Fireplaces for Your Home
Nothing beats cozying up in front of a
crackling fire on a brisk evening, but not all fireplaces are made
equally. Depending on your type of home, your energy needs and your
design preferences, you have many fireplace options to choose from
New masonry fireplaces have come a long way since the days when they
provided more ambience than warmth. Today's models are much more
energy-efficient and some European models can even heat an entire
The cost of a masonry fireplace varies,
depending on factors such as the type of material used (particularly
on the fireplace face), the hearth (brick, stone, concrete, tile,
marble or wood) and other factors such as chimney liners.
Housed in their own metal casing, gas fireplaces can be installed
just about anywhere. Inside the fireplace are ceramic logs and a
burner that produces a glowing natural gas-powered flame.
There are three different styles of gas
fireplaces: the direct vent model, the top vent design, and the
The direct vent gas fireplace uses two
pipes that lead directly to the outside. One pipe uses combustion
air from the outside while the other vents the exhaust gas.
The top vent design can be installed into
an existing fireplace and uses the metal or brick chimney as the
exhaust vent. The combustion air for top vent fireplaces is drawn
from inside the home.
The vent-free gas fireplace model uses no
exhaust vent. This style includes an oxygen-depletion sensor that
turns off the gas if it senses a dangerous lack of oxygen inside the
While fireplace manufacturers claim that
vent-free fireplaces burn clean, are energy-efficient and don't
threaten indoor air quality, be aware that some states don't permit
the installation of vent-free fireplaces.
Prefabricated fireplaces, also known as
zero-clearance fireplaces, are highly insulated, so they can be
installed within an inch of combustible materials, such as wall
framing. They are preferred in new construction because they're much
lighter in weight, are faster and easier to install than standard
masonry units, and are energy-efficient.
Many newer prefabricated fireplaces are
prefabricated from metal and installed in wood-frame walls. They
generally have a metal shell and a brick-lined firebox.
A wood stove is essentially a metal container for a fire. Made from
cast iron or brick-lined, welded plate steel, a wood stove has an
inlet for combustion air and an outlet for combustion gases, or
Most modern stoves are airtight and allow
the amount of combustion air that feeds the flame to be controlled.
This control allows a wood stove to burn far more efficiently than a
traditional open fireplace.
Wood stoves built during the 1970s and
early 1980s offer efficiencies of 50 to 60 percent. Those built
since new governmental requirements were put in place in 1988 offer
75 percent to 90 percent overall efficiency; that is, they convert
up to 90 percent of their fuel into heat.
Concern about particulate emissions–the
dangerous gases and toxins carried by wood smoke–have forced changes
in design, too. Although old wood stoves gave off up to 50 grams of
particulates per hour in smoke, new certified stoves give off only
about 5 grams.
If you enjoy using your masonry fireplace
but don't like the associated energy costs, you might want to
consider purchasing a fireplace insert. An insert is basically a
wood stove designed to fit into a conventional open fireplace.
Gas inserts consist of a gas log set
installed into a steel or cast iron heat exchanger and are usually
sealed on the front with glass. Many of these units have fans to
move the heat, and are also available with remote controls, wall
switches or wall-mounted thermostats.
Fireplace inserts are heavy, often weighing
more than 400 pounds. Since wood-burning inserts need to be removed
when the chimney is being cleaned and maintained, they can be
awkward and heavy to handle. It is a job best left to a professional
In some cases, however, you do not have to
remove the insert to clean the chimney. The insert can stay in place
during cleaning if you install a full relining collar, a stainless
steel pipe that connects to the insert and goes to the top of the
You might need to purchase accessories such
as a blower, glass door, or catalytic combustor to go with the
Pellet-burning appliances are simpler to operate and more convenient
than other wood-burning appliances. In fact, they are almost as easy
to use as gas, oil or electric heaters.
These stoves and inserts burn wood
pellets–compressed wood that resembles rabbit food. Pellet-burning
appliances rely on sophisticated computers and circuit boards to
determine how much pellet fuel should be burned. Most models have at
least two burn settings and some use thermostats to control the
fire. They also use a forced-air system to distribute heat.
Pellet-burning appliances are highly efficient and pollute very
Because these appliances burn wood so
efficiently, some do not even need chimneys. Rather, they exhaust
fumes through a small hole in the wall to the outdoors.
Pellet-burning appliances need to be refueled less frequently than
most other wood-burning appliances. Refueling varies from once a day
to twice a week, depending on the model and your heating needs.
Customizing Your Fireplace
Just as when you buy a car, fireplaces can
be customized with a variety of options.
Gas fireplaces, for instance, feature three
different kinds of logs: vented logs that provide a realistic
burning wood look with less heat; ventless logs, which produce a
yellow flame with a high degree of efficiency; and partially vented
logs which provide a middle ground option in warmth, appearance and
Other options for fireplaces can include a
matching tile hearth, etched glass face or even a remote control for
couch potato firestarters.