Putting a new fireplace into a home is fairly easy; many of today’s models vent right through the wall so there is no need to tie it into a chimney or even a long, shiny pipe. Reconditioning an old fireplace may not be so easy but the results may be even more pleasing.
During the 1950s and since, the firebox and chimney became drafty nuisances for homeowners, and many were filled in, covered over or just ignored. In the race for modern convenience, most of us forgot the aesthetic beauty of a hearth fire – the flickering flame, the warmth that permeates the house. A horde of home restorers, however, are bringing back those almost forgotten feelings and joys.
In many old homes you can find large hearths with beautiful antique brick just waiting to be revived. With a blend of old-fashioned brick or mantels and modern fireplace inserts, a working fireplace or stove can once again be the focal point of the room.
Although it can be a work of art, with any fireplace or appliance, functionality must be the first consideration. Renovating a box designed to hold an open fire in the hearth of your house is fraught with inherent difficulty, with most of the problems stemming from the integrity of the firebox and chimney. A crack or loose brick can be dangerous and is best left to certified professionals to inspect and fix.
Efficiency is another limiting factor in any restoration. Old-fashioned fireplaces are notoriously inefficient; most will suck more heat out of the house than they produce. So any restored fireplace must be modernized as well.
The easiest, safest and most efficient way of bringing an old fireplace back to life is by installing an insert or a stove. While upgrades such as dampers, flue vents and glass doors can improve the efficiency of an old fireplace, inserts or stoves are the only add-ons that make a significant difference. The glass or metal doors, external combustion air vents and heat-circulation blowers that come with inserts improve efficiency by directing heat from the fire into the room and controlling the amount of heat that goes up the chimney.
The main reason homeowners balk at installing either an insert or a stove is because they feel they are not as aesthetically pleasing as an open fireplace. This isn’t necessarily true with the fireplace choices available today. There are a lot of things that can be done to renovate an old fireplace, but using an insert is a great way of restoring the benefits of the fireplace to the room without all the problems that go with it. You can still take advantage of the warmth and comfort a fireplace provides in a way that is very energy efficient. Many insist on wood-burners. It’s a matter of personal taste and, don’t forget, of the local price differences between available fuels.
Inserts and stoves can be fuelled with natural gas or propane, pellets, wood or electric and are available in varying sizes.
Selecting a hearth product fuel depends on many factors: the cost and availability of the fuel; desired efficiency and heat output; maintenance requirements; and the expected appearance of the fire. Local air quality regulations may also limit the types of hearth products that can be installed within a particular area.
Hearth appliances are available in a wide variety of designs from ultra modern to contemporary to traditional. Hundreds of styles and finishes are now available through specialty retailers including see-through models that can be installed on an outer wall so the fire can be enjoyed indoors and outdoors. Mantels and surrounds can enhance the appliance and help make the hearth the focal point of any room.
Fireplaces are now commonly installed in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms as well as the more traditional spaces like the living room and family room.
By turning down the thermostat on a central furnace and using a hearth product as a supplemental heat source in the rooms that are used most frequently, it’s easy to save money on home heating bills. Fireplaces, freestanding stoves, fireplace inserts and masonry heaters are great options for zone heating. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right product for a space:
- Style desired
- Fuel availability and cost
- Level of desired heat
- Intended use patterns
- Layout of the home
- Size of the space to be heated
For more information on hearth products in your area visit a specialty hearth retailer.