Types of Wood Burning Fireplaces

January 7, 2020

Key Differences in Wood Fireplaces Explained

When doing research for a new wood burning fireplace you may come across many different terms and it can be very confusing. Isn’t a fireplace just a fireplace? Sure, a freestanding wood stove and fireplace are very different but what the heck is an insert? What is the difference between a decorative fireplace and an EPA certified fireplace? Or what about the difference between catalytic stoves vs non-catalytic stoves?

Not to worry we are here to help – below we explain what the difference between each type of wood fireplace (in plain English!) and explain some of the key technologies that help differentiate between models.

Don’t have the time? Skip to our TL;DR Recap! 

Open Masonry Fireplaces

Open masonry fireplaces are probably what comes to mind when you think of a wood fireplace. These fireplaces are open and usually made with some sort of brick, stone, or masonry. If your home was built prior to the 1980’s chances are you have an open masonry fireplace. Open fireplaces are highly inefficient for heating, produce lots of smoke and particulate matter, and can vent noxious gasses or smells into your home.

Wood Fireplace Inserts

Wood fireplace inserts are sealed fireboxes that are inserted or placed inside an existing masonry fireplace. They use the existing masonry as framing and the chimney to run venting – keeping installation costs low and fully utilizing existing structures.
Wood fireplace inserts turn old inefficient open fireplaces into highly efficient heating systems. Wood inserts will typically be used with a blower to push the warm air even further into the home.

Wood inserts are perfect for quick and easy upgrades that can transform a room and homes heating capabilities with very minimal renovations required.

Wood Stoves

Wood Stoves are a freestanding wood fireplace that can act as the sole heat source for many homes – even in the harshest climates. Wood burning stoves can produce very large amounts of heat and heat very large spaces.

Typically, wood stoves are installed according to manufacturer clearances and are required to be installed either on a concrete slab or hearth pad. Wood stoves are vented vertically with double walled pipe that goes up and out of the home.

Wood stoves are perfect for large spaces, cabins or homes, or for places that do not have access to gas and may lose power frequently during the winter. Wood Stoves have been around for hundreds of years and are truly a fantastic way to heat your entire home.

Wood Burning Fireplaces

Wood burning fireplaces are fireboxes that get framed into a wall (with the appropriate non-combustible material surroundings). They differ from open masonry fireplaces in the fact that they don’t require a chimney and instead use venting like wood stoves and fireplace inserts.

Wood fireplaces are perfect for new homes that want to add a fireplace without first needing to build a chimney or masonry fireplace. Today’s wood burning fireplaces are just as efficient and produce just as much heat as their wood stove counterparts, however their uses are more limited to new builds or large-scale renovations.

TL;DR Recap

OK, that was a lot, lets do a quick recap of the four main types of wood Fireplaces.
  1. Open Masonry Fireplaces – Open, inefficient wood fireplaces made of stone or brick typically found in older homes.
  2. Wood Fireplace Inserts – Sealed fireboxes that are inserted inside existing masonry fireplaces to increase heating efficiency
  3. Wood Stoves – High-capacity freestanding fireplaces that are perfect for heating large areas or homes in extra cold/remote areas
  4. Wood Burning Fireplaces – Fireplaces for new builds and renovations that do not require existing masonry or chimney.

Classification of Wood Fireplaces

There are two different classifications for Wood fireplaces – EPA certified and Decorative (EPA Exempt).

EPA Certified Wood Fireplaces

EPA certified wood burning fireplaces refer to any unit (stove, insert, or fireplace) that is intended to be used as a heating source. These units must meet very stringent efficiency and emissions standards. Current EPA standards regulate that units cannot produce more than 2.5 grams/hour of particulate matter. Therefore, manufacturers are producing even more efficient products that burn very cleanly. For comparison, open hearth fireplaces produce upwards of 50.0 grams/hour of particulate matter – that is a 96% reduction in emissions! Learn more about wood fireplace emissions and how Regency is working to not only meet but exceed EPA standards.

Decorative Wood Fireplaces (EPA Exempt)

Decorative wood fireplaces are not intended to be used for heating and therefore are exempt from EPA standards. These fireplaces are used occasionally or for ambiance and are not a key source of heat for the home. As a result, the EPA allows these fireplaces to be exempt from emissions testing. Decorative fireplaces do not have air controls, or blowers. Only wood burning fireplaces are eligible for decorative status whereas stoves and inserts are ineligible as they are inherently heating devices. Decorative fireplaces will have a similar emission footprint as an open masonry fireplace.

Types of Wood Burning Technology

Don’t have the time? Skip to the TL;DR Recap! 

Regular Combustion (Single Burn)

Regular combustion happens in open fireplaces – including open masonry fireplaces, decorative fireplaces, and campfires. In this process the wood burns and releases gasses and particulate matter into the atmosphere and travel up the venting/chimney. The result is a single burn.

These units are highly inefficient, meaning the wood burns very quickly, lots of heat is wasted and there is a high output of particulate matter and smoke.

Catalytic (Double Burn)

Catalytic wood units implement a secondary burn using a catalytic combustor. After the initial burn the gasses and particulate matter released are funneled through a catalyst. This catalyst acts as another ignition source and re-ignites these gasses and particulates. The result is a secondary burn that removes a significant portion of gasses and particulates.
Some EPA certified wood stoves, inserts, and fireplaces will use a catalyst on its own to reduce emissions below the 2.5 grams/hour threshold. Catalytic wood units will burn for a long time at a more stable temperature than their non-catalytic counterparts.

Non-Catalytic (Double Burn)

Non-catalytic units also implement a secondary burn, however instead of using a catalytic combustor they utilize super-heated air that is circulated through air tubes and mixes with the particulate matter and gasses. Once the super-heated oxygen is mixed with these gasses in the firebox it causes them to re-ignite – causing a secondary burn. Again, this results in significantly reduced emissions as the gasses and particulates are being burned again and only the by-products of the secondary burn are released.
Many EPA certified units will use the non-catalytic air tubes method to meet EPA standards. These units may burn cleanly; however, they tend to burn hotter, quicker, and for less duration than comparable catalytic models.

Regency offers a full line of Non-Catalytic Wood Stoves & Non-Catalytic Wood Inserts with our Classic Series.

Hybrid (Triple Burn)

A hybrid unit utilizes both technologies to create the super-efficient burns that utilize every possible ounce of energy available in each log. After initial combustion the gasses and particulate matter is mixed with superheated air to undergo secondary combustion. After the secondary combustion the remaining gasses and particulates are funneled through a catalytic combustor and undergo a third and final combustion. As a result, these units produce immense amounts of heat, are hyper-efficient, and offer the longest burn times of any units.

These hybrid units are not as common as catalytic and non-catalytic models, however for serious wood burners or for people in extremely cold climates, this is the technology for you. With Hybrid wood stoves or inserts you will burn less wood, enjoy more heat, and light your fire less often with long overnight burns.

Regency offers a robust lineup of Hybrid Wood Stoves and Hybrid Wood inserts with both our Cascades and Pro-Series lines featuring innovative Eco-Boost triple burn technology.

TL;DR Recap

  • Regular Combustion (Single Burn) – Traditional open fires such as campfires or open-masonry fires – produce lots of particulates and are highly inefficient.
  • Catalytic (Double Burn) – Reburns gasses and particulate matter with a catalytic combustor for a more efficient and clean burn.
  • Non-Catalytic (Double Burn) - Reburns gasses and particulate matter by mixing with super-heated air for a more efficient and clean burn.
  • Hybrid (Triple Burn) – Reburns gasses and particulates two times, once with super-heated air and once with a catalytic combustor for highly efficient and very clean burns.

What are the most Expensive Wood Fireplaces?

Although costs will vary dramatically across an entire wood line, typically the most expensive units will be the extra-large wood fireplaces. These units require more involved installation and finishing materials in addition to the price of the unit. On the opposite side of the spectrum the most affordable wood burning fireplace is most likely a small non-catalytic fireplace insert – something that will make an existing masonry fireplace more efficient and produce enough heat for a small home or medium room but doesn’t need to overcome extreme temperatures or large volumes of space to heat.

Changeouts & Rebate Programs

Did you know that most cities & states will have rebate and changeout programs for older wood burning fireplaces? Typically, these programs offer rebate savings to incentivize homeowners to upgrade their old inefficient wood fireplaces to new EPA certified wood or gas fireplaces.
See a list of rebate programs or alternatively you can just Google “Woodstove changeout program” in your area to find your local rebates!

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