Zero Clearance Fireplaces

By Charles Wheat - October 2008 Issue

Recently, the word "zero clearance" has become an important marketing buzzword in the hearth industry. This article will seek to explain what zero clearance fireplaces are, how and why they are used, and will outline the benefits to using these fireplaces. It will also provide an overview of zero clearance fireplace types and will explain some tips for decorating and purchasing.


Some companies equate zero clearance fireplaces with and prefabricated fireplace. However, this is not a helpful distinction or definition. Zero clearance fireplaces are more than that. Zero Clearance fireplaces are pre-manufactured fireplaces where the unit or firebox can be placed directly against combustible materials like wood, wall, or paneling. This eliminates the need for a buffer zone and allows the firebox to fit into a much smaller opening. This can be done because the construction and materials of the firebox are such that the outside of the box does not get hot enough to burn other materials.


There are many benefits to using a zero clearance fireplace. The most obvious one and the reason why hearth marketers call the fireplace "zero clearance" is that the space used is much smaller and these fireplaces can be placed in more locations. Builders and homeowners like this. Another benefit is that it reduces the cost of the fireplace installation. There is no need for complex masonry (brick) work to shield other combustible materials from exposure to heat. This decreases the installation time and lowers overall project costs. Another important benefit is that with recent technological advances, zero clearance fireplaces are quite efficient - often much more so than traditional open masonry fireplaces.


There can be some drawbacks for using a zero clearance fireplace. These are not great, but can be important considerations for many people. First, zero clearance fireplaces do not require a hearth or brick around them. This can take away the old fashioned look of the fireplace. Also, if the fireplace is not done correctly, it can look tacky and overly modern. In some cases, it may not be recognizable as a fireplace.


Zero clearance fireplaces come in many different types and sizes. Most common today is a gas based fireplace. However there are wood, pellet, and electric fireplaces of this type. For each of these fireplace types, there are different venting options. However, there is usually no need to an extensive masonry chimney. Most of these fireplaces use a system of ducts and vents that circulate air in and out.


To ensure that the zero clearance fireplace looks good, it will be important to install it in a place that makes sense. Also, with these types of fireplaces, the right types of doors, screens, mantles, and the area around the fireplace make a difference. When purchasing, a person would take all of these elements together and consider how these will look once it is installed.