Houseplans Blog

What Kind of Fireplace for You?

What Kind of Fireplace for You?
Indoor and outdoor fireplaces add romance.
(The gas examples shown in the photo above are in Plan 51-370.)

Spending my vacation in the Poconos in a cabin with a wood burning fireplace outfitted with a flue damper that wouldn’t close, while temperatures outside dipped into the single digits, got me thinking about fireplaces, and how they can affect our comfort, pocketbook, and health in good and bad ways. Proper planning is the key to a fire in your home that is effective, inexpensive, and safe. What follows below are some general guidelines and opinions of this builder. As with anything that goes into your home, but especially something this dangerous, consult professionals with knowledge of the particulars of your home before making any decisions.

If you are considering one or multiple fireplaces (or stoves) in your new home, ask yourself a few questions:
  1. Is the fireplace primarily for atmosphere or supplemental space heating?
  2. How often do you expect to be using it? What effect would dealing with firewood and ash have on how often you use it?
  3. Will your home have natural gas or propane for other uses, like cooking or water heating?
Even if you can answer all of these questions definitively, there is no easy answer for what fireplace is right for you. A lot comes down to what you, personally, feel makes a good fire. If you want to use the fireplace for space heating, then you’ll want something that does that job efficiently. There are many options to pick from here, both wood and gas.

If you want atmosphere, nothing beats an open fireplace with a pile of burning hardwood logs, but most of the heat is going up the chimney. If you are using it periodically for atmosphere, this isn’t a big concern, as long as you have a good flue damper, and ideally doors as well, so when you are not using it you can keep the heat in your house.

If you like looking at flames but don’t want to be hauling, stacking, and cleaning up after firewood; a gas log set could be for you. You won’t get that burning wood smell, but that may be a plus for you. Everyone has opinions on these topics. If you do go the gas fireplace route, I do not recommend a vent-free fireplace. No fireplace is really vent-free; combustion byproducts and water vapor are going to either vent into your house or out of it.

Though a vent-free set up can operate safely if the conditions are right, we are building tighter homes, and conditions can change – why gamble with an odorless, poisonous gas like carbon monoxide. A vent-free fireplace that is sized properly for the room it is in is releasing amounts of CO and water vapor into the room that are considered safe, as long as the fireplace is used for the recommended amount of time per day. Every house is a prototype and it is hard to predict how different factors will influence each other or how changes to the house over time will affect conditions. As for the argument that your cooking range is like an unvented gas fireplace – I don’t think a kitchen without a hood vented to the outside should be built either. Water vapor and carbon monoxide should be controlled through proper venting for a healthy home.

Once you’ve picked the type of fireplace, here are some other things to consider:

-- If you are using firewood, where will you store it? Even if you will be bringing just enough firewood to the fireplace for each fire, is there a spot next to it where you can set it that is easily cleaned?

-- Where will the TV go? Often, the fireplace and the TV want to occupy the same space in the design of a living room. A TV over a fireplace is usually too high for optimal viewing.

-- Are children present in the home? If so, consider their safety. Glass doors and metal screens help protect from flying embers and access. A stone hearth set flush with the adjacent flooring is much safer than a raised hearth, which could be a tripping hazard.

-- What is the furniture layout in the room? As implied by the TV question, a fireplace will often dictate the focus of the seating in the room, but also is a physical presence in the space. Make sure that you know where furniture will go, and that there is room for everything, including clearances around furniture for traffic flow. Don’t try to make the layout work after you’ve already built the fireplace into the house.

If you plan well and consider your lifestyle, a fireplace can really change the atmosphere in your new home. A poorly planned fireplace can be a white elephant. Do your homework and enjoy the fires for years to come.

What Kind of Fireplace for You? Inspiration

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