard by the National Fire Protection Association provides guidelines for construction projects involving chimneys, fireplaces, venting systems, and solid fuel-burning appliances.

EPA New Source Performance Standards

Federal emission standards established by EPA as required by Section 111 of the Clear Air Act. These standards set limits for source categories that cause or contribute significantly to air pollution. These standards are intended to promote use of the best air pollution control technologies, taking into account the cost of such technology and any other non-air quality, health, and environmental impact and energy requirements.

American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 62.2-2010, ASHRAE 62.2-2013, and ASHRAE 62.2-2016

Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings.  The standard applies to spaces intended for human occupancy in single-family homes and multifamily homes that are three stories or less, including manufactured and modular homes.  The standard provides minimum acceptable requirements for mechanical and natural ventilation in these spaces.

2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

Wood-burning fireplaces should have doors with gaskets and should have outdoor combustion air.

2012, 2015, and 2018 IECC

Wood-burning fireplaces should have tight-fitting flue dampers and should have outdoor combustion air.

Retrofit: 

2009, 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2021 IECC

Section R101.4.3 (Section R501.1.1 in 2015, 2018, and 2021 IECC). Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with this code. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018 IECC

Chapter 10 of the 2009 IRC describes fireplace and chimney requirements, including clearances, flues, and seismic reinforcement. Section R1006 specifies that fireplaces must be equipped with an exterior air supply that brings air from outside or from a vented attic or crawlspace directly to the firebox for combustion, unless the room is mechanically ventilated in a way that maintains neutral or positive air pressure in the room.

Retrofit: 

2009, 2012, 20152018, and 2021 IRC

Section N1101.3 (Section N1107.1.1 in 2015 and 2018, N1109.1 in 2021 IRC). Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with this code. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

Appendix J regulates the repair, renovation, alteration, and reconstruction of existing buildings and is intended to encourage their continued safe use.

This Retrofit tab provides information that helps installers apply this “new home” guide to improvement projects for existing homes. This tab is organized with headings that mirror the new home tabs, such as “Scope,” “Description,” “Success,” etc. If there is no retrofit-specific information for a section, that heading is not included.

Existing Homes

When conducting renovation work in older homes, identify any fireplaces or wood stoves located in the home and determine whether they are natural draft, mechanically drafted (with an exhaust fan at the top of the chimney), or direct vent (having an outside air source that brings outside air directly to the firebox). If the home has natural draft fireplaces and other renovation work will be done in the home that includes air sealing and insulating, a home energy rater should test the fireplaces after the renovation work is completed (as described in the Description tab) to verify that the fireplace’s ability to exhaust will not be overcome by other depressurization forces in the home. Consider upgrades to the fireplace such as installing an outside air vent and tight-fitting doors or a sealed combustion fireplace insert. These changes would improve the safety and efficiency of the fireplace.  

For more information on combustion appliances, please see the assessment guide, Pre-Retrofit Assessment of Combustion Appliances.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Standard Work Specifications has additional information on combustion appliances.

See Compliance tab. 

More Info.

Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

Case Studies
References and Resources*
Author(s)
International Code Council
Organization(s)
ICC
Publication Date
Description
2009 edition of code establishing minimum regulations for mechanical systems, including heating, cooling, ventilation, exhaust, ducts, fireplaces, combustion and hydronic systems, using prescriptive and performance-related provisions.
Author(s)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Organization(s)
EPA
Publication Date
Description
Document outlining specifications that were developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize new homes equipped with a comprehensive set of indoor air quality (IAQ) features.
Author(s)
Washington State Department of Ecology
Organization(s)
Washington State Department of Ecology
Publication Date
Description
This web site has information about burn bans, which wood burning devices are legal in Washington, why wood smoke is harmful to health, and how to reduce the smoke from your wood burning device.
Author(s)
U.S. Department of Energy,
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Organization(s)
DOE,
NREL
Publication Date
Description
Website providing standard performance specifications for common residential retrofit measures and related health and safety measures.
Author(s)
EPA
Organization(s)
EPA
Publication Date
Description
A list of EPA-certified wood-burning appliances for home heating for a range of budgets.
Author(s)
EPA
Organization(s)
EPA
Publication Date
Description
A list of EPA federal regulations regarding stationary sources of air pollution.
*For non-dated media, such as websites, the date listed is the date accessed.
Contributors to this Guide

The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

Building Science Measures
Building Science-to-Sales Translator

Proper Ventilated Fireplaces = Ventilated Fireplace

Image(s)
Technical Description

Ventilated fireplaces typically burn natural gas or propane and use a vent to bring outside combustion air directly into the firebox. These fireplaces have tight-fitting glass doors across their face to prevent conditioned room air from being used as combustion air and then expelled through the flue. Consuming room air for combustion may deplete oxygen levels in the home and pull conditioned air out of the home. Exhaust gases are vented up a chimney or out a side wall. These closed-combustion systems are much less likely to experience spillage of combustion gases into the home. This improves both health and comfort while eliminating odors.

Ventilated Fireplace
Sales Message

Ventilated fireplaces help ensure dangerous by-products from burning fossil fuel cannot back-draft into homes. What this means to you is your family can breathe better every day knowing your home is equipped to help manage a critical respiratory contaminant. Wouldn’t you agree protecting health is too important to ignore in new homes?

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