Fireplace Construction Specifications
Requirements vary depending on your location
When installing a fireplace either you or your contractor will generally need to apply for a residential building permit or for your local area's equivalent form. Depending on your area, there will be different requirements for the fireplace itself in terms of efficiency rating, materials, weight, ventilation, etc.
Nearly all fireplaces and woodstoves sold within the United States are now engineered and built to meet the construction requirements of the EPA Wood Stoves Program which specifies a minimum efficiency level and level of particulate matter (PM) emissions. These requirements reduce the impact that your fireplace or woodstove may potentially have on neighborhood air quality.
When actually installing your fireplace or woodstove, your state or municipality will have minimum requirements as to the distance between your burning appliance and any combustible materials such as curtains, carpets, wooden walls, or other potential fire hazards. Wood stoves typically must be installed on a non-combustible pad made of stone, cement or another such material. Typically, the material is specified on the basis of material composition, strength, size, resistance to combustion, and required heat transfer ability. In order to obtain a permit, you will usually need to know (in advance) the distance between nearby walls and the fireplace/hearth or woodstove/chimney. Because of the planning that is involved, these measurements and the necessary schematics are often better suited to a professional contractor. As well, many areas demand proof of Workers' Compensation documentation in order to issue a permit, which rules out homeowner installations completely.
Throughout construction, inspections are often required at major "milestones" such as flue placement in a masonry heater, or before chimney construction is completed for a woodstove. In most cases, there are requirements as to the particular order in which the system must be installed – for instance, a woodstove's chimney should not be installed until the inspector has been able to visibly verify that the stove is installed on an appropriate stone or cement pad and sufficiently cleared from any combustible materials.
Since you will need to know all construction details beforehand in order to apply for a permit, and since many municipalities require installation by a licensed professional, you will want to consult your local building code before deciding whether to install your new fireplace on your own or to hire a contractor. In most cases, professional installation is the better option.