Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
The ambiance of a crackling fire in the fireplace, warming up your home on cold winter nights, is unquestionably heartwarming. The question is, should you only install a fireplace on an exterior wall?
A fireplace need not be on an exterior wall. It can also go on an interior wall as long as there’s sufficient ventilation and insulation to keep smoke from entering the space. However, installing fireplaces on exterior walls is preferred as it makes ventilation easier.
Interior walls are hard-to-vent locations. For this reason, you’ll likely spend more on fireplace installation, which includes gas line installation, ventilation, and labor. For more on this, keep reading.
Can a Fireplace Be on an Interior Wall?
A fireplace can go on an interior wall, given there’s a safe route for smoke and combustion byproducts to escape and a large enough wall space to meet installation requirements.
Ensure the fireplace you build or install is code-compliant for assured safety, structural integrity, sustainability, and affordability. Some examples of fireplace construction and safety guidelines include:
- Install factory-built fireplaces and chimneys per the manufacturer’s instructions included in the listing or labeling.
- Masonry chimneys require a liner made of a material suitable for the type of appliance connected, according to the terms of the appliance listing and the manufacturer’s instructions.
- The minimum depth of a masonry fireplace firebox should be 20 inches (50.8 cm).
Additionally, only use the right fuel for your fireplace—not all materials are suitable for burning indoors. For example, some types of coal produce excessive amounts of smoke and soot that could be hazardous to your health. Lastly, arrange for a safety inspection of your installed fireplace to ensure it’s in safe working order.
If installing an advanced factory-built fireplace, it’s best to hire the services of trained professionals. However, installing a basic fireplace yourself is doable with the right tools and easy-to-follow instructions. If you decide on the DIY route, ideally, you want the fireplace to go on an outer wall rather than an interior one, as it will be easier to vent.
Can You Put a Wood-Burning Fireplace on an Internal Wall?
Wood-burning fireplaces require vertical venting through the roof. And according to the Wood Heat Organization, a chimney must penetrate the highest part of a vaulted ceiling for enough standby draft. For most house designs, this calls for locating fireplaces and their chimneys on interior walls.
Draft refers to the pressure difference between the outside air and the flue gasses inside the chimney. It ensures a fireplace performs properly, where hot exhaust gasses rise to be displaced by denser ambient air for combustion.
When no fire is burning in the fireplace, there’s still a low level of chimney draft. Without this standby draft, there may be a reversal of gas flow, resulting in cold air and smoke entering the house.
Fireplaces You Can Install on Interior Walls
Advances in engineering have made it possible to install fireplaces on interior walls with adequate venting. Here are some types of fireplaces you can safely put in your interior wall:
- Electric fireplaces
- Gas fireplaces with built-in ventilation systems
- Bioethanol fireplaces
- Wood-burning fireplaces with external air intake
These fireplaces often feature a built-in fan system to help circulate the heated air so that the space occupied by the fireplace is evenly heated. The heat spreads without the accompanying smoke, which minimizes potential smoke damage. Additionally, by increasing heat penetration into the room, fireplace blowers help you save on your heating bills.
Many of these fireplaces also come with several features designed to simplify safety. These may include:
- Automated shut-off: this allows you to set a specific timer or temperature for the fireplace to shut off automatically.
- Safety shut-off: a feature that shuts off the fireplace if it’s knocked over.
- Overheat protection: this automatically cuts the power off when temperatures get too high.
Safety features prevent the risk of fires, which can grow large and turn deadly.
Benefits of Installing a Fireplace on an Exterior Wall
Fireplaces today don’t necessarily have to be located on an exterior wall. But this installation practice has its benefits, including:
You can install an air barrier behind fireplaces mounted on exterior walls to keep the hot air within the room by stopping airflow between the interior and outside environments. When used together with insulation, air barriers improve thermal performance for increased fireplace efficiency and reduced energy consumption. Consequently, you can enjoy the warmth of your fireplace for longer while saving money on energy bills.
A fireplace’s purpose is to keep your family warm and home toasty in cold weather. Certain practices can ensure it performs this task safely, but accidents happen. Should a house fire caused by a fireplace occur, it’s less likely to spread to other areas of your home if the fireplace is located on an outer wall.
Positioning a fireplace on an exterior wall allows you to combine visual appeal and functionality in your home design. That’s because it gives more room for design flexibility, even in small spaces. As such, your fireplace can anchor your space beautifully while giving you extra warmth in the winter.
It’s easier to troubleshoot fireplace issues such as chimney blockages or clogged vents when the fireplace is on an exterior wall. As a result, you spend less time, money, and effort maintaining your fireplace to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
Installing your fireplace on an exterior will reduce project costs, as exterior walls are typically more accessible than interior walls. For this reason, installation costs will be lower since you’ll save money on materials and labor without compromising quality and performance.
Whether or not you should have your fireplace on an exterior depends on various factors. For instance, a wood-burning fireplace will function reliably if the chimney is within the highest point of the house envelope. And in most homes, this is on an interior wall.
You also have project costs to consider. Exterior walls are easier to access and, therefore, vent. So installing a fireplace on a perimeter wall will be less costly. Feel free to consult a professional if you need further help deciding where to install your fireplace.
- ICC Digital Codes: 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) – CHIMNEYS AND FIREPLACES
- Wood Heat Organization: Best Practices for Woodburning Fireplace installation
- Performance Systems Development (PSD): Fully-Aligned-Air-Barriers-and-Air-Sealing.pdf
- Burning Log: Electric Fireplaces: A Safe and Efficient Option
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