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  1. #1

    Red face My house caught on fire! I need help!

    I purchased a Harman Exception Insert for wood, we have just finished building a real pine log home, so I wanted a fireplace installed and everyone says that Harman throws alot of heat.. so I got one...

    So we cut a hole out of the main wall and inserted the insert into it, with the rear of the unit sitting outside the home on the deck, I left 10 inches on each side and above insert, but on the back of the unit I made a square like case around it with 2x6's and plywood like a box. I also used 8 6' stainless steel chimney stacks as my roof is 25ft high.. it was very close to the side of the house with about 3 inches clearance from side and from the plywood casing that also covered chimeny stacks all the way to roof... reading this now I see how completely insane that was, but my friend kept saying its a zero clearance stove??

    So..I had a good fire on Sun night when it was done and everything seemed ok... on monday afternoon again.. everything was fine.. then monday night before bed my husband stoked it pretty good and we went upstairs to the loft to bed. I could smell what smelt like paper burning and we checked the fireplace and we checked chimney and it seemed ok... so we went to bed, 2 hours later I woke up with the feeling of smoke on me. I hit the outside lights on balcony and could see the smoke in the bedroom.. I flew out of bed and turned on inside light.. there was smoke all over, I looked down into living room at stove and the front looked normal but I could see orange behind it like it was glowing... then I looked out the upper windows and could see orange dancing around.. and thats when I pretty much realized the house was on fire...

    I called 911, hubbys fast thinking grabbed a fire extinguisher from our utility shed and busted holes in the plywood casing to get at fire.. when the extinguisher was empty we used the garden hose to slow it down some more... fire dept arrived 30 min later ( we are rural ) Anyways.. the rear of the unit got so hot it caught something on fire and the rest is history.. the whole side of my house was on fire and now with everything removed it looks like I have a perfect black chimney housing all the way up side of house.. because its so badly charred...the other thing too was that it had just reached roof and was melting the soffit and fascia.. few minutes more and all that insulation in the ceiling would of caught.. so yeah..we are ok thank god and this was a lesson hard learned. I know this story really sounds to stupid to be true..but I am not ashamed to admit what I did , because I really need help from people who know what to do, I am being honest so I can figure out all the things I did wrong.. and specifically what i need to do to ensure that I dont die from my next installation.

    Everything has been removed and the hole in wall has been covered with plywood and insulation until we decide how and what to do with next installation. Specifically I am wonderring what the clearance in the rear of unit would be to any housing type case.. we wanted to do stone originally but house is gonna shift and crack it for at least another year or two.. so we decided to use plywood with a slip joint at midsection just to keep unit covered. Gosh.. reading what I just wrote its so obvious I made some bad choices.. but I cant stress how many times I was told.. harman is a zero clearance insert.. so here I am thinking it would be ok even if it was too close.. Gosh how stupid can I be.. and yes I realize how lucky I am to be alive.. especially given that the 3 smoke detectors did not go off .....but they went off when the chain saw was cutting logs???? Anyways, all I can say is, thank god these logs are actually very slow burning and that plywood casing actually appears to have kept the fire contained to that area all the way up the house....please do not write back and call me stupid.. because A: I already can see that.. and B: I have been flamed enough for a lifetime and C: no we didnt have insurance.

    I am not looking for specific instructions, but some general clearances for front and rear of unit and above the unit?? Because I need to house this unit on the outside and I do plan on hiring a professional probably for the masonry..but I need to know for myself what is right and what is absolutely wrong.. so just some general feedback would be greatly appreciated. and any ideas for chimney as like I said. the house will shift alot.

    Thank you so much for any replies and I look forward to getting this done properly.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Oh my
    Oh my GOODNESS!

    Experience does cost money!

    I am not sure many of us do wood here. I suspect a few guys do tin cans and candles though!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    S.E. Pa

    Lightbulb close call

    1- Glad everyone is alive!
    2- What area do you live in?
    3-an *insert* is tested and listed to be *inserted* into an existing fireplace. It sounds like you cut a hole in the side of the house then shoved an insert stove into the wall. Is this correct? You need to refer to your building codes for how to construct a proper masonry fireplace. Then you would need a listed chimney liner with the requisite insulation.
    4-That term "zero clearance" should be eradicated from our lexicon. It is extemely misleading as you found out. On listed factory built fireplaces the only place it has a 'zero clearance' is to the floor under it.
    5- I recommend you return that insert to whomever you bought it from and buy a listed factory built fireplace/ stove hybrid. If they give you any flack, you can sue them for selling you something without instruction that almost killed you. It's called the Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose.
    6- Hire a pro to guide you in product selection and installation.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Madison, WI

    Please get a fireplace pro in there to straighten this mess out. You are lucky to be alive.

    Install manual is listed there. You should read it and you will understand why the install was soooo not right.

    Its possibly could be called a "zero clearance" insert because it can be installed INTO a prefab "zero clearance" open wood fireplace, which does not really have zero clearance all the way around, as hearthman explained.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    I am glad that everyone is ok. Time for new smoke detectors too !!!

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. It is definitely time for a professional to sell and install a stove made for your application.

    Moderators, can we make this a sticky shown to anyone posting to the fireplace forum that has less than 20 posts?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    S.E. Pa

    Thumbs down inserts into factory built fireplace dilemma

    Ok, since the crux of this discussion centers around the use of that God awful term "zero clearance" please follow me on this:

    The customer reports their selection of this appliance was because it was rated or approved for a "zero clearance" application.

    The manual actually discusses installing one into a "zero clearance" factory built fireplace.

    So, what is missing here? I went onto the website, read the brochure and installation instructions. Nowhere does it specifically state that this stove is approved ONLY for use inside an existing fireplace. It does not specify you must already have a fireplace to shove it into. Moreover, it fails to instruct and warn the buyer they should have a qualfied professional perform a Level II inspection per NFPA 211 before installation. The only place it mentions code approval is that the masonry chimney and fireplace or "zero clearance" fireplace must be *code approved*. What it should have said was the chimney and fireplace should be inspected per 211 and found suitable for this application with certain specific requirements such as a full length direct connected listed liner with the requisite insulation for a zero clearance btw the combustibles and the outside of the chimney. It should NEVER so much as suggest it is ok to install a woodstove insert into ANY brand or model factory built fireplace-period!

    The stove's installation instructions tell you the fireplace must be code approved yet the second you start doing a Vega-matic on it to make room for the stove, it ceases to be a listed appliance and thus voids the warranty, listing and is thereby no longer "code approved". Hence it is impossible to install this stove into a factory built fireplace on those grounds alone. Moreoever, there are no liners listed for use inside a factory chimney, which would thus again violate the code. The instructions tell you to use a rain cap and top plate on the liner but these would block the cooling system of the chimney/ fireplace and void the warranty/ listing.

    The UL 127 listing has no provision for testing with a woodstove installed into it. Once you gut it like a fish, it is no longer a *fireplace* but becomes a metal box attached to combustible framing. BTW, the clearance for an unlisted stove to combustibles is 36". How far is the framing on a factory built fireplace? The UL 127 listing only test for a total live load of 200 lbs. on the firebox floor. This stove alone is 450 lbs without a liner on top much less full of wood. The stove blocks off the normal 400-600 cfm of cooling air that rushes up the flue. The trim panels block the cooling air louveres at the sides of the fireplace. I could go on but I want everyone reading this to understand THERE IS NO APPROVED MEANS OF INSTALLING A WOODSTOVE INTO A FACTORY BUILT FIREPLACE! A UL task force has struggled for two years and is not even close to figuring it out. You would have to test the entire installation as one unit but to which listing std.? UL 127 for the fireplace, UL 1482 or 737 for the stove or UL 1777 for the liner? It cannot and has not been done. No such combined listing exists.

    This falls squarely on mfrs trying to make a buck with an unsafe application. Only when they get sued enough or the building codes catch up will this abomination stop.

    I suggest you read the "Insert Position Statement" on this site:

    To the OP, I'm really sorry you were mislead in this purchase. I hope you realize you do have recourse against those who sold you this stove and whomever advised you it was approved to install directly into a wall cavity as opposed to 'inserting' it into a pre-existing MASONRY fireplace that has been inspected and approved for this application.


  7. #7
    Thank you all so much for your replies. Your knowledge is greatly appreciated.

    As for recourse , I have left a few messages for Harman and noone has called me back yet. I am not sure what will happen if anything. If I could, I would like to return the unit and buy a stove. Not a insert!! I think that is 99% of the problem right there.

    Like Hearthman mentioned the manual was vague at best about clearances etc and what types of installations this unit was suitable for.

    I am from Canada, but our codes are very similar, This insert was purchased in the USA and shipped to a closer location where it was picked up.

    Here is my next question, If I am stuck with this insert ( it is not really damaged as it appears the fire actually started above it ) what do you all suggest I do to keep it free and clear from the house as best as possible??

    Masonry I am guessing? Brick or cement or something? BAsically have to make my own fireplace just to put it in..

    Again, thank you all for your responses, they are very informative. I wish I would of come here first and not after my house caught on fire!!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    S.E. Pa

    Unhappy Hard lesson

    Look for a technician who is WETT certified in Canada. They will be able to guide you locally through this process.

    You need to make a decision first if you are going to sue for damages or not. Since it is not an insurance claim, you are on your own. Depending upon the dollar amt. of damage, you may consider hiring an attorney who is versed in International Law to see if you have any recourse across the border. If he says there are grounds and files then back off and let the process work. If he says there are insufficient grounds to go after either the place that sold it to you or the mfr. you may have one other aveneue. Only if the legal route fizzles, contact the State Attorney General in the State where you bought the stove. Even mail order is located in one State. If you used the US Mail for this transaction you may actually be able to use the US Postmaster, which is actually very powerful.

    Can you divulge not the name but the type of business you bought this stove through? Online vs. physical wholesaler's site?

    By your sharing online this way you may be saving lives as others learn from your misfortune. A hard lesson for all.


  9. #9
    It was purchased from Marvins in Warroad Minnesota.

    My father in law says he told them what he was wanting to do and this is what they suggested.

    I dont know anything about the laws or what I am talking about but I am wonderring if its worth a call to them, to see if they wanna replace the unit with something better for a log home.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Bucks County, PA
    Scarry Story.

    The reason why you were not alerted by your smoke alarms is they were most likely ionization, and they do not work well with smoldering fires.

    Go Photoelectric.

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