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To Burn or Not to Burn: Home Fireplaces

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by Allison Gunkel

The sounds and scents of a warm, crackling fire is enough to melt anyone's heart after a long day.

Home Fireplace

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Fireplaces are often equated with comfort and tranquility, transforming a typical family room into a blissful abode of warmth and playful light. Today this fixture is widely available to make any home, despite shape or size, a perfect heated haven.

If considering the installation of a fireplace, you must first consider the responsibility that comes along with it. As beautiful as a fireplace is, it can also be quite dangerous if not cared for properly. In every home there should be smoke detectors placed throughout, with a fireplace you should consider installing additional. A fire extinguisher should be kept on hand near the fireplace to ensure swift smothering of wayward embers or ash that can quickly catch flammable objects. Protective screens should always be used and doors on specific models should be kept closed at appropriate times. Only seasoned wood should be burned– some objects contain minor chemicals unknown to a consumer and could easily turn a friendly fire into a dangerous situation. Along with the maintenance specific to your model, chimneys should be inspected once a year for both safety and efficiency reasons. If all of these safety measures seem maintainable for your family, then certainly a fireplace can be in your future.

When investing in a fireplace a homeowner may find quite a bit of unfamiliar terminology floating through the conversation. These are a few to be familiar with:

  • Masonry – A masonry fireplace is comprised of a firebox and chimney often made of brick or stone with a tile lined flue. Masonry fireplaces are massive structures of extreme weight that require extra footing to prevent shifting or buckling. They have been described as antiquated or old-fashioned by those seeking a modern look, however, these fireplaces are stately, elegant and certainly not out of style.
  • Prefabricated (factory built) – The alternative to masonry is prefabricated fireplaces. These are significantly less expensive, quite convenient, and much easier than building from scratch. Prefabricated fireplaces incorporate a sheet metal firebox with a metal, pipe flue that runs within a housing, typically brick. These come in various shapes, sizes, and materials.
  • The Surround – The surround is typically the mantle and sides of the fireplace. It can be constructed of wood, marble, granite or brick, and even iron in some cases.
  • The Insert – The cast iron or tiled inside where the fire is burned.

Now that you have some newly familiar words on the tip of your tongue, you can explore the various models of fireplaces available for your home. Each offers a personal spin on convenience and maintenance, so determining what will work best in your home can be difficult.

What to have on hand when consulting with a professional:

  1. Know the size and shape of the room in which you would like to install a fireplace as well as the overall size of your home.
  2. Be able to adequately describe the decor of the room, including window numbers, doors, furniture, carpeting, etc. The more details you have, the greater the likelihood of finding a surround that will fit well into the complete look of the room.
  3. Confide any concerns or desires you have about your fireplace to a professional. He or she may be able to alleviate these by suggesting appropriate accessories.

When you consult with a professional, some of the following models may be options for your home:

Rustic Stone Fireplace

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Wood Burning Fireplaces

Wood burning fireplaces are the long surviving standard of home fireplaces, and come in three variations to best suit your family's fireplace desires.

  • Traditional – The traditional can be prefabricated or masonry built to your preference. It is a combustion system that does not need glass doors but always use a protective screen. This is a great fireplace for ambience and those who really desire a fireplace for the extra warmth, sounds and aromas of crackling wood.
  • Clean burning and EPA-Certified – These two models are very similar in that they are insulated closed combustion systems that reduce smoke emissions and generate a great amount of heat. These are wonderfully useful in heating rooms, they are cost-effective, and equally ambient to the traditional style. Both come prefabricated and clean burning models can also be masonry built.

All three models require professional installation as well as an annual inspection of both the fireplace and chimney. They come in numerous shapes and sizes that burn seasoned hardwoods or manufactured logs to produce adequate heat for the room. The model's look and finish is completely left to personal preference, keeping in mind the size has to fit appropriately into the desired room.

Gas Fireplaces

Gas fireplaces are much simpler to operate than wood burning fireplaces as they eliminate the need to get a little dirt on your hands in order to enjoy the beautiful glow. Comprised of a factory built firebox with a glass face, these fireplaces are sometimes installed just for looks, others as an essential heating source. "Heater-rated" fireplaces utilize a duct system to carry heat anywhere, even into other rooms, and are as efficient as a central furnace. Using a thermostat-controlled blower, heat is evenly distributed without being overbearing. Gas fireplaces use an electric start that is typically controlled by a remote or switch resulting in instant controllable fire without fuss.

Gas fireplaces can be installed anywhere there is natural gas or propane available. This includes the center of a room or right against a wall. No smoke means no chimney is needed, however, various vent systems may be utilized:

  • Natural vent – venting through the roof via a pipeline. This can be masked into looking like a chimney.
  • Direct vent – vents through the wall directly behind the fireplace to the outside.
  • Vent free – built specifically to require no venting thus allowing greater flexibility in placement.

The perk many enjoy about gas fireplaces is the utilization of faux logs. They are extremely realistic looking, indiscernible even to trained eyes. Some manufacturers allow consumers to pick the wood they would like to simulate from options of oak, pine, or driftwood. While gas fireplaces' fake logs are extremely low maintenance and clean, one does sacrifice the crackling sound and familiar aroma of a wood burning fire.

Home Electric Fireplace

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Electric Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces are portable, remote controlled, and factory built options for homeowners desiring something simple, especially for use in small rooms or around young children. Extremely easy installation requires placing your fireplace where you want it and plugging it in. The energy that runs the fireplace is converted to the heat it emits making this model the only one that can be considered 100% efficient and also extremely safe with a built-in auto shut off. There is no venting, smoke or ash, inspections, fumes or tools. The only slightly complicated option would be purchasing a kit that allows do-it-yourself types to install a hearth and mantle. Do note that though electric fireplaces are cheaper to purchase than gas models, they do cost more to operate.

Wood Stoves

One more model to consider is that of the wood stove. Not as big or built like a fireplace; wood stoves are extremely efficient in warming rooms. These also exceed EPA standards making them extraordinarily environmentally friendly and highly efficient. They are quality models; safe and clean with a smoke free burn and more heat emitted. Catalytic and non-catalytic models have few differences making either a quality investment.

You decided to purchase a fireplace and in the process you learned a few new words, asked questions, received some answers, and hopefully have found the model that will fit perfectly into your family's lifestyle. Whatever model you choose, it is blissful to have comfort waiting quietly within your reach.

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