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.
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.
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.
We shouldn’t forget to mention the 2013 California Green Building Code, which – among other things – prohibits vent-free gas appliances statewide.
In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, California state law authorizes local government 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.
These scattershot prohibitions means 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. (https://www.arb.ca.gov/capcoa/roster.htm)
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.
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 their products that meet the major state-wide California Codes.
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 chimney 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 industry.
All European Home fireplaces are either UL or ANSI listed.
Just make sure you are working with a fireplace professional who recognizes that professional codes and standards are crucially important to making 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. For 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.
The absolute best ways to avoid headaches and ensure that the fireplace you sketched in makes the homeowner ecstatic are simple:
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.
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.