Fireplace InsertsIn fifteen words or less, can you describe what a fireplace insert does?

It’s a tough definition. The name “fireplace insert” isn’t entirely descriptive of its renovation potential, or its unique ability to make old fireplaces fully functional again without the need for extensive reconstruction. They also tend to offer greater fuel efficiency than traditional, chimney based fireplaces thanks to their comparatively more modern design and construction.
In the simplest terms, fireplace inserts are fully self-contained fireplaces that are placed inside the firebox (the open area at the bottom of the chimney) of an existing fireplace. Several different manufacturers offer them in many different styles, and there are additional accessories and add-ons that help increase the beauty of their physical appearance.

Different Kinds of Inserts, Different Kinds of Fuel – Wood, Gas, and Electric

Fireplace inserts can be organized into three varieties according to fuel type. Though gas fireplace inserts are the most popular with the general public, electric and traditional wood burning fireplace inserts are also available from some manufacturers.

One of the chief advantages to the gas fireplace insert, in terms of fuel variety, lies in its versatility. Many natural gas fireplace inserts are also capable of operating on propane. Some gas fireplace insert models come with propane orifices already attached as a standard accessory; others rely on conversion kits to help them shift from using natural gas to propane.

Electrical fireplace inserts are prized for their economy and for their low-maintenance construction. Of course, traditionalists will insist on the classic wood-burning fireplace insert. As a means of giving a second life to an existing fireplace, the wood-burning fireplace insert does offer a one-step solution. When choosing which fireplace insert is the best option for your home, consider what fuel type works best for you, and what venting capabilities your home or fireplace already possesses.

How to Choose A Venting System

Fireplace InsertsIn most cases, fireplace inserts will use one of two venting systems, or ways to remove their exhaust. Direct vent fireplace inserts function much the same as traditional fireplaces, with exhaust funneled through the fireplace chimney. One advantage of the fireplace insert over the fireplace itself is that the combustion exhaust is kept sealed and away from the room air. This provides a cleaner, safer fire than conventional fireplaces can offer.

Vent free fireplace inserts are entirely self-contained. They produce no harmful byproducts, and burn cleaner than direct vent and conventional fireplace models. They also offer additional energy efficiency than direct vent fireplace inserts, since they are able to retain all the heat they produce rather than allow some heat attrition through the vent. Vent free fireplace inserts also provide the opportunity to make older fireplaces with non-functioning chimneys usable again. The insert simply fits inside the old firebox but does not use the chimney flue.

Installing a Fireplace Insert – Models and Accessories

Fireplace insert models are much like motorcycles, cars, or other heavy machinery. There’s a wide selection of accessories to fit most models, and getting your fireplace insert up to top functioning capacity – and appearance – will likely involve investing in some optional extras.

Surround kits are sold to help frame your fireplace insert within the firebox, giving it a seamless, “built-in” appearance. Surround kits may include flashings, which close the gap between the fireplace insert edge and the edge of the firebox, and fronts, which fit over the fireplace insert and work to conceal that gap.

Other optional fireplace insert accessories include decorative panels that fit inside the insert itself, safety screens, and operable front doors. Such accessories vary by manufacturer and model, so it’s important to make sure you’re buying the right accessories at the time of purchase to avoid the hassle of returns and exchanges.

Fireplace Safety

A fireplace safety gate

They’re beautiful and cost-effective, but most fireplaces present a potential safety hazard for your children – even when they’re not in use. In fact, the very things that give the fireplace its beauty are oftentimes the same reasons they can be dangerous. Because while brick, wood, and mortar make for long-lasting, dependable fireplace construction, they’re also hard to fall upon of crash into, meaning your child could face cuts and bruises or worse.

Fireplace dealers recommend taking the following steps to making sure your fireplace is a safe place for your children.

Reduce Harmful Injuries With a Heath Pad

Falling on a brick, marble, or concrete hearth can present plenty of cuts and bruises dangers to even older children (and adults.) Falling against the edge of brick or concrete hearth can present risks that are even more serious.

Use a hearth pad to cushion the heart’s hard, sharp edges. Similar to a bumper, the hearth pad fits around the top edge of the hearth with tape or other non-permanent adhesive. It’s treated to be resistant to heat, so you can still enjoy your fireplace even with the mat protecting your kids.

Keep Small Children at a Safe Distance with a Fireplace Gate

Similar to the mesh screens used to cordon off staircases, fireplace gates also sometimes resemble small fences. They’re sometimes tri-fold, like a wardrobe screen, and made of material durable enough to stand up to a child’s pushing and jostling. (Some models have five segments instead of the usual three.) Other models resemble a small garden fence, complete with swinging entry gate.

Hearth gates also work in the backyard, too, keeping children at a safe distance from barbecue pits and grills.

Teach Your Children The Basics Of Fireplace Safety

Fireplace Safety

The hearth pad runs along the hearth's top outer edge.

Educating your children on the importance of fire safety – and fireplace caution and safety – remains the most effective means of preventing hurtful injuries not just in your house but out in the world, as well.

Fire safety is also a great way to spend time with your kids, helping them understand why fire safety remains important and that you’re trusting them with valuable information.

A partial list of fire safety rules to remember should include:

  1. Matches are not toys. They should only be used to start fires inside the fireplace.
  2. The fireplace, including the hearth and mantel, are not a playset. Children shouldn’t hang from the mantel or jump off the hearth.
  3. The fireplace interior – known as the firebox – is off limits. Children should be taught not to climb inside or remove any screens or doors in order to get inside.
  4. Likewise, stacked firewood beside the fireplace or outside should not be climbed on or otherwise disturbed. Falling logs can hurt, and smaller children can get ankles caught between logs as they fall.
  5. If a fire is lit inside the fireplace, children should be taught not to approach closer than three feet from the hearth. Also, they should never wear loose or bagging clothing around the fireplace or around stacks of firewood.

For more on helping children avoid fire-related injuries, check out our Parent’s Guide to Barbecue and Campfire Safety

Outdoor FireplacesAn outdoor fireplace brings several different but closely-related dimensions to your backyard, patio, or pool area. But whether you invest in a traditional wood-burning fireplace or choose one of the more modern gas, gel, or electric models, an outdoor fireplace gives your outdoor area a distinct ambience and charm.

And like everything in the great outdoors, an outdoor fireplace brings with it a certain amount of concerns and responsibilities. A few of the most common are listed below.

What’s the best place to put my outdoor fireplace?

Outdoor fireplaces come in a sweeping variety of sizes, so there’s almost certainly one that’s the right size for the area you have in mind.

Determining where in your designated area the fireplace will go is also relatively simple. Fireplaces tend to become the centerpieces of wherever they’re placed, whether inside or outside. Consider putting your fireplace in the area that’s the most natural spot for your family and guests to congregate. This can include the edge of a patio or deck, the largest wall of an enclosed porch, or beneath an arbor or pergola beside the swimming pool.

There’s no right or wrong answer except what’s best for your space’s needs. If you’re unsure, try taking measurements and comparing them with the listed size of the fireplace. (Most fireplace retailers will list the fireplace dimensions on their Web pages.) As the old saying goes, “measure twice, cut once.”

If you’re certain you’re starved for space, consider using a firepit in place of a patio table or conversation centerpiece. You’ll get the ambience and warmth of a fireplace without the comparatively larger space investment.

What kind of fireplace should I get?

Outdoor FireplacesMost model fireplaces burn one of four kinds of fuel: wood, gas, a special kind of flammable gel, and electricity. Wood burning fireplaces are rugged and stately but require more cleanup and maintenance than other models. If you’re looking for the least amount of upkeep, an electric fireplace likely offers you the most convenience. Still, electric models require a wall outlet to operate, and this may narrow your placement options.

Gel fireplaces are convenient and are often very compact, meaning they’re easily placed around patio areas and on pool and patio decks. They’re comparatively “cleaner” burning than wood fireplaces but don’t require the same amount of energy as electric models.

Can I install an outdoor fireplace myself?

Installation requirements vary according to where you wish to put your outdoor fireplace, its model (fuel) type, and even the weather and time of year. Consult the model owner’s manual thoroughly before making a decision. A little research and due diligence will definitely pay off now and in the future. Once your fireplace is installed, you can look forward to years of warmth, atmosphere, and elegance brightening your outdoor area.

Outdoor Fireplces

A patio fireplace

Summer temperatures mean a bigger drain on appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners. That means a bigger drain on your wallet!

The California Energy Commission reports that the average family spends around $1900 on energy costs every year. Now more than ever, home energy efficiency remains an important part of keeping your household financially sound.

You’re probably already familiar with the basics of home energy efficiency. It’s still important to seal your windows and door-frames, and to use ceiling fans and thermostat timers to help reduce your electricity bill. But don’t stop there! There are many other low-cost and no-cost energy saving methods. Here are just a few:

Cool Your Home With The Great Outdoors

If you live in an area with cool nights – even in summer – you’re all set to start reducing your energy bill. Once the sun goes down, raise your windows (remember to take any necessary security precautions.) The house will flood with cool air that will help it keep cool the next day. You might also install blinds and curtains to further block air from escaping.

If you have a backyard deck or patio, installing a gas or wood burning fireplace helps to reduce your home heating costs while giving you a great new centerpiece for your backyard decor.

Reduce Heat In Your House By Avoiding Radiant Appliances

Radiant appliances, such as stoves and clothes driers, give off excess heat that can linger in your house’s rooms, causing the air conditioner to work harder. Cook with the stove or microwave and not the oven, and air-dry your clothes. (clotheslines are cheap, and can be strung unobtrusively in the backyard.)

Remember to clean the dryer’s filter after each use, and only run full washer and dryer loads.

Know When and Where to Use Ceiling Fans

Outdoor FireplacesTurn off ceiling fans when you leave the room; this saves electricity and prevents wear and tear on the fan’s machinery.

Installing an attic fan reduces the heat in your home by drawing in cooler air towards the attic and blowing out hot air. However, make sure your attic entrances are well-sealed, and that your attic has sturdy, dependable ventilation.Remember to close the damper of your indoor fireplace to keep cool air from escaping up the flue.

Save Money on Water Costs

Turn down the thermostat on your home’s water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (the warm setting.) When washing dishes, run full loads in the dishwasher but let them air-dry.

Plan to take cooler showers, and reuse hang towels after use to let them dry out.

See More of the Great Outdoors

Not to sound too corny, but you’ll save money on cooling your home if you don’t need to use the air conditioner so much. With the children out of school and with a range of summer activities available (not to mention your own summer vacation), summer is a great time to get out of the house. Go to the movies, join a club, or just go to the park and relax. You’ll save money while you have fun.

For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. Department of Energy‘s summer energy efficiency page.

Fireplace DecorFireplaces aren’t used much in the summertime, but there’s no reason your fireplace and mantel can’t continue to bring beauty and elegance into your home. Left to themselves, unused fireplaces can become a little gray, a little dreary after weeks of neglect.

But the hearth is still the center of the home. A carefully maintained and curated fireplace, mantle and hearth can remain a center of home beauty every month of the year.

Decorate Your Mantle With Candles

If you watch home renovation shows, you already know the power of candles. Many times, the designers will use tea candles and candelabras to give a newly-redone room extra ambience. Candles are low-maintenance, low-cost means of adding atmosphere and depth to your living room and fireplace area.

Candelabras, or sculpted metal candle frames, collect candles together for a decorative result that’s far more than the sum of its parts. They’re available in dozens of different styles and motifs.

Include A Fireback, Hearth Rug, and Tool Set

There’s no reason your fireplace accessories have to be purely functional. Firebacks are metal screens that help redirect heat towards the outside of the firebox, but they can be ornamental and decorative, too.

Hearth rugs help give your room decorative balance while centering your décor. Like candelabras and firebacks, there are dozens of designs from which to choose.

Fireplace DecorFireplace tools, of course, serve an invaluable function when the fireplace is in use. But they can also be decorative if finished in brass, chrome, or silver. They’re fully functional while remaining lovely to look at.

Convert Your Firebox Into a Flowerbox

The firebox is the area inside your fireplace that contains the fire. Once the fireplace becomes unnecessary for warmth, convert that empty space into a place to display plants and flowering bushes. Plants that need relatively little light work best, and be sure not to put any plants too far into the firebox (You’ll have to reach them to water them!)

Outdoor FireplacesSummer’s the prime time to hit the patio or backyard deck for barbecuing, relaxation, and spending time with family and friends. And like any part of your home, you’ll enjoy your deck or patio even more when you take steps to renovate and restore its features, providing not just regular maintenance and repair but also adding new attractions that keep its appeal fresh and inviting year after year.

But renovating your patio doesn’t have to leave you out of house and home. Many improvements can be accomplished without professional help and with only a day or two’s worth of effort on your part. Some of the following are listed below:

Fire Up Your Decor

If you enjoy your patio or deck mostly at night, adding an outdoor fireplace or firepit is a great way to provide light and warmth as well as all the ambience and elegance a fireplace provides. Many modern firepits serve as islands for entertaining guests around patios and pool decks, and some convert to wet bars – complete with ice cooler pit – with only a simple swap of accessories.

Full-sized, outdoor fireplaces are another perfect way to “light a fire” under your patio decor, too, and they’re available to fit most design schemes and aesthetics. These may require professional installation, but definitely pay off.

Set Aside Space

Sheltering one area of your patio or pool deck with a pergola gives it a secluded, exclusive feeling, especially when the pergola’s frame is covered with liana or wisteria to give it a sophisticated yet pastoral sense of intimacy. Pergola areas are also great areas to include a firepit, too, but take care not to keep an open flame near the vegetation.

Convey More Heat and More Light

Outdoor Fireplaces'

A patio firepit

It’s hard to get comfortable and relax if you’re cold. For chilly nights – or just for a little extra warmth after a dip in the pool – install heating towers around your deck or patio. They’ll help create an elegant perimeter around the patio or deck area while providing a sumptuous level of comfort. Installing mosquito traps around the yard’s perimeter will also help keep your yard free of these dangerous pests.

Bring Plants Into The Deck or Patio Space

A bare, empty deck or patio that’s surrounded but doesn’t include vegetation resembles a parking lot more than a garden. Which would you rather have? Bring full-sized plants such as palm trees and area plants like ferns around the patio furniture and into any empty corners. You’ll create an organic, lively look to the area without spending a lot of money. Remember that many such plants have exacting watering schedules, though, and plan accordingly.

Install A Waterfall or Fountain

If you picture a scenic courtyard in Europe or even New Orleans or Manhattan, you probably include a fountain in your mental image. Garden and patio fountains bring tranquility and Old World charm to their surroundings, and can also serve as goldfish ponds to give your area extra life. For a more contemporary touch, waterfalls use modern technology to replicate the world’s original relaxation effect in a compact, energy efficient setting. Waterfalls, like firepits and fireplaces, are available at home renovation warehouses and at sharp discounts when purchased online.

 

 

Fire SafetyOutdoor barbecues and camping trips are a great way to build memories that last a lifetime, but parents should take precautions to make sure such family-friendly excursions don’t end in tragedy. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports that each year almost 5,000 Americans are injured by outdoor grill fires, while the Dayton Children’s Medical Center estimates that campfires make up almost 75 percent of all children’s camping-related injuries.

Fire prevention experts recommend taking the following steps to keep barbecues and campfires safe.

Campfire Safety

The National Institute of Health reports that most child-related campfire injuries stem from children walking or falling into the fire. Clear a four-foot area around the campfire site of any loose debris including stones, fallen leaves and branches, and other obstacles, and make sure the site isn’t placed near dry grasses and wood. Circle the campfire with stones or a metal ring to help contain its kindling and ash.

Once the fire is lit, keep it burning slowly, and instruct children how to place – not throw – sticks and twigs into the flames. When roasting marshmallows or other snacks, make sure children’s hands and arms aren’t covered, and that long hair is tied back. Roasters shouldn’t be waved in the fire but kept steady at a safe height above the fire’s base. Keep a bucket of soil  nearby at all times for quick dousing.

When extinguishing the fire, never pour water directly on the hot wood or coals; this can release trapped gasses underneath that can explode. Instead, toss water in small amounts around the fire, and smother the flames with dirt as well. Fires buried beneath soil without wetting can sometimes smolder on, presenting a fire hazard.

Barbecue Safety

Fire Safety

An outdoor firepit

Barbecue pits and grills should never be used within enclosed areas, as this can cause dangerous buildups of carbon dioxide. Loose clothing should not be worn around the grill surface, and children should be kept several feet away from the grill while it’s in use.

Propane tanks should be securely connected and never overfilled.

Keep matches away from children during the barbecue and out of their reach at all other times. Never add lighter fluid to an already-burning grill fires, as the resulting flashback creates both explosion and fire hazards.

Once the barbecue is over, dispose of hot coals by dousing them with water and stirring them to make sure all embers are extinguished. Never store burnt coals in plastic, paper, or wooden bags or boxes.

Parents can get additional information at the USFA Web site.

Gas FireplacesMarch 20 marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, meaning the days and nights of enjoying your gas-burning fireplaces are nearing a close for another year. Your spring cleaning plans should definitely include your gas fireplace, as keeping it clean and in top running condition helps add years to its life while helping make sure you, your family and pets are at their safest in your home.

Clean All Vents and Check All Valves

A licensed gas technician should inspect your fireplaces’s vents at least once a year, ideally at the beginning and end of each cold weather season. The technician will check for any stoppages, cracks or other malfunctions that can lead to the fireplace not working properly.

The fireplace’s valves should also be checked and inspected, Some fireplace owners may wish to turn the gas line off with the coming of warm weather, extinguishing the pilot light; in more humid summer climates, keeping the pilot light burning low will help to keep humidity from accumulating inside the firebox.

Cleaning Out The Firebox

Although the gas-burning logs, coals, or stones can be removed from the gas fireplace, they should never be rearranged from their factory-set conditions. Altering their configuration can cause malfunction and – in some cases – a possible gas leak. If this happens, consult a gas technician for help in resetting them.

Gas logs, stones, and coals can all be cleaned by scrubbing them outside with a soft-bristled brush. Vacuum the firebox, making sure to use nozzle attachments to thoroughly clean any nooks or crannies in which trash or dust has accumulated. As the spring and summer seasons stretch on, additional vacuuming will likely become necessary to remove dust, pet hair, and other contaminants that can pose a danger when the gas fireplace is re-ignited come winter.

Gas Fireplaces

A gas key with a Victorian motif

Pet- and Child-Proof The Firebox

Gas fireplaces sitting idle for weeks or months can sometimes become a source of curiosity to small children and pets. Make sure the firebox is closed off using a screen or cover, as pets and small children can shake lose or damage pipes and valves by climbing inside the firebox.

Gas FireplacesGas fireplaces offer their users a unique combination: the elegant, traditional charm of a wood-burning fireplace as well as the convenience and technology of electric models. However, gas-burning fireplaces share many of the same maintenance and care requirements as both wood-burning and electric fireplaces. Owners need to take regular precautions to keep their units in top operating condition.

When to Get Your Gas Fireplace Inspected

Owners of gas fireplaces that use vents should have their units inspected at least once a year by a licensed gas technician, who will ascertain any malfunction or defect.

Before returning the unit to regular use, experts recommend checking the gas fireplace’s firebox, gas logs and gas lines for any damage or excessive wear and tear. During spring and summer, the gas line’s main valve can be shut off and its ignition key removed, and the pilot light can also be extinguished. On the other hand, some experts recommend leaving the pilot light burning to reduce humidity inside the firebox.

Vents should always remain clean of debris or other non-fireplace materials.

Preventative Care and Cleaning

Logs, coals, or stones in a gas fireplace should never be rearranged as this can present a serious risk of malfunction. Consult a licensed gas technician for help in restoring the logs, coals or stones to their original configuration.

When cleaning, take the parts outside and use cleansers recommended by the manufacturer as well as soft-bristled brush. Clean the firebox by vacuuming dust and other debris from the floor and walls. Clean the glass front panels with an ammonia-free window cleaner.

Never burn any additional materials inside the gas fireplace. This can present an additional fire hazard as well as risk clogging the gas vents with burned-up debris.

Getting Additional Help

Many gas fireplace manufacturers, as well as retailers, offer expert and certified help in answering cleaning and maintenance questions and concerns. In many cases the information is available free of charge to consumers.

Electric Fireplace

Electrical fireplaces offer a much cleaner and low-effort alternative to wood-burning and gas fireplaces, but still share many of the same potential maintenance and care concerns for their owners. Nevertheless, they’re quickly becoming the fireplace of choice for those looking for a modern approach to the most traditional of home heating methods.

Installation

Possibly the greatest advantage of the electric fireplace is its versatility around the house – because they are so low maintenance and produce no debris or soot, they’re easily and cleanly used in every room in the home, including the bathroom (imagine a fireplace above a garden tub), the bedroom, and even the kitchen. Some electric fireplaces are also included inside larger entertainment centers that contain space for televisions and other home electronics.

Maintenance

Electric fireplace owners should regularly inspect their units, to make sure the wiring and components are working properly and in good repair. Though the electric fireplace’s wiring and parts are hard to reach for pets and rodents, some animals may still be able to reach and chew through the wires. Contact the manufacturer or a licensed electrician to assist in repairs if and when this happens.

During the spring and summer, you may wish to unplug the electric fireplace as a safety precaution, and to store the plug out of reach of pets and children.

Cleaning

Both the interior and exterior of the fireplace requires regular cleaning and dusting, but it’s okay to use normal household cleaners and tools. “A can of compressed air or small vacuum will easily clean out any unit’s internals,” says certified fireplace expert Collin Champagne. “If your unit has internal bearings, you can keep these clean with a drop or two of machine oil.”

Owners should also replace the light bulb as recommended by the manufacturer – typically, every two to three years.

Getting help

Besides the instructions packaged with electrical fireplace units, there are any number of resources available by phone, online and by mail from the manufacturer and from fireplace retailers, some of whom employ certified fireplace experts to answer their customers’ questions.