Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wood Cookstove Clearances

Disclaimer: I am not a woodburning expert.  I do not claim to know everything about the codes for installing woodburning appliances of any nature, so please consult with contractors, building inspectors, fire protection agencies, and your insurance providers before installing any woodburning appliance.

A longtime, faithful blog reader posted a comment this morning, and here is an excerpt:

"While I love the look of the older stoves, I have been leaning towards a new stove due to the smallish space I have in which to place the stove. It is my understanding that greater clearances are required for the older stoves. I note that the pic of the stove in your summer kitchen shows your vintage stove very close to the walls. Can you talk a little about clearances?"

She is quite right that the green and cream Riverside Bakewell is installed very close to the wall in our summer kitchen.  The picture at the top of this blog shows that it is basically up against the wall behind it.  This wall is protected by 1/4" cement board mounted to the studs with ceramic electric fence insulators used as spacers.  There is no drywall behind the wall protection.

This picture shows the wall protection behind the
stove in the summer kitchen better.
However, it is very important to note that we were only able to do this because we do not carry insurance on the summer kitchen.

For the installation of any vintage wood cookstove, the most recent requirements that I have say that the clearance from the stove to any combustible wall (or furniture, etc.) is 36".  The required distance between single-wall stovepipe and combustibles is 18".  These distances can be cut in half by using approved wall protection.

Furthermore, the reader is correct that newer stoves often need lower clearances.  This reason for this is twofold:

1. Most new wood cookstoves are tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratories.  They can establish different clearances for different sides of the stove, etc. 

2. Many new wood cookstoves are equipped with heat shields which are standard parts of the stoves' construction.

Such is the case with our Margin Gem.  The entire rear part of the main body of the stove is covered with a heat shield.  This makes it so that the rear clearance from the back of the Margin Gem to a combustible wall is only 6".  This was a major consideration for us as we chose our stove.

The rear of the Margin Gem.

The Margin Gem in place.
Our contractor fireproofed the wall behind the stove so that we could reduce the clearances to 3", but the stove actually sits nearly five inches from the wall to accommodate the bend in the stovepipe as it makes its way to the chimney.

As I mentioned before, most new stoves are UL listed.  Your home insurer may require that your wood cookstove be UL listed, which would then make it impossible to have a vintage stove, so be sure to look into that before purchasing.

If space is a concern, many great new stove options still exist, so don't give up the dream!

Readers: Please be sure to click on Stephen B.'s informative comment below for valuable additional information.

P.S. (12/28/2013)  It occurred to me to add that stove owners need to exercise some common sense, too.  When I purchased the Qualified range, the installation instructions that came with it said that only 8" of clearance were needed on the right (non-firebox side) of the stove.  This was not a concern in either of the places that it has been installed so far since nothing was that close to the right side of the stove.  However, after operating the stove, it became quite obvious that the 8" listing was for Qualified ranges which were equipped with a reservoir.  I don't believe that 8" would have been at all safe for that stove's right side.


  1. The man at The Antique Stove Hospital, a Rhode Island stove restoration outfit, has this to say about UL listings:

    "Many times an inspector will say a stove must be UL listed. This rule only applies to stove manufactured since Jan. 1, 1981. Any stove made before that time is grandfathered but must be looked over for damage etc. The rules are found under the BOCA codes or the ASME codes, " solid fuel room heaters" in the exemption section at the end."

    The Maine state fire marshal has posted stove installation guidelines which break stoves down into two categories, tested stoves, and older stoves. Clearances for tested stoves are to be the clearances the testing laboratory requires. For older, unlisted stoves, the Maine fire marshal lists standard clearances to be used.

    You may recall from your blog posting of Oct. 31st, I commented that I have a Glenwood C cabinet stove that I will be installing when I remodel the kitchen. I haven't yet approached my insurance company about this stove. I will be calling in the town's code inspector and will install the stove to the Maine Fire Marshal's specification for generic, unlisted stoves and hope that this satisfies the insurance company. I've heated with wood for years and years and fully understand wood stove fire risks. I'll be using grade A, insulated, stainless chimney with substantial combustible clearances as well as lots of protection and regular chimney inspections and cleaning. I don't intend to burn down my house, insurance or not.

    One thing I will also add is that, like reader Mark with his Glenwood Cabinet stove, I too will be building an open pedestal for it - probably more open than the one shown in his pictures for the purposes of floor clearances.

    It turns out that the Maine guidelines for floor protection depend on how long the stove legs are. Stoves with legs of 6 inches or more only need a fireproof, masonry floor covering over a combustible (wood) floor. Legs of 4 to 6 inches require a hollow masonry covering with venting (bricks or blocks with vent cavities, laid on their sides) over a combustible floor while stoves with 2 inches or less of legs require a fully non-combustible floor (a concrete slab or cement board over steel studs. No wood or other combustibles allowed at all.)

    Since my house has wood floors over wood floor joists, and since swapping all that out with completely non-combustible flooring is a tall order, I am going to do a base that basically puts the stove up 6 inches (which is good as it will raise the cook top height to the now-standard 36".) Thus I will be able to argue to the inspector that I just need ordinary masonry laid over my wood floor rather than replacing my flooring all the way down to the joists underneath (in the basement.) I think the existing cabinet below the stove already affords some fire clearance between the fire box and the floor, but I would also assume that any inspector would consider a Glenwood cabinet stove to be a legless stove, hence, I am very glad for reader Mark's pictures.

    Repeating links to Mark's stove, and mine:

    Mark's picture:

    My yet-to-be-installed stove:

    1. Thanks for the excellent and knowledgeable reply, Stephen! Your response has prompted me to do a search of Iowa's code, but I haven't been able to find much yet. I really appreciate the valuable information.

  2. Thanks so much for explaining how your vintage stove is installed in the summer kitchen. I am leaning towards the Gem-Pac because of its reduced clearances. We plan to have a wood cook stove installed before next winter. Was the summer kitchen on the farm already or did you build it? More pics of it in the future would be appreciated! I ha e a Pinterest board devoted to summer/canning kitchens as I Would love to have one.