Fireplace Codes: What Fireplaces can I Install in CA?

California fireplace code

Welcome to beautiful California!  …We’ve got some rules you’re going to want to pay attention to.

When it comes to state firsts in the United States, California is at the top of the charts in a number of categories, including having the country’s largest population and GDP.  In fact, the Golden State is also the largest agricultural producer in the country and has the most colleges of any state in the union.

While those are all noteworthy achievements, California is also derisively referred to by some as the “nanny state.” Why? The presence of over 150,000 health and safety laws might give you a clue. That’s tops in the nation as well.

More importantly for anyone in the building trades, its California Building Standards Code Title 24 book has a shipping weight of 2.7 lbs. In other words, it’s a behemoth of a book and it can take a degree from one of those 400+ California colleges to wade through it and figure out what information you need.

Jump to Chapter 10 [and Skip the Rest]

Thankfully, when it comes to getting information on fireplace regulations in California, they’re contained in Part 2.5, Chapter 10 of the code book. And like most other states, these codes are based on the 2015 International Building Codes.

California fireplace codes

No more searching for fireplace codes – we’ve got you covered.

As any working architect or building trades professional is well aware, these code books are updated every three years. Chances are slim that the updates will directly affect codes dictating fireplace regulations in California, but it’s always good to check the California Building Standards Commission website to stay abreast of any revisions. It’s certainly cheaper than dropping $300 for a new code book.

To save you a little time, here are some highlights:

To understand that last bullet point let’s take a look at this formula:

Now let’s see that in action for the Modore 140 fireplace by Element4:

So in this case a room of 15′ x 14′ x 10′ (2,100 ft3) is plenty big for a Modore 140 which only requires 1,910 ft3

Don’t Forget the Locals!

In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, California state law authorizes local governments to enact ordinances that amend the Title 24 codes in their jurisdiction.
For example, the Bay Area has enacted a California “Spare the Air” alert, which bans wood burning of any kind when the alert is in place. In addition, Orange County, portions of Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties don’t allow the use of EPA Phase II wood burning fireplaces at any time.

woodburning fireplace, modern design

Local ordinances ban wood burning in many California regions.  However, Focus fireplaces, like this Filiofocus Central, can be converted to gas for CA installations.

These scattershot prohibitions mean that building trades professionals should take the guesswork out of the equation by checking in with the municipality where the home or commercial building is located. Better safe than sorry!

In this day and age of easy digital information access, it would be safe to assume that the state would provide an updated list of local wood-burning ordinances. But alas, one hand doesn’t know what the other’s doing! You’ll need to pick up a phone and call the local district office of the California Air Resources Board.

Traditional Masonry vs. Factory-Made Fireplaces
How the rules differ for these two categories.

Now that we’ve identified the code dictating the rules governing fireplaces and chimneys in California and where to find them, what specifics will affect the installation of a factory-made gas or wood-burning fireplace?

It’s important to make the distinction between a masonry fireplace made of brick or stone and a factory-made fireplace made of steel or other manufactured materials.

That’s because the Title 24 codes primarily address the construction of masonry fireplaces and chimneys. Details like required hearth dimensions and clearance to combustibles, the slope angle of the firebox, and load-bearing supports are some of the key issues covered by the codes.

If you’re considering adding a traditional masonry fireplace to a new residential design and the local ordinances allow it, then these codes are highly relevant.  Remember to consult with the local jurisdiction on whether there are prohibitions on masonry fireplaces.

Most fireplace codes in California address traditional masonry fireplaces.  Photo Citation: C. Clay Chapman/Period Architecture

With Factory-Made Fireplaces, the Onus to Build to Code is on the Manufacturer 

If it’s a factory-made fireplace your project calls for, whether wood or gas, the manufacturer’s specifications largely determine where and how they can be installed.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that certain products may be perfectly fine for other states (or even other parts of CA), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they conform to all of your residential building codes. A local hearth dealer will know what is and is not approved in your area.

To make finding an approved fireplace easy for you, European Home has curated a list of its products that meet the major state-wide California Codes.

Fireplaces Approved for CA

When it comes to manufacturer specifications, that introduces an alphabet soup of governing standards, but lucky for you, a good fireplace manufacturer has put in the work for you.

For wood-burning appliances and accessories like Class A chimneys and hearth pads, manufacturers obtain Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) certification. The Northbrook, Illinois-based lab provides safety certification for a wide range of products.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the gold standard stamp of approval for gas appliances. Founded 100 years ago this October, ANSI oversees voluntary product standards and performance criteria across a broad range of industries.

All European Home fireplaces are either UL or ANSI listed.

Choose your Fireplace Professional Carefully

Just make sure you are working with a fireplace professional who recognizes that professional codes and standards are crucially important to make sure your project is code compliant and safe.

Experienced hearth professionals can reel off facts and figures like the 3’/2’/10’ chimney height rule, the maximum degree offset (30) for a wood fireplace chimney, and a plethora of other crucial performance and safety standards in their sleep.

Just as importantly, however, they can also consult with architects and designers on sizing a gas or wood fireplace to fit the heating needs of the space. Or on how to connect outside air to the fireplace to maximize efficiency. Or where the best place to place a thermostat might be.

In short, all these codes and standards can seem overwhelming. Architects dealing with a myriad of code concerns across many disciplines, all the more so.

Find a trained local fireplace professional by using this handy Dealer Locator.

California fireplace code see-through fireplace encino california

This 8′ wide see-through fireplace, the Tenore 240 by Element4, was installed by Encino Fireplace Shop, Encino, CA. Finishing is done by Rovner Construction.

What You Need to Know

The absolute best ways to avoid headaches and ensure that the fireplace you sketched in makes the homeowner ecstatic are simple:

  1. Identify a fireplace manufacturer whose products are top quality and who is committed to providing you the best solution for you and your customer.
  2. Establish a strong working relationship with a hearth professional who is knowledgeable and cares just as much as you do about the end result.

In short, if you are working on a project in California that includes a factory-made wood or gas fireplace, think of the Barnum & Bailey ringmaster model: assemble a skilled and exacting team who can jump through the hoops and you can breathe easy and take a bow at the final curtain.

Learn more about fireplace manufacturer, European Home, and our line of distinctive modern gas, electric, and wood fireplaces, or find an authorized fireplace dealer in your area.

Robert Conlin is a freelance writer living in Wiscasset, Maine. A former certified chimney sweep and retail stove shop owner, he has returned to his roots as a journalist/writer in producing enterprise reporting and online content for a variety of publications and companies.

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