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Repair and Upgrade of a Pre-Fab / ZC Fireplace

Zero Clearance Wood FireplaceA large percentage of fireplaces built today have a boxed-in chimney with vinyl or wood siding rather than brick, stone, or cement. The reason for the difference is that many homes today have pre-fabricated fireplaces as opposed to masonry fireplaces. Pre-fab fireplaces are also called builder box fireplaces and zero-clearance or ZC fireplaces.

If a homeowner doesn’t specify that they want a masonry fireplace and if the builder is trying to cut costs, what the home typically ends up with is a pre-fab fireplace. These less durable versions have the one most important benefit provided by a traditional fireplace, which is the wonderful ambiance of a fire in the home on wintry days. The similarities end there.

Anyone with a ZC fireplace should be aware that there are safety issues to carefully monitor. It is not unusual for repairs to be needed. For homeowners who want a more efficient fireplace, upgrades are possible.

Components of a Pre-Fab Fireplace

Builder box fireplaces are made with sheet metal, and their metal chimneys are round. When these pre-fab fireplaces are made in a factory, the chimney for it is also made; and the unit is tested and sold together. It is extremely important that the chimney provided with the ZC fireplace is the one used with it, for safety reasons.

For anyone who is unsure what type of fireplace they have, especially since ZC chimneys can have brick or stone installed around them for aesthetic reasons, a look at the damper will provide the answer. The dampers on pre-fab fireplaces are round, whereas masonry chimney dampers are more rectangular.
Another distinguishing difference is that ZC fireplaces frequently have a black metal facing. There may also be large, slatted openings on the fireplace face.

Annual Inspections

ZC fireplaces can be placed just about anywhere in the home, since it is safe to place them near combustible components. They are not durable appliances, however, lasting an average of about 20 years but seldom longer. When used heavily, their life span can be significantly shorter. Professional chimney technicians have the skill and experience to identify signs that a pre-fab fireplace needs important repairs or needs to be replaced. There are sometimes options, such as installing gas or electric logs inside a pre-fab unit.

Common Repairs on Pre-Fab Fireplaces

Chimney Sweep Inspects Chimney SystemSmall repairs are often needed on builder box fireplaces. Typical repairs include the following:
• Holes, cracks, and gouges can develop in the refractory cement and on the side and rear liners and ceramic floors of the fireplaces. Pre-mixed refractory cement can be one type of fix. Alternatively, the panels can be replaced.
• Replacement or repair of the refractory cement liners is often needed.
• The fireplace grate often needs to be replaced.
• The glass fireplace doors sometimes need to be replaced, and it is crucial that the correct replacement model be used.
• Chimney caps may need to be replaced.

Pre-Fab Fireplace Upgrades

By installing a wood-burning fireplace insert or a pellet fireplace insert in a pre-fab fireplace, the appliance can be converted into an efficient source of heat. Some models of ZC fireplaces can also be refit for gas logs.

Contact our chimney professionals for all fireplace and chimney-related needs.

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