If you are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to select a fireplace for your home—whether by remodeling or by new construction—your selection process need not overwhelm you. By making conscious choices in easy steps, you can tailor your new fireplace to your way of life, whether you seek romantic seclusion or a centerpiece for entertaining the neighborhood.
Gas or Wood Fireplace?
The first consideration is your fuel. Fireplaces can be connected to natural gas or propane gas lines, or you can purchase and add wood to burn. Deciding on the fuel comes down to some simple choices:
- Do you want the same predictable fire every time? Go gas.
- Do you want to build your own fire for complete control? You want wood.
- Are you always in a hurry? Gas goes on instantly and extinguishes at the push of a button.
- Nostalgic for the authentic look and feel? Burn wood.
- Do you want complete control over flame size and heat output? Go gas.
- Put off by cleanup, ashes, and smoke? Burn gas.
- Charmed by the smell of wood smoke? Only wood will do.
- Gas is more efficient than wood, and burns more cleanly, too.
Only you can decide if wood or gas is right for your home. Both natural gas and firewood are commodities whose prices rise and fall. If you are trying to decide between the two fuels, a little detective work on the ease of ordering and receiving a delivery of a cord of firewood—a stack four feet high, eight feet long and four feet deep—may be helpful. A cord is 128 cubic feet of wood. Think of the space taken up by four average kitchen refrigerators.
Here suburban and rural homeowners have the advantage over city dwellers, who may be compelled to purchase small bundles of wood at very high prices for lack of storage space.
Consider the ready availability of existing gas lines. If you are building new and do not plan on natural gas for cooking or primary heating, the added expense of adding a gas line just for a fireplace should be considered. A relatively easy alternative is to install and use a propane gas tank just for your fireplace. If you choose this option remember to purchase the appropriate propane regulator for your gas fireplace or insert. Regulators for propane and natural gas are different.
If your home already has gas lines, adding a run for a gas fireplace insert will be straightforward. Gas requires only a push-button ignition.
Considerations for firewood include places to store adequate supplies inside and outside, splitting kindling, and accessories:
- aromatic chips
- starter logs to get the fire going
- creosote logs to help keep the flue pipe clean
- poker, tongs, fireplace brush and ash shovel
- ash bucket
- log carrier
Chimney or No Chimney?
Several designs for gas inserts and fireplaces are so ingenious that you do not even need an existing chimney. If a vent can be run to the outside, you can enjoy a romantic fire in any room, any time. Modern technology allows a very shallow fireplace, that does not intrude deeply into the room, or a full fireplace more in keeping with tradition.
Insert or Fireplace?
An insert—whether wood or gas—is a fireproof box that can rejuvenate an existing fireplace. The old firebrick or stone fireplaces of bygone eras actually sent more heat up the chimney than they put out into the room. This is not the case with an insert, which will use doors featuring fireproof glass and natural convection to pump heat out into the room.
Gas inserts can include ceramic logs to resemble a wood fire, but the logs never burn away and no ash forms. You can also forego the imitation logs and simply use a bed of colorful crystals for a modern look. Just about your only maintenance with a gas insert is to vacuum out the firebox occasionally.
A fireplace, not an insert, is the original architecture of your home. It may not provide good draw (convection up the chimney), it may suck in more heat energy than it produces, and it may be too big for your needs. Having an insert (wood or gas) will increase the efficiency and provide more heat for the room.
Fireplaces can be sleek, modern masterpieces of understated elegance, or they can replicate the charm of a sturdy Colonial hearth. The design you select should mirror your taste and anticipated use. Remember a fireplace cannot change styles as rapidly as your curtains or furniture, so consider how you will feel about its appearance five, ten or even twenty years in the future.
Beautiful contemporary fireplace inserts can provide dramatic backdrops for entertaining or quiet solitude. A large fireplace insert is ideal for winter gatherings for family and friends, while a smaller insert can give a cozy glow to a room, increasing the feeling of intimacy.
Open yourself to the wide array of choices in fireplaces and inserts. Your home will be warmer and your lives richer from the pleasures offered by a fireplace.