New Trends in Fireplaces


There are few things more cozy and romantic than a crackling fireplace. These functional and beautiful features add dimension, style and old-fashioned charm to any room. While installing a fireplace can be a tough project to tackle, it can pay off immensely in enjoyment and in resale value.

In this article, we'll examine the benefits of installing a fireplace, as well as the advantages of wood-burning, gas and electric versions. We'll also touch on fireplace dècor, and review some tips for when and how to hire a professional to assist with your fireplace project.

Popular Despite a Shaky Economy

In recent years, homeowners have turned from buying new homes and are increasingly focused on improving the homes they already own. One way to do this is by adding (or restoring) a fireplace. Whether you own a large stately home or a small cottage, fireplaces add value and beauty. For homeowners who are looking to add resale value, or those who are looking to increase the enjoyment of the current home, a fireplace can be a great home-improvement project.

In many cases, homeowners are faced with an old fireplace which has been neglected, covered up or partially removed. This was often done when an older home was renovated. While restoring a fireplace may seem as hard as installing a new one, it's actually much simpler, and a wonderful way to improve your living space. In this economy, it's just another example of how homeowners are looking to what they have, instead of what they don't have.

Different Types of Fireplace Projects

Installing a Wood-Burning Fireplace

This is the hardest and most labor-intensive of all fireplace projects. The installation of a brand-new fireplace in a home (or area of the home) which has never had one before involves heavy-duty renovation. The most difficult aspect is the chimney, which needs space to safely vent hot air and ash out of the house. In some homes, unfortunately, this is architecturally impossible. Consult a professional who is experienced in this particular area, and ask them if your home is suitable for a new fireplace. If it isn't, you may need to consider some non-traditional alternatives.

The first step in determining if a traditional wood-burning fireplace is right for you is to find out if your house has a chimney. While this may sound rather obvious, many homeowners have been surprised to discover that while the fireplace was ripped out years ago, their home does contain a chimney hidden in the walls. Check the original building plans for your home, as well as any additions or changes that have been made over the years. Call your local city hall to find these records. If you know the previous owners of the home, you can contact them as well.

If your home has a chimney, you will need to have it professionally checked for safety. Since you're dealing with open flame, chimney safety is a vital aspect of a fireplace project. An old chimney may be entirely unsafe, and it takes a professional to assess the condition of your chimney. Things like outdated (or missing) liners, unsteady bricks or caps which are not up to code can all make a chimney unsafe. Once you've had a professional assessment, have the chimney brought up to code professionally as well.

Once you have a safe chimney, you'll be ready to install the fireplace itself. Depending on whether your home had a fireplace in years past, this may be as simple as knocking out a portion of wall. On the other hand, if you've had a new chimney installed, you'll be looking at a more involved project in order to create a hollow space for your fireplace. In this hollow, you'll place either a pre-made fireplace, or you will build your fireplace brick-by-brick. Of course, building a fireplace from scratch is much more labor-intensive.

Installing a Non-Traditional Fireplace

Gas Fireplace

Natural gas-powered fireplaces are a very economical and attractive alternative to traditional wood-burning units. These fireplaces can be connected to your home's existing gas lines, or they can connect directly to a dedicated gas tank outside the home.

In years past, artificial fireplaces got a bad reputation when it came to authentic appearance. The logs were very fake looking, and the false brick fronts were painfully obvious. Thankfully, things have changed drastically. Today's gas fireplaces feature artificial logs made out of ceramic or cement. These logs are amazingly realistic, and many people can't tell the difference between real and artificial without a very close examination! The flames in a gas fireplace are, of course, gas flames, which mean that a gas fireplace is much cleaner than a traditional one. You don't have to worry about soot or ashes, and there's no need to install a traditional chimney.

You can find gas fireplaces in vented and vent-less models. Ask a professional which option is right for you and your home. As with a traditional fireplace, gas fireplaces do contain open flames, so the same cautions need to be exercised. Households with children or pets should be especially cautious.

Newer gas fireplaces come in many attractive styles and finishes. You can choose a traditional brick look to complement a country-style room dècor, or you can go ultra-modern with a sleek black or white fireplace front. Visit a dealer to get an idea of the many options available.

Gas inserts are a very popular trend for those who have a fireplace surround (often called a firebox) in their homes, but worry about the mess and hazard of live embers. These homeowners can purchase gas inserts, which essentially convert any existing firebox into a clean-burning gas fireplace! Ask a trusted professional what would need to be done in order to convert your firebox.

Electric Fireplaces

Perhaps the fireplace option with the lowest level of maintenance, electric fireplaces are very simple. You just plug in and enjoy! These fireplaces are very popular with apartment dwellers, but a growing number of homeowners are turning to electric fireplaces when they want to add atmosphere to a room without any construction costs. Installing an electric fireplace is as simple as purchasing one, bringing it home and plugging it in.

Fireplace Surrounds

A surround is the area around your fireplace which complements and protects it. This can include the mantel, the doors, surrounding brick or tile, and the hearth. Hearths are the areas of flooring directly in front of a fireplace, usually tile, brick, or another fireproof material. For decorative purposes, you can find fireproof accent rugs as well. Be sure that the run you want was designed for use in front of a fireplace, for safety's sake.

Adding a fireplace surround, just like adding a fireplace itself, can add a great deal of atmosphere and beauty to any area of your home. You can do it in stages, adding just a mantel or just brickwork, or you can transform the entire fireplace in one project.

The options for a fireplace surround are endless, and the current trends reflect this. Tiles can appear either very traditional or very modern, depending on the style and material you choose. Sleek marble can add a futuristic touch, while recovered (or reproduction) sculpted accent tiles evoke a more romantic, simpler time. Brick looks traditional, and is part of the old-is-new trend. This is especially popular today in kitchen fireplaces.

When to Hire a Professional

Installing a fireplace, for the very handy homeowner, can be a great do-it-yourself project. However, for others, it's simply a better idea to hire somebody with experience. After all, you want to enjoy your fireplace, not labor endlessly over it only to be unhappy with the results.

One aspect of fireplace installation that always calls for professional help is chimney work. The chimney is an extremely important part of the fireplace, venting dangerously hot air and sparks out of your home. If your chimney is compromised in any way, you're in danger of a devastating fire. In addition, if your chimney isn't properly capped, you can put your neighbors at risk of fire from a flying ember! Play it safe and have your chimney professionally installed (or inspected, if you already have one), as well as professionally examined and cleaned every year. Buildup of flammable materials is a major cause of house fires, and a simple and inexpensive inspection can play a large role in preventing these tragedies.

Other than the safety concerns of chimney work, the decision of what to hire a professional for should be based on your level of expertise.

If you do decide to hire one, be sure to research your options. The best way to do this is through home-improvement websites which connect homeowners like you with experienced professionals. These websites not only allow you to see a potential hire's license (if applicable) and insurance status, but they also let you read consumer reviews from former clients. These reviews can be invaluable when it comes to making your decision, since they allow you to take an inside look at the contractor or handyman's work ethic and overall quality of work.

Talk through your entire project before you make a hiring decision. This will help avoid annoying issues in the middle of a project which can come about from poor communication. For example, if there's a small detail which seems obvious but you feel strongly about, such as the color of your tile grout, make it very clear. These small details are often the source of many home-improvement headaches, but they can be easily avoided by running through the entire project beforehand.

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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