Picture how your fireplace will be used. You’ve probably already got a location in mind, but the practicality of the location may be affected by venting needs, installation clearance requirements and fuel choices.
Part 1: GREAT EXPECTATIONS
First, why are you installing a fireplace? Is is for recreational use and entertaining? Is it serving as a backup emergency heating system? Supplemental heat for a chilly room? Is it simply a decorative element to enhance your decor? Fireplaces are available in a wide range of designs fireplaces being used as supplemental or backup heat sources will get the most use and a higher quality (more expensive) model will be a better choice that generally offers greater efficiency.
Who will be using the new fireplace? What is your lifestyle? Elderly people and those with health problems may not be able to handle the vigors of toting firewood. But if you have the time to enjoy the rituals of cutting, splitting and stacking wood and the idea of free heat from fallen trees on your property, an investment in a wood burning fireplace may suit your needs perfectly. Otherwise, expand your possibilities to gas or electric fireplaces.
Fireplace design experts and chimney sweeps agree that low-end, builder-grade fireplaces should only be used for occasional, recreational fires such as family gatherings at holidays. If you expect to use your fireplace once a week or more during the winter, opt for a higher end model that will last for many years because replacement is an expensive, time-consuming project. Now let’s begin with the next stage of planning.
Part 2: CHOOSING THE FUEL
Do you picture burning natural firewood? Wood burning fireplaces will put the most restraints on your design. The chimney system must run vertically in a relatively straight configuration and clear the roof line according to local codes, which are a minimum of 3′ in most areas – but can be excessively more depending upon your roof pitch and home design. You’ll want the fireplace installed in an area that’s accessible to a doorway to the outside to bring in your firewood and take out ashes. A wood burning fireplace will also have the greatest requirements for a fireproof hearth that protrudes into the room and for side and top clearances. And unless you opt for a high-end, energy efficient fireplace fireplace design that offers tightly sealing doors for long burn times and upgraded designs to provide high heat output, burning wood may actually remove more heat from your room than it adds.
Opening front, decorative wood burning fireplaces are banned as new appliance choices in some areas that are prone to air quality problems. Decorative fireplaces consume a lot of fuel, can produce excessive amounts of smoke into your neighborhood, and offer little to no heat output. So carefully consider the quality and features of the models available during your planning stages. Higher end models may give you many more years of service plus convenience features that give you longer burn times, more heat from every piece of wood and cleaner burning that results in less smoke and a cleaner chimney.
Make sure you have a good source of firewood available and space to stack your wood pile. The type of wood you burn – and how you store and care for your firewood – will greatly affect your wood burning experience.