FireplacesEven the handsomest fireplace grows dirty over time. And given enough time, the mantel, accessories, and other decorative elements can grow stale, as well. But there’s good news for homeowners and other fireplace owners: breathing new life into a fireplace installation doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

First, Survey Your Fireplace’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Whether you’re looking to increase your fireplace’s heating efficiency or just give it a new lease on decorative life, you should understand your fireplace’s assets and challenges first. First, consider the chimney, both indoors and out. Older chimneys, particularly those in damp climates, tend to spring leaks and cracks that, as water freezes and thaws inside them, actually feed on themselves. Over time, this can cause serious structural damage. A leaky chimney leaks heat!

If you’re not comfortable working with mortar or concrete, consult a building contractor for chimney repair estimates. Shop around a get several quotes. If you own a gas fireplace, you should also have a plumber or certified technician inspect your system for damage caused by debris, wear and tear, and other problems.

Consider What You Want from Your “New” Fireplace

One of the major ways you can bring a new look to an old fireplace is by investing in a new screen or set of doors. Much like the front grill of a classic automobile, a fireplace screen or door set will add shine, depth, and presence to your fireplace presentation.

If you’re going to paint your chimney or firebox, you need to find the right paint. Heat-resistant paint is available from online and retail stores. However, heat-resistant and heat-proof paint only work in very specific circumstances. It’s important to read all labels and advisories before purchasing.

FireplacesFireplace technology has kept pace with the times, and modern fireplace models often feature electronic and remote controls, variable settings, and a wide range of decorative options.

But all those features and attractions can prove daunting for first-time buyers. If you’re fixing up a fireplace you’ve had for years, or purchased as part of a residence, the road to perfection can also seem confusing. Keep reading to discover the basics of modern fireplace shopping and buying.

Wood Burning Fireplaces: Ancient and Atmospheric

The classic fireplace image includes wooden logs aflame inside a generously sized fireplace. Yet the modern wood-burning fireplace, while retaining its traditional operation, also includes a variety of decorative and safety features meant to maximize its users’ warmth and safety.

Fireplaces’ great advantage lies in their elegance and charm; however, modern gas and electric fireplaces have largely outpaced them in regards to fuel economy, heat production, and convenience. Still, there’s no mistaking their traditional appeal, and for those with old-time decorative sensibilities their allure is probably irresistible.

Gas Logs, Natural Gas, and Propane Fireplaces Are Convenient, Economical

Fireplaces

A linear fireplace

Gas logs are permanent fireplace installations that swap out an existing or new fireplace’s wood-burning capability for either natural gas or liquid propane. They are also available as part of specially-made fireplaces that are constructed to maximize their warming potential.

Natural gas fireplaces produce almost no exhaust, and can typically run from a house’s existing gas line. Liquid propane fireplaces burn hotter than natural gas, giving them greater heating capacity. However, operating a liquid propane fireplace often means switching out or refilling the propane supply tank. In addition, liquid propane supply service may not be readily available in all areas.

In either case, gas logs should be professionally installed by a licensed plumber or heating technician.

It’s also crucial to make sure your fireplace can accommodate the size gas log set you want. A helpful sizing and measurement guide is available here. Learn more about gas logs by reading our special guide.

The Special Class of Linear Gas Fireplaces

Linear fireplaces measure longer and narrower than conventional square-shaped fireplaces, allowing them to be installed inside walls and above existing structures. Also called panoramic or wide-view fireplaces, linear fireplaces’ viewing areas are usually four times wider than they are tall. Virtually all linear fireplaces will be gas-operated.

Direct Vent and Ventless Fireplaces: Which Is Right for Your Needs?

Choosing between direct vent (or vented) fireplace systems and ventless (or vent-free) fireplaces largely depends on your home or business’ exhaust capabilities. Vented gas logs use chimneys or stovepipe to expel smoke, ash, and other effluvia away from the fireplace’s surroundings. Vented gas log sets are typically less expensive, but also less productive – they emit less heat.

Ventless gas logs and fireplaces are more efficient than vented models, not least because they do not lose heat through their exhaust systems. They also create less pollution than vented models. Despite their advantages, ventless fireplace systems have their drawbacks: they tend to consume more of the oxygen in their surrounding area, and cost more than vented models.

Electric Fireplaces Offer Modern Sophistication, Decorative Elegance

Fireplaces

Many electric fireplaces retain classic Americana design details.

The great advantages of electric fireplaces? They’re incredibly clean and require much less effort to operate and maintain than wood-burning fireplaces and gas logs. Electric fireplaces also require no venting, as they produce no exhaust.

Modern electric fireplaces use LED technology in conjunction with electronic controls to create electric “flames” that are often comparable from the real thing. They’re also available in a wide range of decorative styles, from traditional to ultra-contemporary. Wall-mounted and smaller-sized models also allow installation in many additional parts of the home – bathrooms, guest bedrooms, and others.

You can learn more about electric fireplaces by reading this helpful article.

The Fireplace Inserts Breathes Warm New Life Into Chimneys, Homes, Businesses

In many ways, the fireplace insert combines the best advantages of all other fireplace styles and models while possessing very few of the drawbacks. As the name implies, the fireplace insert is a self-contained fireplace unit that fits inside existing chimneys and exhaust systems.

Many models of fireplace are self-contained, or ventless. This allows them to be used inside the fireboxes (the open areas at the bottom of the fireplace’s chimney) of chimneys or exhaust columns that have become blocked or sealed off by damage.

Fireplace inserts are available in wood-burning, gas, and electric varieties. For a complete guide to their use and maintenance, read our Guide To Fireplace Inserts elsewhere on this blog.

A Glossary of Basic Fireplace Terminology

Fireplaces

We’re sure they’ll have fireplaces in the future.

The firebox is the open area beneath the chimney shaft, or flue, and behind the hearth. The firebox houses the firewood, gas log and/or pipes, and other fireplace machinery or equipment.

The surround of a fireplace is the area immediately around the firebox edges, facing towards the surrounding room.

A fireplace’s flashing seals the open gap between the edge of the fireplace insert and the edge of a surround. Flashing units give a fireplace insert a seamless look that joins with their surround.

The mantel is typically made of wood, marble, or another highly durable material. It fits on the exterior of the fireplace, above and around the surround. By long-standing tradition, a mantel’s shelf is a display space for family awards, mementos, photographs, and keepsakes.

Still have questions? We can help!

Our customer service staff is happy to answer your questions about any kind of fireplace and fireplace installation. Just email them at info@efireplacestore.com for a prompt reply.

Pellet Wood StovesFor as many as one million American homeowners, the pellet-burning stove represents the cutting edge in home heating technology. Environmentally friendly thanks to their recycled fuel source materials but still possessing most of the same modern controls and conveniences of traditional fireplaces, the pellet stove (or pellet wood stove) continues to draw new fans as home heating costs continue to rise.

The modern pellet stove uses specially-constructed “pellets” composed of recycled sawdust and other biomass material. Yet the pellet stove is actually not a recent innovation, and traces its roots back to one of the United States’ most pressing economic emergencies. At the same time, the modern pellet stove offers attractions and inducements that energy- and cost-conscious homeowners will find almost impossible to ignore.

The History of the Pellet Stove

Burning sawdust and scrap lumber in barrel stoves, braziers, and other simple stoves has been common practice for hundreds of years. However, in 1930, near the beginning of the Great Depression, the first wood pellet, the Presto-Log, was invented at a sawmill in Lewiston, Idaho. For much of the Depression, as scarcity and high prices continued to make heating oil expensive, the burning of wood and wood by-products continued to grow. Over time, the pellet stove continued to evolve, eventually gaining widespread public notice in Washington state during the 1980s.

Biomass stoves and ovens became the focus of widespread research and innovation during the 1973 OAPEC oil embargo of several Western nations. In more recent years, as demands for environmentally-conscious fuel sources and continuing high oil prices drive interest in alternative fuels, pellet stoves are entering something of a Renaissance. The nonprofit Pellet Fuels Institute estimates that more than 824,000 pellet stoves were made in the United States between 1998 and 2010. PFI believes approximately one million pellet stoves are operating throughout America each winter.

Pellet Fuel Construction

Pellet Wood StovesPellets are made from a variety of densified biomass material, including wood, cord wood, waste paper, wood chips, and dozens of agricultural byproducts including corn and cornstalks, and many forms of forestry and forest treatment byproducts. In short, biomass is organic material left behind after any of dozens of treatments and procedures.

Pellet manufacturers take these waste materials and refine them into pellets resembling pencil segments or corks; they average about the size of a small finger. Manufacturers remove most of the material’s moisture, in order to increase BTU capability and make the pellets easier to use in freezing conditions.

How Pellet Stoves Operate

Modern pellet stoves are a far cry from the straightforward “burn bins” of yesteryear. In fact, many of them share the same electronic components, remote controls, and other sophisticated features as contemporary gas stoves and fireplace inserts. The stoves receive pellet fuel from electronically controlled bins, allowing them to maintain a steady warmth output as long as their fuel bins contain pellets.

The Costs of Pellet Stove Fuel and Maintenance

Pellet Wood StovesPFI estimates that the average family will consume about three tons of pellet fuel per heating season, at an average cost of approximately $825. Of course, this number varies according to the size of the wood pellet stove and especially the frequency of use. In comparison, each ton of wood pellets has the fuel efficiency of about 2.8 barrels of #2 fuel oil.

One disadvantage pellet stoves face compared to natural gas and propane fireplaces and inserts rests in the refueling process. Pellet stoves require periodic replenishing of their hoppers, and some models’ exhaust may generate soot and debris more than others.

Pellet stoves also share one of the chief drawbacks of conventional wood-burning fireplaces. Because they tend to warm only their immediate areas, they can “fool” household thermostats into letting other parts of the house grow cold. As such, home heating experts recommend installing the stove away from home thermostats and other heat-measuring instruments. Remember to choose a spot that leaves ample and convenient room for any necessary stovepipe and venting.

Installing and Refueling A Pellet Stove

The installation and venting of a pellet stove, like a fireplace insert or direct vent fireplace, is a task best left to qualified, certified experts. In particular, consumer advocates recommend selecting an installation specialist certified by the National Fireplace Institute. They will be able to safely estimate the pellet stove’s best place in the home and to ascertain all venting and exhaust needs.

Wood pellet fuels are available from a variety of online and real-world retailers. The Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association provides a free locator service on their website.