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Last updated: May 7, 2020 • Home Improvement

All You Need to Know About Fireplaces

Picture this: it’s late at night, on a chilly fall evening. Outside, the wind is howling, as the driving rain beats against the window panes with a rhythmic pitter-patter. Reclining in your overstuffed armchair, you turn the page of the novel in your hand and take a sip from the cup of hot mint tea in your hand. It’s almost a perfect evening; but what is missing? 

Why, A fireplace, of course! The crackling sound of a roaring oak fire is simply perfect to set the stage for a relaxing evening of cozy armchair reading and tea-drinking. But what’s this? You don’t have a fireplace in your house? Don’t worry; we can help!

Should you install a fireplace? 

Contractor installing fireplace

Fireplaces are great, but they’re not for everyone. There are a couple reasons you might be apprehensive about installing a fireplace in your home. Let’s look at some of the cons of having a fireplace, and find out whether or not a fireplace is right for you.

Life of a chimney sweep

Chimney sweep cleaning chimney

Fireplaces are a lot of work. For starters, if you decide to go with a wood fireplace, you’re going to think about what you’re going to be burning in it. Most wood fireplaces burn hardwood, which can be difficult to find in a large city, and even harder to split if you don’t have a bulky lumberjack physique. 

But that’s not where the maintenance and upkeep woes end. If you go with a wood burning fireplace, you’re going to have to clean your chimney regularly, which can be quite a chore. Standing on the roof of your house wrestling a lengthy chimney brush while clouds of soot and creosote billow up and coat your lungs is not pleasant, by any stretch of the imagination. 

If you go with a gas fireplace, you’ll be spared the trouble of cleaning a chimney, but don’t be fooled; gas fireplaces come with their own set of tedious maintenance tasks you’ll have to keep up with. In addition to regular safety inspections by a certified professional, you’ll also have to routinely clean the equipment, taking it apart and meticulously scrubbing it wire brushes and cleaning solution. 

Burning money

Man burning money

If you’re ready to take on the responsibilities that accompany a fireplace, you’re also going to have to take on the cost of buying and installing one. Fireplaces are expensive. Whether you ultimately choose a gas or wood burning fireplace, you’re going to have to drop a lot of cash. 

After you’ve paid for the cost of all the hardware, the installation and the finishing work, a gas fireplace can cost $3,000 and up, depending on the model of fireplace and how ornate the finishing is. Wood burning fireplaces are cheaper, but still require you to make expensive modifications to your home, which will also require expensive finishing work. If you’re going to install a fireplace, you’re going to have to be prepared to handle these costs.

Playing with fire

When you were young, your parents probably warned you not to play with fire. If you’re not careful, you could burn the house down, they’d say. If you’re considering installing a fireplace you’re going to have to consider the possible dangers of having a fireplace, especially if you have young children. 

While their design has improved significantly over the years, fireplaces still come with the potential to cause a lot of damage to your home and family. Wood burning fireplaces come with a lot of potential to start house fires. A log can roll out of the fireplace, or a spark can ignite an article of clothing carelessly left nearby. If something blocks the chimney while the fire is burning, your house can quickly fill with deadly carbon monoxide. 

Gas fireplaces also come with their own set of intrinsic hazards. A gas leak can turn your home into a noxious bomb, primed to explode at any moment. A stray spark can set furniture or clothing on fire, quickly spreading the blaze throughout the house. This can, in turn, lead to even larger consequences such as a wildfire that devastates thousands of acres of forest and forcing you to rebuild or sell your house.

Whichever type of fireplace you decide to install, it’s crucial that you observe all possible safety precautions. Teach your children the dangers of playing with fire, maintain your fireplace regularly and use safety equipment like fireplace screens. 

Wood vs. Gas fireplace

Gas vs Wood fireplace

So you’ve decided that you want a fireplace after all. But should you go with gas or wood fireplace? Both have a number of distinct advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll go over. Hopefully by the time we’re finished, you’ll have a solid idea of what you want for your home! 

Efficiency is next to Godliness

So which is more cost efficient, a gas burning fireplace, or a wood burning fireplace? There are a number of factors to consider, and the answer is a bit more complex than it might first seem. The first thing to be considered is the cost of fuel. This will depend mainly on the area you live in. If you live in a rural, heavily wooded area, chances are you’ll have no trouble getting cheap, maybe even free wood for your fireplace. 

If you live in the city, however, wood will likely be expensive and poor quality. If this is the case, you might be better off going with a gas fireplace. Gas is much more attainable in the city, with prices remaining consistent and relatively affordable. 

You’ll also have to consider the cost of hardware and installation. Wood fireplaces vary widely in cost, and the final price tag depends largely on how fancy you want to get with the cosmetic trappings. If you’re willing to economize a bit, you can easily finish with a price tag lower than what you’d find on a gas fireplace.

Gas fireplaces are the more expensive option, but if you live in a heavily urbanized area, they might be the most economical option in the long run, due to the lower fuel costs compared to wood. They also remove the need to constantly remove ash from the fireplace like you are forced to do with a wood burning fireplace. 

Fireplace maintenance costs

Woman cleaning fireplace

Another important factor to consider is the issue of maintenance. While both gas and wood fireplaces will need consistent maintenance, which of these you choose will ultimately depend on your personal preferences. If you are a handy do-it-yourself type and enjoy working on your house, you’ll likely enjoy the challenge of having a wood fireplace. Standing on your roof with a chimney brush, scrubbing the creosote off the sides of your chimney can actually be a very satisfying feeling, kif you enjoy manual labor! 

Gas fireplaces, on the other hand, are too complicated even for the most do-it-yourself type guy to safely maintain. Unless you’re a certified gas fireplace service professional, you’re going to have to have a serviceman regularly visit and check your fireplace. Although a bit more expensive than maintaining a wood fireplace, this will free you up from having to maintain it yourself.

Fireplace basics

Once you’ve chosen and installed a fireplace, you’ll need to know a couple basics. Here are a couple tips that will help you keep up with responsibilities of having a fireplace. 

What types of wood should not be burned in a fireplace?

Hatchet stuck in wood

Let’s start with wood types. You might think that you can just burn any old wood. Broken up wooden chairs, pressure treated scraps of 2x4s, whole pine logs. Anything, right? No! Many types of wood are treated with extremely poisonous chemicals to prevent them from rotting. Burning these woods can produce hazardous fumes that present a significant danger to you and your family. 

The best woods for burning in wood fireplaces are dry hardwoods like oak, elm and birch. These woods burn slowly and cleanly, without producing excessive amounts of heat. You can burn softer woods like pine, but the large amounts of sap in these woods will result in creosote build up in your chimney, which is prone to catching fire. They also burn very hot and very fast, which will obligate you to feed the fire often. 

Another thing to keep in mind is ash build up. Once every two or three fires, you’ll have to clean out the ash and charcoal from your fireplace. For this you’ll need a heavy steel ash bucket, with a raised bottom to prevent it from burning the floor, an ash shovel and brush. Wait until most of the embers have died out, remove the grille and then shovel the ash into the bucket. Once you’ve gotten the majority of the ash, use the brush to get the remaining ashes and charcoal into the shovel and then dispose of it in the bucket.

Gas fireplaces

Indoor gas fireplace

As mentioned before, gas fireplaces are simpler to maintain than wood fireplaces, due to the simple fact that they require maintenance from a trained professional to operate safely. This eliminates much of the responsibility associated with having a fireplace. As long as your maintenance technician visits regularly to verify that all the fittings are sound and there are no leaks, you don’t have much to worry about.

However, there are still a few things you’ll have to keep in mind with your gas fireplace. Most gas fireplaces have a glass or plexiglass screen in front of them, to prevent fires caused by sparks jumping out of the fireplace. You’ll have to clean this regularly, as residue from the gas will discolour it and leave it looking stained. 

Most gas fireplaces also have fake logs that will gather dust if not dusted regularly. Other than this, gas fireplaces require very little in the way of upkeep when compared to wood fireplaces. Whether you choose a wood or gas fireplace, there’s no doubt that a fireplace will add a great sense of atmosphere to your home, as well as a warm cosy feeling to any room it’s placed in.



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