Fireplace install

The fireplace hunt had us looking near and far (mostly far) for the right model. The process required contacting Stuv to see if they would sell a fireplace directly to us (rather than through a dealer because there wasn’t one in the immediate region). They were happy to oblige, but told us they were interested in having a rep in our area. They asked if we would be willing to work with someone local for the install and we said we were open. Stuv reached out to Forshaw, the preeminent dealer of all things fire in the St Louis area. Seriously, if you live here, you know the Forshaw jingle from their radio commercials. When I told my mom they were involved she said, “Oooh! They’re very high end.” Long story long, they were interested in the project. The owner actually came out meet with Aaron and give us a bid.

Ultimately it was a win-win-win for everyone. We bought the fireplace from Forshaw and basically got the installation (setting it in place) for free. They also beat the quote we had for the flue installation. Score!

Forshaw bought the model at a subsidized cost and can now install the Stuv model throughout the city. I’m sure after this blog post there will be a run on Stuv fireplaces… And Stuv has a company they can refer and sell too in St Louis, and ultimately they sold another unit.

Because of our layout, there was still some framing work for Aaron to do.


First, he drilled holes and anchored the base.

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Then he constructed the rest of the structure. You can actually see the fireplace in the photo below. It’s the silver box with the blue plastic hanging off.

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Next, he needed to create a sturdy, heat-resistant base for the fireplace to rest on. We wanted to keep the fireplace low to the ground, so he added some 2x4s and topped those with two sheets of cement board.

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Then it was time to get rid of the glass blocks! A chisel attachment on his hammer drill made quick work of it.

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Here’s how things were looking from the outside.

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With everything prepped, the crew from Forshaw came out to set the unit in place and install the new flue! As a DIY-er it’s always exciting to see OTHER people working on your house, especially when those other people are as courteous and professional as the crew from Forshaw.


Code requires a 45 degree angle for flue vents, so that required removing a few additional bricks above the window.


This part of the project has been complete since early September. I’ve been waiting to tell you about it because we’ve had a HUGE HOLE in the side of our building! The mason we used for the window cutouts majorly flaked out. It took some time to find a new contractor we liked and who wouldn’t charge us an arm and a leg for this project. Then it took a long time schedule the work… but finally on Sunday a mason arrived and made our building whole again!

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The mason did a fantastic job and got even closer to the flue than we expected. There’s a small gap at the top, which is hard to photograph, that Aaron will insulate. Forshaw is coming back out to add a collar and then we can call this phase of the installation complete!


The mason is also coming back out to give the new section an acid wash that will help it blend in better. Even without that step, we’re thrilled with the work and how everything looks.

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Here’s a view from the inside. If you watched the most recent walk through video you got a peek at this already.


Basically this is how things will sit until we do the finishing work. That involves covering the framing with our choice of cladding and running the vents (you can see the holes on the right side of the fireplace).


All of that is going to wait until we get some of the other bones done in the room: HVAC, boxing out the windows, electrical, lighting and paint. So we’re on the cusp of winter with an 80% installed fireplace. I keep walking by and muttering “next year… next year” Which is to say that this feels like much needed progress at the firehouse.

Finding a fireplace

As with most things related to the firehouse renovation, the living room fireplace has evolved as we became acquainted with the space and started looking for options. The one thing that never changed was our desire for a wood-burning fireplace. We both love the warmth (literal and figurative) that you get from a wood fireplace.

As usual, Pinterest was a great spot to save some inspiration, as evidenced by Aaron’s extensive Fireplace board on Pinterest. Not all of these were contenders, but we thought it would be interesting to walk through our thought process.

When we signed the papers on the firehouse, we envisioned a floating fireplace situated in the middle of the room. Something like this:



Side note: When we bought this place, I wrote a long letter to our future selves detailing all the plans we had for the place. We printed it out, trashed the electronic copy and stored it with a bottle of wine that we’ll open on our 5 year anniversary. We picked 5 years because we would (obviously) be close to finishing this place at that point. Ha Ha HA! Oh, pre-renovation Aaron and Heather, how naive you were. I only mention this because the floating fireplace was definitely a detail included in the letter that clearly won’t be happening.

But, I digress… Floating fireplaces are cool. I’ll also take that tree. Please and thank you.



After we moved in, we got a better sense of the space. This room is actually on the small side. We always talk about how BIG the spaces are in the firehouse, but if I could add square footage anywhere it would be to the kitchen and downstairs living and dining rooms. The living room clocks in at just 135 square feet, which has to include a sizable walkway to get to the bathroom and stairs.

A central floating fireplace was definitely out. This ultra modern beauty caught our eye next, but was eventually ruled out because of the configuration of the flue.



We planned to bust out the glass block window to allow for the vent/chimney.


A fireplace hanging from the ceiling would require busting through the upstairs living room and roof to add the requisite smoke removal. No bueno.

The piece had some mid century modern charm, which we we love. That sent Aaron looking for a retro inspired piece. This Malm was the next thing to catch our eye.



The simplicity was nice and the price was good, but I don’t think we were ever terribly in love. It mostly hung on as a good, economical back up.

This guy though… this guy is just cool.



BAM! Fireplace! Unfortunately the multi sided configuration didn’t make sense in our design plan.

Part of the problem we kept running into is that all the cool, minimal, wood-burning fireplaces are made in Europe. Because European design > American design. While we could (and would) ship one over, differences in the fireplace code and the sheer cost made it prohibitive. So I did what anyone does when faced with this problem: poured a glass of wine and pulled up Pinterest. That led me to the Stuv brand, which offered stand-alone fireplaces AND sold versions in the United States.



We loved several of the cladding options (the material that wraps the exterior of the fireplace) but overall the cost was more than we could spend.

Stuv also offered this really sleek option.



It comes with a really cool “face plate” that makes it look like a super hero (or villain considering the fire) when it is closed. Plus, you can order a grill kit and actually make food on it. Aaron was basically sold… until we found out it was even more expensive than the other version of the Stuv. Womp, womp.

Around this time we completed our refi and with the prospect of actually having the money needed to do this project, Aaron kicked into high gear. That man can source materials like nobody’s business. Seriously, is that a job? Professional Sourcer?

He turned up these sleek beauties from Wittus.



We didn’t like that the firebox was so small, and they were extending past the budget we hoped to hit.

With stand-alone fireplaces (except for the Malm) seemingly out of reach, he focused on fireplace inserts. Which led him back to the original Stuv, which was available without the cladding.

Aaron reached out to Stuv to get pricing and see if they would sell direct. They would, but the insert was STILL out of reach. The fireplace is such a focal point, that we decided to crunch the numbers again. After pulling up the spreadsheet, Aaron realized he had money set aside to remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Because we can’t tackle the kitchen right now (more on our plans here), that wall is staying in place, and the extra funds put the Stuv insert within reach! Huzzah!

We ordered the Stuv 21/85 sf (single face).


We absolutely love the minimal design. A slim 1-1/2″ frame is all you see. The glass door slides up into the model and the track is hidden. The unit is fully insulated, which makes installing it to code much easier. This was important because we thought we would be tackling the whole job ourselves. More on that in the next post…

Video tour 2015

I liked the first video so much when I stumbled on it back in July that we’re back with an update. I’m a little sorry that it is 16 minutes long, but it’s a big space! So kick back and watch me awkwardly talk at the camera.

A few notes:

  • There are two new projects, one big (fireplace) and one small (Aaron has a new desk), that have not hit the blog.
  • 1:50 – Yay Mojo!
  • 4:03 – I don’t know why there is a saw sitting at the bottom of the stairs… which is literally what I am thinking while Aaron walks down.
  • 6:38 – Hank!
  • 6:46 – Hank jumping in Aaron’s face!
  • 7:08 – Hank playing with a log. He’s a nut.
  • Also, sorry our backyard is a mess. We have extra ipe under the tarp out there and the wood for the fire pit is a mess. Clearly Hank doesn’t mind.’
  • 11:10 – Argh plaster issues! Remember how much time Aaron spent on that?!? Yeah it is already falling down. The only solution is to take it out. So it’s on the list….
  • 13:03 – Aaron pointed out that we just put in a new light bulb in the pole closet, not a whole new fixture.

So what do you think? We hear that floor plans don’t always explain the space, so maybe this helps?

Converting fixtures for LED and lighting up the workshop

Simply adding a window to the workshop was not enough to up the brightness factor. We knew we needed a serious lighting upgrade. We’ve been hoarding some moisture-proof industrial fluorescent fixtures that we picked up just for this space with the intention of converting them to LEDs.


And now we’re going to breakdown the process for taking a fluorescent fixture to an LED-enabled one. (If you’re just here for the pictures, don’t leave until you see the dramatic before and after shots at the bottom of the post.)


Tools/supplies needed:

  • Wiring diagram for LED bulbs (this should come with the bulbs)
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire snips
  • Vice grips
  • Replacement plug
  • Wire caps
  • Shunted keystones
  • Pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Wire strippers


First remove the outer case and the bulbs.


A clip in the middle of the interior panel holds it in place. Twist that to remove the panel.


Inside you’ll find the wiring and ballast for the fluorescent lights. You can reuse the wires, but you’ll want to remove the ballast.


Just snip the wires


Then undo the screws and it should slide out.


Remove the existing keystones (the white pieces at each end of the fixture that hold the bulbs in place and provide power).


Snip the wires from the keystones to free them.


Slide two of the new keystones into one side. LEDs only need wired on one side, so these un-wired keystones are just here to hold the bulbs in place.

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For the other two keystones, consult the wiring diagram to determine which side of the keystone is the hot/load and which is neutral.


Strip 1/2″ from the end and slide the hot wire into the appropriate opening.


On the neutral side, use one keystone as the neutral in and out. It makes more sense in the pictures below.

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Slide the wired keystones into place.


Next you need to connect the wires in the fixture to the wires leading to the power cord. Hot goes with hot. Neutral with neutral. Ground to the fixture case.

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Now you can reinsert the interior panel to cover the wires.


When these fixtures were removed from their original home, the wire that provided power was snipped. We want to add a plug and power these through a receptacle, so this was not a big issue.



Loosen the screws to divide the plug into two pieces.


Run the wire through the base.


Strip the wire.


Connect it to the plug (follow your plug’s instructions)

  • Black (hot) to the gold screw
  • White (neutral) to the silver screw
  • Green (ground) to the stick part


Slide the two pieces together and tighten the screws.




When you add the bulbs, make sure you put the powered end (denoted here with an AC) with the wired keystone.




It seems like a lot of steps, but it goes pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. As always, we like to point out that we are not professionals. If you have any hesitation about doing electrical work it’s better to be safe than sorry. (Consult a pro.)

The change is dramatic! We took the workshop space from two single bulb incandescent fixtures that looked like this


to 8 double-LED fixtures. Now the space looks like this!!


There’s no photo trickery here. The space is THAT much brighter! The shadows are gone and this actually feels like a space where work can get done!

Obviously Aaron has also been busy assembling some of the tools we purchased for this space. We’ll give you a full run down whenever the space is done. Next up: dust collection & filtration.

Put a window in it

If we had a mantra (a la Portlandia’s “put a bird on it“) it would be a close tie between “paint it white” and “put a window in it”. In the case of the workshop, we’re doing both. You see the hole right there… we put a window in it.


The basement has two subterranean window openings that are protected by metal grates. They were boarded up, but not bricked over like the windows on the first floor, making this a really easy and inexpensive way to add some natural light to the space.


Remove the board…


Put a window in it…


Except when we removed the board, we discovered a small jungle of weeds and trash.


A little clean up and three bags of rock made this a much better view.


It’s not enough light to work by, but it makes a huge difference when you hit the bottom of the steps.


That’s it. Just an easy, simple “put a window in it” project.