As the days get shorter and the nights grow colder, we tend to spend more time around hearth and home. Nothing reinforces cozy vibes quite like a fireplace — the crackling of logs and the flickering of flames add a certain ambiance that your plug-in space heater cannot, which makes fireplaces a popularly requested feature with interior renovations. Even if burning wood indoors is not an option for you, fireplace installation could still be a possibility, thanks to a log pile of innovations made over the years.
Types of fireplaces
There are numerous types of fireplaces out there that can be categorized in many different ways, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s break it down by how we fuel our fires.
Timeless, classic, and traditional, wood-burning fireplaces are the stuff of romance. The open hearth is probably the most iconic, but may not be the most efficient or practical. An enclosed fireplace, or zero clearance manufactured fireplace is also built into the wall, but better at mitigating heat loss by virtue of a clear glass panel across the hearth (fireplace inserts allow for conversion of an existing open hearth fireplace into an enclosed fireplace, whether it use wood, gas, or electricity as a fuel source).
Of course, any wood-burning fireplace requires a chimney to vent the smoke and emissions, as well as a brick or stone firebox to contain the flames without igniting. Retrofitting homes for those accommodations can be a pricey proposition — floor joists may need reinforcement to support the firebox, rooms may need reconfigured to slip the chimney through (in particular with two-story homes), and the stone masonry itself is a premium material. For these reasons, they’re better suited to new construction.
For an attractive and higher-efficiency alternative, you might opt for a wood-burning stove constructed from solid steel or cast iron, which vents outdoors via a metal stovepipe.
Gas-burning fireplaces sacrifice a bit of romance for practicality, requiring only a gas line and a venting option, whether that be a chimney or exterior wall vent. This makes them far less cumbersome within the framework of an interior renovation project, especially if those prerequisites already exist at the fireplace installation site. Either natural gas or propane can be used as a fuel source.
The alternative to the direct-vent gas fireplace described above is a ventless natural gas fireplaces. These models are manufactured to contain and filter emissions without the necessity of a chimney, pipe, or other venting option, but that convenience does come with some risk, as any sort of equipment failure could allow contaminants to breach into your home. Carbon monoxide buildup is of particular concern, so ventless fireplaces will often include an automatic shutoff feature if CO levels get too high.
The term “electric fireplace” is a bit misleading in the sense that they produce no actual flames — instead, a heating element radiates warmth into the room while LED lights project flame-like patterns onto a screen. Many times, the visual and heating components can be controlled and adjusted separately by remote control. Some may even include speakers to emulate the signature sounds of splitting logs and crackling embers.
In truth, electric fireplaces have more in common with space heaters than they do a traditional wood-burning hearth. But if you don’t care about authenticity, there is a lot to like about them — they’re by far more effortless to integrate into your home than any other fireplace installation, and newer models offer more realistic simulations of the real thing aesthetically. There is also a lot of versatility in installation types — from freestanding fireplaces that plug into the wall, to those that are built into the wall, to others that are hung or mounted to a wall.
If you’re seeking something safe, easy, and low-maintenance, an electric fireplace could make sense for you.
Alternative fuel sources
Depending on whether you’re utilizing your fireplace as a decorative or a functional feature, there are a number of other fuel options, including fuelless (a “faux” fireplace). Here are some examples:
- Pellets: Compatible with enclosed zero-clearance fireplaces, fireplace inserts, or pellet stoves with specialized venting systems, pellets are a cleaner-burning alternative to wood. The pellets are a composite of wood byproducts and plant-based biomass and are inexpensive when bought in bulk.
- Ethanol: Yes, some of today’s fireplace options are alcoholic, and chances are you’re probably carrying them to their room. Ethanol-burning fireplaces are small, portable, and ventless, producing fleeting flames that appear to “dance” from the unit, which may be installed or mounted on a wall or neatly sit on a tabletop. These don’t heat things up too much, so buy them for decorative purposes only.
- Alcohol gel: Similar to above, but with a steadier and more pronounced flame. Their temperature is non-adjustable.
Anatomy of a fireplace
Functional and aesthetic components, options for styling those aesthetic elements
Depending on the type of fireplace and the venting requirements, the anatomy of the heating system as a whole may vary, and may be more or less complex. But as for the parts we can see — those that will make a visual impact on the room in which the fireplace is installed — there are but a few:
- The firebox: The open area in which the fire is contained, traditionally constructed from brick or concrete. They may be paneled, screened, or grated.
- The hearth: The expanse of floor directly in front of the firebox, again constructed from non-combustible material like brick or stone. May be raised on blocks or flush with the floor.
- The surround: The decorative elements surrounding the firebox, comprising the mantel (above), the legs (sides), and any inside returns that may be needed to accommodate the facing wall.
Fireplace surround design
Fireplace installations are so coveted because of the character they add to a space, and most of that is attributable to the fireplace surround. The size and makeup of the surround will be determined by the size of the room, clearance and safety requirements, the size and depth of the hearth and fireplace opening, and (of course) budget.
Marble, granite, and other forms of natural stone will create a stunning design feature with a more permanent and built-in feel, but can be costly. Conversely, wood and concrete are more economical and can be painted. When using a combustible material like wood, there must be at least six inches of space between the surround and the firebox opening, a gap that may be filled in with cast iron, brick, or tiles. One product we really like here at Ayars is EvolveStone, which can be nailed into place like wood but has the look and texture of real stone.
The mantel is one of the more important and variable elements of fireplace surround design. For instance, we can adjust the depth of the mantel to create more or less of a functional shelf, or position it closer or further away from the firebox opening for a “floating” dynamic. Decorative moulding features that we might use on other interior trimwork could come into play here, such as cornices, bevels, etc.
If we’ve got legs, we’d better know how to use them. The upper leg of a fireplace surround that projects from the wall is referred to as the corbel, and may be contoured differently to achieve various effects. At the foot of each leg is a plinth, which helps create a stylish transition between the surround and the hearth (think of a nice pair of shoes).
On the wall behind the surround or filling in any spaces between the surround and the firebox, we may have decorative cladding —sometimes brickwork or stonework, and sometimes wood or shiplap (again, when a responsible distance away from any open flames). Cladding really helps tie your fireplace accent wall together.
Complete interior renovations from Ayars
A carefully crafted and properly installed fireplace will really make some eyes light up. Although Ayars is booked into 2023, don’t let your hopes be extinguished if you’re seeking breathtaking interior renovations. See if we are a good fit for one another and let’s raise a toast to toastiness for next winter and beyond.