Let’s Build a Fireplace

Fireplaces can be a source of warmth and more entertaining than television.

Back in the old days the hearth earned its place as the heart of the home by serving as a heat source, cook top, and home entertainment center. Many older homes still have traditional fireboxes but they’ve become under-used black holes decorated with candles, objects d’ art and dried flower arrangements. But they can return to being safe, functional, and fiery focal points. All you need is some direction and a match.

A fireplace surround made from concrete fireplace. Yes, concrete.

Traditional wood burning fireplaces abound but everybody knows they’re not much good for heat. Converting to a gas powered, or a wood fired insert can change all that and make the fireplace an efficient heat source. The aesthetics of an existing interior design scheme for a fireplace can also be updated by changing the façade which is also known as the “surround.” But before you get to the fun stuff, you need to decide on a fuel. If you enjoy the snap, crackle and scent of burning timber and don’t mind the mess, stick with wood. But according to local hearth industry experts there is a clear trend away from tradition as most new fireplaces are going to gas or a wood burning inserts.

Totally modern fireplace design using hot-rolled, black steel.

Installing an insert isn’t cheap because usually you have to replace the flue which is inside the existing chimney. Expect to pay a minimum of $2000 for an insert, flue work will probably be extra. You can buy gas logs starting at $500, but you’ll need a qualified installer yo determine flue requirements and properly plumb the gas line. If you’re on a budget you can also check out “vent less” systems that don’t require a flue. Keep in mind that some manufacturers suggest leaving a window open while the flames are on. Seems crazy, doesn’t it?

Totally custom design with a stainless steel skateboard mantle (of course).

Once the fuel decision is made, think about how the fireplace looks in the room. Proportion is a critical issue as a small firebox in a room with twenty five foot ceilings looks silly. Silly is a bad thing and you also have to think about a competing focal point, the television. To deal with the conundrum, some designers are combing the two into one wall. Don’t do that, okay? It’s usually a bad idea for many reasons.

Maybe just move the whole thing outdoors…

If the idea of having live flames inside the house puts you off, there is another option. Build the fireplace outside. Already popular in New England and California, taking the flames outdoors is a great way to turn a backyard into an outdoor room. Outdoor fireplaces can be used as a screen to block the view from the crazy neighbors in addition to providing a focal point for outdoor entertaining.

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