Written by Chad Murray on August 28, 2013
Replacement fireplace refractory panels are a common fireplace repair.
Fireplace refractory panels act as a barrier to keep the sheet metal in your fireplace from getting too hot and warping or, in worse scenarios, causing fires in your home. Pre-fabricated chimneys can have as little as a half of an inch space between them and other 2x4s and wood in your home’s structure. The refractory fireplace panels add insulation between the fire and the rest of your home.
How do you know if you need to replace your fireplace refractory panels?
If you have a pre-fabricated or zero clearance fireplace this is a part of the firebox that needs constant attention. Replacement refractory panels take a lot of stress from the heat of the fire and, just like anything under enough stress, can crack and even have chunks start falling off. Those cracks and stress signs are what can cause you problems that you don’t want. When a panel is cracked or damaged the heat is no longer blocked in that area, with the heat being in contact with the sheet metal directly it can cause the firebox and chimney to warp. If warping has occurred the solution at that point becomes replacing the chimney insert. This is because the areas that have warped are now closer in areas than the half inch and can create house fires.
The best thing to do is get your fireplace inspected routinely. A certified chimney professional will be able to identify the signs of damage to the refractory panels and replace them, hopefully before any damage to the firebox has occurred.
The replacement itself does not take that long; it normally consists of removing a few screws that hold a bracket in place, removing the bracket and taking the damaged panel out. Then measuring and cutting down a new panel to size. Replacement panels are made to be cut down to fit any firebox. They come in three sizes, large, medium, and small. Often a large replacement panel can be cut down to make both of the sides of the firebox. Then placing it and re-installing the bracket. However, some fireboxes have glued in panels or tricky installation of the refractory panels.
Panels do not carry any kind of warranty, mainly because firewood is settling on the side walls and back panel when it burns. This settling can crack the panels due to a new piece of wood sitting on top of the fire crashing into the refractory walls. A stress crack can occur and very quickly become a crack separating the refractory panel into multiple pieces. Often homeowners will have their panels replaced and crack them within the first couple of fires. There is a reflector shield that can be purchased to stand in front of the panels to protect the refractory panels from cracking. Reflector shields also make the fire more efficient with pushing more heat out of the fireplace.
New and replacement fireplace refractory panels are made from refractory mortar. This type of mortar is fire retardant insulating mortar. Most of the prefabricated fireboxes utilize them for insulating.