New York City famously banned the construction of new wood-burning fireplaces in early 2015. Fortunately, the prohibition hasn’t dampened the city’s enthusiasm for the open flame; it has simply forced residents to look at newer, better technology, such as direct-vent gas fireplaces. Beyond direct-vent technology, residents should know what’s acceptable and what’s taboo when it comes to building fireplaces in their homes.
How to Construct a Fireplace in New York
The New York Building Code lays out strict criteria for the construction of new fireplaces. When the architect or engineer applies for a permit to construct a new unit, they should carefully assess every aspect of the fireplace and surrounding material to ensure it meets the following requirements:
- Designated Fireplace Recesses: Gas fireplaces can only be installed in recesses designed for that purpose (C26-1411.4).
- Masonry Fireplaces: The state only permits solid masonry units of reinforced Portland or refractory cement concrete. The foundation must also be constructed out of noncombustible materials such as masonry, reinforced Portland, or refractory cement. The foundation must have a fire resistance rating of no less than three hours.
- The Lining: The masonry lining must be at least eight inches thick (on the back and sides). It must be made of low-duty fire clay refractory brick that is at least two inches thick and laid in a material capable of “withstanding a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit without cracking or spalling.”
- No Masonry Lining: Where there is no masonry lining, the back and sides must be at least 12 inches thick.
- Steel Fireplaces: If the steel fireplace comes with a firebox that is at least a quarter-inch thick, and if it contains an air chamber, it must be reinforced by masonry. The total thickness at the back and sides must be at least eight inches. Of that eight inches, four inches must be solid masonry.
- Clearance: Installers need to place combustible materials (e.g., wood beams, joists, studs) at least two inches away from the front and side of a masonry fireplace. The code also requires a clearance of at least four inches between combustible materials and the back of the unit. Headers constructed of or containing combustible material must be placed at least 20 inches away from the chimney breast.
- Firestops: There must be a galvanized steel firestop between headers of trimmers made of combustible materials and masonry fireplaces.
- Hearths: Installers can construct hearths of brick, tile, stone, concrete, or other accepted noncombustible materials. The code also requires trimmer arches made of non-combustible materials such as brick, tile, stone, or concrete. The trimmer arches must be at least four inches thick.
- Chimney or Venting: Your fireplace must have a safe way to vent smoke. On your application, clearly state the distance between the proposed chimney or fireplace and the roof, as well as windows and nearby buildings. Read the Building Code section on Chimneys and Gas Vents for more detailed information about venting requirements.
See the full New York Building Code section on Heating and Combustion Equipment for more information about constructing a new fireplace in New York. You can also browse through Ortal’s fireplace collections to see a wide selection of modern fireplaces that meet the stringent requirements laid out in the New York City Building Code.