INSTALLING A FIREPLACE: TREND OR ECOLOGICAL SIN?

More and more private individuals, tenants or owners are having a fireplace installed. Our guest author, Henrike Dörr, wanted to know what to consider, what the costs are and whether permits are required to install a fireplace. But most importantly, it’s about how to fit in with this trend toward environmental compatibility. After all, wood stoves are a major contributor to particulate pollution.

Outside, the wind rattles the shutters, snowflakes dance in the air, but inside, I curl up in a wool blanket with a cup of tea and enjoy the cozy warmth of my wood stove. I let myself be lulled by the warm light of the flames and listen to the crackle of the glowing logs. Wonderful, isn’t it? This is my winter dream, which I seem to share with many Germans.

Because more and more people are having a wood stove installed, I wanted to know more about what to consider, so I spoke to Andreas Kramer. He is a master chimney sweep and building energy consultant in Cologne and as such an expert on wood stoves.

The professional lucky charm can not only give interesting tips, but also very entertaining from the chatty sewing box.

KRAMER, FOR HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN A CHIMNEY SWEEP?
Andreas Kramer: I started my apprenticeship as a chimney sweep in 1993. There are a whole series of laws, regulations and guidelines concerning fire protection and environmental protection in connection with chimneys.

If homeowners wish to install a chimney, it is strongly recommended that they contact the responsible chimney sweep in advance.

YOU HAVE CERTAINLY SEEN A LOT. HOW MANY HOUSEHOLDS DO YOU SERVE IN TOTAL? AND HOW LARGE IS YOUR CATCHMENT AREA?
Andreas Kramer: I currently service about 3,000 properties in Cologne. My main catchment area is the Cologne districts of Porz-Eil, Porz-Urbach and Rath/Heumar.

SWEEPING IS NOT AN EVERYDAY JOB. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE IT?
Andreas Kramer: Yes, the title of chimney sweep is correct and it is good that we have always kept this traditional title. I myself was born into the profession. My father was also a chimney sweep, so I already knew in elementary school: “You are going to be a chimney sweep”!

DO PEOPLE OFTEN ASK YOU IF THEY CAN TOUCH YOU? BECAUSE OF LUCK? AND DO YOU BELIEVE IT YOURSELF?

Andreas Kramer: In the past, when I was working in the countryside, it was more common for people to want to touch me for luck. Now, in the urban environment, this is less the case. But I think everyone needs a little bit of luck, and if I, as a chimney sweep, can contribute to that, that’s great. Of course I believe in that too!

In the past, when I worked in the country, it was more common for people to want to touch me for luck.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST EXPERIENCE SO FAR IN YOUR WORK?

Andreas Kramer: There have been and still are many great experiences. It starts when you feel the freedom on the roof, when you look into the distance. From this perspective, many things become very small, and not only in terms of size. But it’s also nice when you can save lives by locating a faulty fireplace that presents a danger to operators. That’s when you realize almost daily how important your job is.

Finally, it’s great to help protect the environment and conserve energy by informing customers of emission reduction opportunities.

You mention some very important things to consider when installing a fireplace. Fireplaces are very much in vogue, and for some time now the cozy open fire in the living room has been very popular.

HAUSGEMACHT: WHAT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED WHEN INSTALLING A FIREPLACE?

Andreas Kramer: Actually, there are a number of laws, regulations and guidelines regarding fire protection and environmental protection for fireplaces.

If homeowners wish to install a fireplace, it is highly recommended that they talk to the responsible chimney sweep beforehand. He will then certainly find solutions and can give valuable home-made advice. I understand, so it is not a matter of installing the chimney yourself, but it is absolutely wise and necessary to ask the chimney sweep whether an installation is possible in the house or apartment.

HAUSGEMACHT: CAN I START OR DO I NEED A PERMIT?

Andreas Kramer: After the installation, an acceptance by the district’s certified chimney sweep is usually necessary. He will then check whether all requirements have been met and whether you can enjoy the pleasant experience of a wood fire in your own living room without any problems.

To find out which chimney sweep is responsible for which property, you should contact the city or district authorities or the chimney sweepers’ guild. Or you can visit a few websites on the Internet to look for chimney sweeps.

The price range of wood stoves is very wide, as in many other areas. Thus one gets a small fireplace oven in the building market already for 250 to 300 euro, can in addition, a tiled stove for 20,000 euro locally to establish rent.

HAUSGEMACHT: IF I WANT TO REALIZE MY DREAM OF A CRACKLING WOOD FIRE, WHAT ARE THE COSTS I HAVE TO PAY? WHAT ARE THE INSTALLATION COSTS? AND WHAT IS THE PRICE OF THE APPLIANCES THEMSELVES?

Andreas Kramer: As in many other areas, the price range for wood stoves is very wide. You can buy a small stove in a DIY store for as little as 250 to 300 euros, but you can also have a tiled stove built on site for 20,000 euros.

Potential customers should be clear beforehand about what they want and seek advice from a specialist. Maintenance, cleaning and servicing can usually be done by yourself. If a professional is called in for this, it usually costs between 50 and 100 euros.

However, this varies from oven to oven and cannot be considered a general rule.

Installing a fireplace can be quite affordable if you choose a cheap model! This certainly explains, to some extent, the popularity of stoves. After all, sometimes you are lucky and there is already a fireplace in the house.

HAUSGEMACHT: IS THEIR USE GENERALLY PERMITTED OR ARE THERE REGULATIONS? IN OTHER WORDS, DO SOME STACKS HAVE TO BE TAKEN OUT OF OPERATION?

Andreas Kramer: In the latest amendment to the 1st Federal Immission Control Ordinance, requirements have been set for dust and carbon monoxide emissions, with which older chimneys must also comply.

However, there are still transitional periods until 31 December 2024. If the affected fireplaces do not comply with these requirements at the end of their transitional period, they must be taken out of service or retrofitted.

HAUSGEMACHT: DO YOU OFTEN FIND OUTDATED FIREPLACES? HOW DO OWNERS REACT WHEN YOU HAVE TO CLOSE A CHIMNEY?

Andreas Kramer: Actually, this happens very often during the daily inspection of the chimney. Of course, no one is happy when they are told that the stove will soon have to go. But the dismantling is usually known years in advance. So every stove owner can cope with this idea from the beginning. In any case, my advice is not to wait until the last day of dismantling and to deal with the replacement quickly. Our environment is grateful that we replaced the boiler early.

Hausgemacht: that’s an important keyword, and I’d like to talk about environmental protection in a moment. Before I do, though, I’m curious and want to know.

WHAT IS THE WORST CHIMNEY YOU HAVE ENCOUNTERED SO FAR?

Andreas Kramer: The worst chimney I have encountered was during my training in Darmstadt. There were several individual kerosene stoves connected to it, and one stove was in an inn. I already noticed on the roof that the chimney was covered with soot like never before. So I set to work to clean it. When I came downstairs after sweeping, I saw the mishap. There was soot all over the inn, like powdered sugar two inches high.

The old innkeeper was sitting at the table and the soot was even accumulating on her cigarette. But she took it very calmly and said, “I guess we’ll have to clean it up now!” I was very embarrassed, but unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about it. The soot just came out of all the cracks.

Hausgemacht: the story shows just how much dust can settle in the chimney and how much fine dust stoves can produce. Jörg Kachelmann drew attention to this point with a rather provocative remark. He said at the time that rich people were producing “rich people’s fine dust” with their chimneys for the comfort of their homes, and thus polluting the environment.

Since then, some people have become skeptical about introducing particulate matter into their homes through a chimney.

WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ? IS A WOOD-BURNING STOVE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY OR HARMFUL TO THE ENVIRONMENT?
Andreas Kramer: Generally speaking, wood as a renewable fuel closes a CO2 cycle when it is burned. I don’t believe in polemical statements like those of Mr. Kachelmann, because wood can be considered an environmentally friendly fuel.

The prerequisite is, of course, proper operation. In addition to dry, seasoned wood, this also requires a sensible fireplace and an operator who is able to use the stove correctly.

Hausgemacht: about wood stoves, fine dust .

ARE WOOD-BURNING STOVES HAZARDOUS TO HEALTH? AFTER ALL, I HAVE AN OPEN FIRE IN MY LIVING ROOM.
Andreas Kramer: Everyone knows that high levels of particulate matter are not good for your health. That is precisely why the legislator has set a dust limit of 0.04 g/m³ for wood-burning stoves, for example. So there are fine dust limits for wood-burning stoves.

To comply with these limits, there are various dust filters on the market which you can have installed in the chimney or flue to reduce dust emissions as much as possible.

Hausgemacht: So, as an environmentalist, I don’t necessarily have to give up my fireplace; I can upgrade it. There are, however, justified concerns. For example, the German wood industry cannot meet the high demand for firewood. Wood is therefore often imported from other countries. It is therefore unclear to what extent this wood has been grown sustainably. If, for this reason and because of the fine dust, I give up a wood-burning fireplace, but I don’t want to give up the warmth of the fire

WHAT ARE MY OTHER OPTIONS?
Andreas Kramer: One possibility would be to use a gas heating fireplace. It also gives off a pleasant radiant heat and you can see the flame snaking around the artificial logs. This way, the atmosphere is preserved and you don’t get a backache from carrying wood.

HAUSGEMACHT: SOUNDS GOOD!
Andreas Kramer: Apart from the different models, which are primarily geared to the operator’s taste, I have noticed that the combustion is constantly improving. The pressure from the legislator has made it possible to do a lot in this area.

That’s good news in terms of particulate matter and environmental compatibility.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE IN YOUR LIVING ROOM? DO YOU HAVE A FIREPLACE?
Andreas Kramer: As a chimney sweep, it’s almost a duty to have a wood stove. I have a soapstone fireplace, because it stores heat for a very long time. It’s nice to let the stove go out in the evening and still have a warm stone giving off heat the next morning.

Hausgemacht: it invites imitation! So-called “smart living”, i.e. the living room in which technology can be controlled via an app, is quite modern. We know this from the commercials: always from the cab, the woman with the cell phone turns on the heating at home.

CAN WE DO THE SAME WITH FIREPLACES?
Andreas Kramer: Yes, but you need a pellet fireplace because it can be controlled automatically. This is not possible with logs, and that’s what I find most beautiful. Not everything has to be digital. An analog and romantic evening in front of the fireplace also has something, doesn’t it?

Hausgemacht: I totally agree. So maybe my dream of spending the winter in front of the stove will come true.

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