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Retrofitting a Direct Vent Fireplace

The 90’s brought us many great things, from Milli Vanilli and inflatable furniture, to fanny packs and crop tops. It also gave us a great generation of fireplaces that warmed our homes as we watched the OJ Simpson car chase. But time has come to replace those fireplaces with newer models that offer higher efficiency, better features, and a more current look. 

Here are a few items to consider when talking with a client who might be looking at a retrofit of their existing direct vent fireplace with a newer model.

Reasons for a Retrofit

There’s a few reasons to update an existing direct vent fireplace, including a visual update, new technology, home automation, and rebate offers. 

Safety

Young families moving into older homes are immediately noticing that an older fireplace poses a variety of safety concerns. Sharp exposed louvers and units without safety screens pose a risk to small children, and replacing those fireplaces with something more family-safe is high on the priority list. 

 Home Efficiency

Along with replacing single pane windows and drafty doors, homeowners should consider their fireplace chase an item to remedy for home efficiency. Modern codes dictate that a chase on an outer wall be properly insulated, and combining this with a high efficiency fireplace can create a great benefit to energy savings. 

 Smaller Footprint

Square footage is becoming more and more valuable, so installing a shallower unit such as the DelRay Linear (only 14 ¼” deep) can help reduce the encroachment on the living space while still providing an impressive fire display. All of these points should be considered along with the most important reason of all: aging gas appliances should be replaced at regular intervals for safety reasons.

Dimensions of the Fireplace and the Fire-space

In addition to the client’s personal preferences, the physical size of the fireplace itself should be considered when speccing out an installation. For instance, a space with a long wall and shorter ceilings might be more suited to a linear fireplace. Whereas taller rooms or a squared wall might be more appropriate with a traditional shaped fireplace.

Dimensions for Retrofits

When the proposition of a retrofit comes into light, significant time and money can be saved if attention is paid to the goal of having the least amount of adjustments made from the exiting installation to the new one. This can be done in a few ways…

Vent Height

For rear vented units, if the vent center on the new unit is the same (within 1/2″) as the old unit, then a lot of installation headaches can be avoided. Generally the same vent exit point can be used as long as new venting and termination is used. Pay close attention to building codes that might have changed since the time the last fireplace was installed, as other adjustments might need to be made to the framing structure.

Vent Size

If the replacement unit is dedicated 5/10 venting then you might have a difficult task using the same vent route as a unit that used 5/8 or 4/7.
Framing & Finishing
Even when taking modern building codes into account, many new fireplace models can be fitted into the existing framing of the previous unit. With this in mind, be sure to check for damage or wear to the current framing and review the clearances for the replacement unit. The fireplace finishing material is generally not salvageable from the previous install. This can be a positive as new developments have permitted many new finishing options, such as wood facing for the DelRay Square and no more requirements for a noncombustible hearth.

C34-DV (our awkward high school photo)
Sorry, there’s just no saving your beige hearth tile

DRSQ38 DelRay Square
No more gold louvers!

Home Owners Associations

Also known as Strata Associations in Canada, HOAs can be a headache for condo owners and installers alike and complicate many larger scale retrofit projects. Items to consider during the quoting process should include:
What’s Behind That Wall?
A project can go off the rails completely if a project is approved, with units on site, and then when the wall is opened up you discover plumbing, or even structural members in the way of your planned install. Best practice is to not provide a quote or suggest a unit for retrofit until you know exactly what is behind the finishing.
Façades
Some HOAs may have requirements for how the fireplace termination looks on the outside of the building. Many times they will insist that the existing termination must be used in order to continue the look of the building, or have specific requirements on the termination paint color. 

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