Chimney AccessoriesYour fireplace is a crucial part of your home heating capability. But is your fireplace working the best it possibly can?

Many homeowners and fireplace users seldom realize that the fireplace and chimney that have served them well for years may now need maintenance or restoration – or even replacement. Luckily, modern fireplace construction and venting technology, along with innovations in fireplace maintenance and repair, have made keeping fireplaces in their peak condition both simple and affordable.

With winter coming, consider taking the following steps to maximize your fireplace and chimney’s heating potential.

Keep the Chimney Sealed, Not Just the Damper

Chimneys can “bleed” heat if cracks and fissures in their masonry or foundation are left unchecked. Warm air seeps out and cold air seeps inside, finding its way into the firebox and making it more difficult for a fire to heat the surrounding interior room. Moreover, cracks and fissures actually “feed” on themselves. As water seeps in and then expands as it turns to ice, the brick or masonry crumbles and the dilapidation spreads.

Experts recommend getting your chimney checked for cracks and holes at least once a year, either by yourself or by a chimney or foundation expert. The means of sealing your chimney will depend, of course, largely on the type of chimney your fireplace has. A variety of maintenance and repair accessories are available both in stores and online. For more serious repairs, hiring a bricklayer, carpenter, or other contractor will likely prove necessary.

To keep your home warm even when the fireplace is not in use, make sure the damper is closed whenever the fire is completely extinguished. Investing in a damper hook will make this task less time-consuming and physically awkward.

Improve Ventilation With a Chimney Cap

Chimney Pots

A copper chimney pot by European Copper

The tops of chimneys are favorite nesting spots for birds, but those same nests can block the chimney’s flue (the airway above the firebox), hampering ventilation and increasing the risk of fire and smoke inhalation for the house and its residents. At the same time, airborne debris from surrounding trees can blow into the chimney as well, presenting fire and ventilation hazards.

By installing a chiney pot or chimney cap atop your chimney, you’ll block birds and airborne debris without sacrificing ventilation. Many chimney caps also make beautiful additions to a home’s silhouette and exterior decorative plan. Chimney pots and caps range from simple to ornate in both appearance and decorative elements, so you have a wide range of appearance choices.

Watch Out For Creosote

Creosote is the gummy, toxic residue left behind when oils escaping from burning wood coalesce and gel alongside the chimney flue walls. Over time, creosote can literally choke off a chimney’s ventilating capability.

Clean out any creosote by hiring a professional chimney sweep or by carefully and thoroughly using any of the creosote-cleaning tools available at stores and online. As a guideline, The National Chimney Safety Institute of America advices cleaning whenever creosote buildup reaches 1/8 of an inch thick.

Check out our guide to keeping your chimney creosote free to learn more.

Install A Direct-Vent or Vent-Free Fireplace Insert

Fireplace Inserts

A fireplace insert

As their name somewhat suggests, fireplace inserts are self-contained fireplaces that fit inside the firebox (or bottom) of a fireplace. They offer great energy efficiency potential because their sealed construction allows them to lose much less heat than traditional wood burning fireplaces.

Fireplace inserts are available in wood-burning, gas (both natural gas and propane), electric, and pellet-burning configurations. They are usually either direct vent, meaning they shed exhaust by means of a stovepipe; or vent-free, meaning they are 100% efficient in burning their fuel.

Vent free fireplace inserts also carry the additional advantage of working inside fireplaces whose chimney was removed or whose flue has become significantly obstructed. The insert simply slides into the obstructed firebox.

For more information, please read our complete guide to fireplace inserts.

Convert To A Gas Log Fireplace

Natural gas and propane gas log sets offer a cleaner, lower-maintenance alternative to traditional wood burning fireplaces. Most gas logs are constructed from high-endurance ceramic, and should be installed either by a plumber or licensed gas technician.

Natural gas and propane gas logs each have distinct advantages and drawbacks. Propane gas logs burn almost three times hotter than natural gas logs. However, natural gas fireplaces can run off a home’s existing gas line, while propane tanks require both purchase and periodic refilling. For a complete explanation, please read our complete guide to gas logs.

Install A Wood Stove In a Second Location In Your Home

Wood StovesIt’s easy to think of wood stoves as smaller, self-contained fireplaces. Like fireplace inserts, they are available in either direct-vent or vent-free configurations. Depending on that exhaust method, they’re suitable for use in any room in the home, especially attics, basements, and upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms that are hard to heat through conventional HVAC systems.

Wood stoves come in many of the same fuel configurations as fireplace inserts: wood-burning, gas, electric, and pellet-burning. Like fireplace inserts, stoves also feature electronic controls, including electric thermostats and electronic displays, so they’re much more accurate in their heating than conventional fireplaces.

A second (or third, fourth, et cetera) heat source in your home helps your main fireplace by alleviating its heating tasks. The lessened wear and tear helps delay the need for maintenance. Read our guide to wood stoves, electric and gas, and pellet stoves elsewhere on this blog to learn more.

Invest In New Tools, Equipment, and Parts

Investing in new fireplace tools, a new fire grate, or safety accessories such as hearth pads and gates won’t increase your fireplace’s energy efficiency. However, they will make your fireplace easier to operate and more comfortable to enjoy. They’ll also help improve the fireplace’s safety, both to operate and enjoy.


Winter Energy EfficiencyIt seems that winter home heating costs increase a little more with each passing year. Yet many families, especially those living in older houses, don’t realize they’re literally surrounded by opportunities to trim winter home heating and utility bills.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that American families spend nearly $1,100 on home heating and cooling costs each year – nearly half their total energy expenditures. However, experts agree that taking steps now to “winterize” the home can result in steep savings – sometimes as much as 20 percent.

The following energy efficiency tips don’t just work for homeowners. Apartment tenants and mobile home residents can also put these ideas and strategies into action. Just make sure to check with proprietors or property managers first.

Seal Up Your Home, and Seal In The Savings

You wouldn’t set sail in a leaking boat, so why brave winter temperatures in a leaky house? Winterize your home by weather-stripping doorways and windows, sealing cracks and fissures in the window and doorframes and keeping holes in the walls and ceilings shut tight. Small cracks equal big expenses: experts say a one-eighth inch gap between a door and its frame costs as much as a six-inch wide hole in your wall.

Windows, especially single-pane glass windows, are poor retainers of heat. Plastic film storm windows, available at most hardware stores and easy to install, will also trim electricity costs by better insulating your widows and window frames.

Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use. Unplug outdoor appliances and electronics to keep them from passively absorbing electricity. Consider upgrading your traditional wood-burning fireplace to a more energy efficient fireplace insert.

Don’t waste money by heating areas of the house that don’t get a lot of activity. Shut the doors and vents to unused or seldom-used rooms (guest bedrooms, basements, et cetera). This will better convey heat to high-traffic areas. Open all the curtains and blinds of south-facing windows, to better allow sunlight to heat your home naturally.

Adding insulation to your home, especially your attic, also helps you save big. You can also add insulation to other unfinished space in your home such as basement walls, crawlspaces, ceilings, and utility closets.

Dial Down the Thermostat and Dial Back The Utility Costs

Fireplace InsertsSetting your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower in cold weather months can quickly add up to energy savings. The California Energy Commission reports that you’ll save up to five percent on home heating costs for every degree you lower your thermostat within the 60- to 70-degree range. At night, dial back the thermostat to 55 degrees, or turn it off, to save up to 20 percent on heating costs. (To prevent overuse of backup strip heating, dial heat pumps back no more than two degrees.)

Installing programmable thermostats takes the constant supervision out of monitoring your home’s temperature level. Make sure the thermostat is properly installed in a part of your home that’s heated, so it can accurately monitor home heating levels.

Old Man Winter Is Hard On Old Furnaces and Heaters

If your home’s furnace or heating system is more than ten years old, the EPA recommends getting it a thorough inspection by a licensed heating expert or contractor. You should also check your heater’s air filter every month to make sure it stays clean, and replace it when needed.

Winterize Your Water Pipes and Hot Water Heaters

Save up to seven percent on your electricity bill by dialing your hot water heater’s thermostat down to 120 degrees. You can save even more by wrapping or insulating the pipes running from the hot water heating unit to the wall. Wrap the heating unit in an energy-saving heater blanket or jacket (available at most hardware stores). Consider buying a newer, more energy efficient heater: most water heaters have twelve-year life spans; older units will likely need servicing or replacement.

Drain a bucket of water from your hot water heater before the cold weather truly sets in. This will remove sediment and granular matter that accumulates inside the pipes and “prime” your heater for the months ahead, making ti run more effectively.

Save on laundry costs by washing your clothes in cold water, and running only full loads. Running cold-water laundry loads decreases the washer’s energy usage by 75 percent.

Take shorter and cooler showers; install low-flow showerheads to slash hot water expenses as much as 16 percent.

As with the window and door gaps, save money by caulking or sealing all cracks, fissures and openings.

Invest In A Wood-Burning Stove

Winter Energy EfficiencyDownsize your home heating utility bills altogether by investing in a vent-free or direct-vent stove. Usually powered by wood, propane, or natural gas, direct vent stoves use double-walled stovepipe to funnel exhaust away from the home’s interior, while remaining much more energy efficient than conventional (or B-vent) wood-burning fireplaces.

Vent-free fireplaces are self-contained (as the name implies, no venting is needed) and almost 100% efficient. Both direct-vent and vent-free stoves make excellent heating choices for bedrooms, family rooms, and basements. Electric space heaters may also offer opportunities for greater energy efficiency in parts of the home that are difficult to heat through conventional means.

Look for ENERGY STAR Products

Energy experts recommend investing in appliances, electronics, and heaters with the ENERGY STAR certification, which are certified by the EPA as using 20 – 30 percent less energy than comparable, non-certified products. Visit the official ENERGY STAR website for more information.

Gas LogsGas logs are gaining popularity among homeowners looking for a lower-maintenance alternative to wood-burning fireplaces but who still want the warmth and elegance of real flames. They make a clean-burning, energy efficient home heating solution, and modern gas log design and construction allows for dozens of design choices.

Gas Log Basics

In their simplest definition, gas logs are permanent fireplace installations that go inside a custom-made or converted fireplace and operate using either natural gas or liquid propane as fuel. Most gas logs are constructed from ceramic materials that are molded and tested to resist very high levels of heat.

The name “gas log” is somewhat misleading. Most models are in fact very carefully sculpted and detailed to resemble the wooden logs of a traditional wood-burning fireplace. However, other models are made to resemble decorative stones, crystals, and ultra-modern geometric ornaments. These “contemporary” gas logs function just as effectively as traditional gas log models but offer different design options.

The Pros and Cons of Natural Gas and Liquid Propane

Gas log sets run on either liquid propane or natural gas, and each has its own sets of advantages and drawbacks.

Liquid propane burns nearly three times hotter than natural gas, making it a powerful home heating solution. Because most models run on fuel supplied by tanks situated outside the home, it makes a great heating solution in areas where piped-in natural gas service is not available. However, propane gas log sets are more expensive than natural gas sets, and usually require contracting with a propane retailer to refill or replace tanks.

Natural gas log sets are very clean-burning. Because the natural gas used is lighter than air, the exhaust dissipates during combustion. And because many homes are pre-equipped with natural gas service, installing or maintaining external fuel tanks may not be necessary. However, natural gas lacks the same heating capacity as propane. Finally, service may also not be available in all areas.
Installation of either set should be attempted only by a plumber or licensed gas technician. Local ordinances and regulations may also determine whether you can have propane or natural gas log sets in your home.

Vented and Ventless: Two Kinds of Exhaust

Gas LogsAs their names imply, vented and ventless exhaust systems take opposite approaches to dealing with combustion by-products. Vented gas log sets use chimneys or stove pipes to funnel smoke and ash, carbon monoxide, and other debris out and away from the firebox. Ventless (or vent-free) gas log models are almost entirely self-contained.

Though less expensive than ventless models, vented gas log sets produce much less heat than vent-free models. They do, however, produce a more traditional-looking yellow flame. Ventless gas logs are more fuel-efficient and powerful than vented models, partially because they do not lose some of their generated heat through the exhaust vent. They produce less pollution than vented models, and can be used inside a fireplace or even inside a self-contained cabinet. However, they will deplete oxygen in the rooms where they’re used, so carbon monoxide and oxygen level monitors are required for their operation. Ventless models are also illegal in California and some other areas.

How to Choose The Right Size Gas Log

When deciding on a gas log set to function inside an existing fireplace, it’s vital to make sure the gas log is not too large for the firebox. The logs themselves should have two inches of clearance on either side between their ends and the firebox walls. In addition, fireplaces should be a minimum of twelve inches deep to safely accommodate most gas log sets. The logs should not be longer than the rear firebox wall.

The fireplace should also be large enough to allow room for the control systems, as well. A helpful sizing and measurement guide can be found at our website.

Understanding Gas Log Control Systems

Gas LogsGas log systems usually use one of three control types:

The simplest type is the manual on/off switch. An operator opens a gas control valve and strikes a match to ignite the flames, which are regulated by opening or closing the valve. Though simple to operate, they cannot work with propane gas logs or ventless models – only vented natural gas sets.

The second type, the manual safety pilot valve, resembles the operation system of a hot water heater or furnace. A pilot flame is lit by hand and used to regulate the fuel reaching the logs. The pilot light can be turned off in warmer months to save on fuel costs. Though safer, pilot lights offer limited flame control and cost more than manual switches. Propane gas logs must include a safety pilot light.

Millivolt pilot valves, also called remote-ready pilot valves, function much like traditional manual safety pilot valves with one important difference. They can be connected to an external control source such as a wall switch or remote control device. In fact, some of these remote control devices are sophisticated enough to allow control of flame height, intensity, and other gas log features. Millivolt pilot valves are more expensive than other control systems, however, and take up the most space within the firebox.

The Broad Range of Gas Log Accessories

Gas log accessories include everything from extra logs, stones, and other decorative elements meant to enrich the set’s overall aesthetic effect. In addition, many varieties and kinds of tools and cleaning products (soot remover, carbon remover, et cetera) are available, as well as remote control system upgrades and extras.

Electric FireplacesThough they’re a more recent innovation than gas or wood-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces are quickly catching on with homeowners who want the beauty and energy efficiency of traditional fireplaces but without the limitations those other models often carry.

One of the great advantages shared by virtually all electric fireplaces involves price. Generally speaking, they cost much less to install and operate than wood-burning or gas log fireplaces while needing very little maintenance and upkeep. Beyond cost, buyers will also find themselves enticed with a host of attractive features.

A Fireplace In Every Room

Electric fireplaces are self-contained and require no venting because, like space heaters, they produce no smoke or debris. Because they do not rely on smokestacks, chimneys, or pipes to draw their exhaust away from their setting, they’re often used in rooms where chimneys or venting pipes wouldn’t be possible – basements, upstairs bathrooms and bedrooms, and game rooms.

Electric fireplaces are also often used in place of traditional fireplaces and where fireplaces are no longer operational. These models, considered fireplace inserts, rest inside the fireboxes of chimneys whose flues are obstructed and demolished, restoring the beauty of the fireplace without needing the fireplace’s exhaust system.

Some model electric fireplaces combine a fireplace unit with another furniture amenity or convenience: for example, a fireplace built into an entertainment center or bookcase. Other models are compact enough to hang from a wall. Still others are built on rollers, and can be taken from room to room throughout the home. A product with a vast selection, there are actually dozens of different models available from several manufacturers.

Constant Innovation for Decades

Electric FireplacesThe electric fireplace isn’t a very recent innovation, but advances of the last few years have made them more cost-effective and realistic than ever before. The first electric fireplaces appeared in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until late in the following decade that models with truly realistic flame effects became available.

Today, many electric fireplaces combine LED light technology with electronic controls to produce “flames” that are practically indistinguishable from actual fire. Much like the lights of an automobile, these LED (or light-emitting diode) lights can be very finely-tuned while remaining long-lasting and energy efficient. Such sophistication presents a variety of options for the electric fireplace user.

Electronic Controls, Operation Bring Versatility

Electronic controls – standard on many electric fireplace models – bring two big advantages over most wood-burning and gas fireplaces. Because the electric fireplace is electronically controlled, owners can enjoy a greater degree of precision in selecting its warming output. Some models feature digital thermostats that allow choosing the exact degree of heat that’s desired. Users can also select the brightness of the flames or turn the flames off and let the fireplace function much as a space heater.

Another great advantage: electric fireplaces are as simple to turn on and off as any appliance. In fact, many come with remote controls for additional convenience and comfort.

Clean, Efficient Care and Maintenance

Compared to wood-burning and gas models, electric fireplaces are virtually maintenance free. They require no cleaning beyond the normal housekeeping given to other furniture. And because they do not use actual flames, there is no ash, soot, or char residue left to clean and remove. For this reason, electric fireplaces make ideal home heating alternatives for the elderly, persons with respiratory problems, and for those wishing to avoid costly and time-consuming chimney and flue upkeep and repair.

A Range of Styles and Decoration Options

Electric FireplacesModern electric fireplaces run the gamut of style and decoration motifs, from the ultra-modern to a range of traditional and classical styles. Some models come with reinforced mantels, making them ideal pedestals for wide-screen televisions. Some also feature real wood, metal, and ceramic mantels that boast top-of-the-line artistry and craftsmanship.

When choosing an electric fireplace model, consider the decor of the fireplace as well as the space limitations or potential within the room(s.) Fireplace dimensions are found on product pages and inside instruction manuals, as are power requirements.

 Electric Fireplace Disadvantages

Though providing more in the way of beauty than space heaters, electric fireplaces are nonetheless more expensive. And while their vent-free operation allows them a greater degree of mobility than wood-burning or gas fireplaces, they still rely on electrical power – usually a three-pronged, 110-volt wall outlet (similar to a television screen.)

In general, electric fireplaces are not weather-proof, and should never be used outdoors. As with any electrical appliance, it’s vital to follow all safety precautions and to use qualified and/or licensed personnel for all maintenance and repair.


Fireplace Safety

Direct-vent fireplace inserts offer a low-maintenance fireplace alternative

Fireplaces are lovely to look at and an important source of warmth in any home they’re used. But the care and maintenance of the chimney, hearth, and firebox are responsibilities that require regular vigilance and attention. For seniors and others living with limited mobility, these tasks can become extremely difficult, even insurmountable. And when left alone, neglected or misused fireplaces can present life-risking danger.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that deaths from fires in the home are most common in people 65 years of age and older. Besides normal fireplace maintenance and care, seniors and their families should practice these additional safety practices to help avoid disaster and insure a healthy home atmosphere.

Insure Proper Screen Protection and Ventilation

Fireplaces should include screens, doors, or covers that protect the surrounding room from flying debris and ash. Hearths should stand nine to 18 inches off the floor to provide ample height clearance and to facilitate cleaning and refueling.

Experts recommend equipping seniors’ fireplaces with direct vent or self-enclosed fireplace inserts that will help keep smoke and fumes from drifting outside the firebox or chimney flue. Such fumes can damage seniors’ pulmonary systems and make breathing difficult. Seniors should avoid using wood-burning and gas fireplaces for these same reasons.

Direct vent fireplaces are gas-operated and use double-walled pipe to efficiently funnel exhaust through a wall or ceiling. They help to insure dramatically cleaner air outside the firebox than natural vent fireplace models. Direct-vent fireplaces also work better at trapping heat, thus improving energy efficiency. Besides direct vent models, electric and gel-burning fireplaces also make practical alternatives for anyone with respiratory difficulty

The chimney flue, or airway leading to the top, should be kept as clean as possible, with professional cleanings at least once a year but whenever necessary. Besides normal ash and debris, wood-burning fireplaces are subject to creosote deposits that result when burning oils and debris coalesce on the flue walls. Professional chimney cleaning prices vary, and a variety of DIY cleaners are also available. Still, seniors with limited mobility may prefer to hire professionals to clean their chimneys for them.

Keep Hearth, Mantel Clear of Flammable Materials

Fireplace Safety

A fireplace screen

Especially during the holidays, the fireplace hearth and mantel make irresistible areas to showcase decorations and ornaments. The urge is easy enough to understand: with everyone gathered in the living room or den to spend the holidays together, why not make the fireplace and hearth a stage for all kinds of decorative elements?
Yet cloth, Styrofoam, and other flammable materials can catch fire if struck by sparks or cinders that fly loose from the firebox. Embers and other burning debris can sometimes fly as far as three feet into the surrounding room.

Seniors and their families should take care to keep their hearths clear of decorations if the fireplace is steadily used. Likewise, avoid decorations that hang in front of the firebox unless the firebox opening is reliably covered by a sturdy screen or cover. And yes, sadly, this includes holiday stockings hung from the chimney with care. Hang the stockings after the fire is thoroughly put out if complete screen coverage isn’t available.

To be completely safe, avoid storing firewood near the fireplace. Keep all decorative materials outside a three-foot perimeter from the fireplace, too, including curtains, drapes, furniture, and other decorative elements. For flooring, make sure rugs and carpet are fireproof. Many antique rugs are not, while more modern fire rugs and fire-resistant rugs are available.

Fireproof the Entire Home

Fireplace Safety

Smoke detectors work best when deployed throughout the home, especially around bedrooms and above relaxation areas. Detectors should be tested and their batteries replaced twice a year; families of seniors should help them with these tasks to avoid the danger of falling or tripping off stepladders. Fire safety officials recommend checking smoke detectors during both Daylight Savings Times but especially at the beginning of autumn.

Carbon monoxide detectors are an important safety precaution in any home using a B-vent (also called “natural vent”) fireplace. Clogged B-vent pipes and poorly drafting B-vent fireboxes can allow carbon monoxide to seep into the room, slowly causing illness as their fumes accumulate. Carbon monoxide is heavier than air, so the detectors should be placed near the floor for maximum effectiveness.

Children or families of the hearing-impaired can install smoke detectors and other alarms with flashing lights or other alternative means of communicating an alert.

Seniors with limited or impaired mobility or memory should also use remote-controlled alarm bracelets and pins that will enable them to call for help when emergencies happen.

Houses should have a clear evacuation path marked out, both from living and sleeping areas. Families of seniors with impaired mobility should speak with their local fire station, supplying any necessary information regarding the seniors’ home floorplan.

The U.S. Fire Administration publishes a free guide to comprehensive fire safety for people over 50. The guide is available at the USFA website.


A creosote cleaning chain

Creosote is a toxic, potentially deadly byproduct that results when gases released from the burning of wood coalesce and settle within a contained area. Oils trapped within the wood burn, turning into smoke alongside wood particles and fly ash. As the smoke cools, it liquefies, combines, and then solidifies into a gummy, grayish or yellowish substance that’s sometimes liquid and other times more gelatinous in texture.

Some forms of creosote are also thickly solid. Many people compare its look to tar, leading to the somewhat inaccurate nickname “tar buildup.”

Creosote’s Multiple Dangers

In keeping with its unsightly appearance, creosote can be extremely dangerous. Worse still, as creosote develops inside the chimney flue (or air passagey,) it actually feeds off itself: existing creosote traps more gasses and oils, leading to the generation of more creosote. But the greatest danger lies in creosote’s flammability. Under the right conditions and when exposed to hot enough fires, creosote can itself combust, leading to a fire inside the chimney flue.

The most dangerous form of creosote is known as “creosote glaze.” This occurs when new layers of creosote are formed so quickly that the layers beneath it have no time to fully dry out. The layers on top act as insulation for the layers beneath, and eventually the creosote solidifies into an almost rock-like density.

Removing Creosote Is Hard Work

Creosote can be very difficult to remove. Many professional fireplace cleaners and chimney sweeps will often resort to chemical agents to help break down the creosote’s composition, the better to remove it from the chimney. It’s dirty, often dangerous work that requires strict precautions, and can often become very expensive.

How To Safely Remove Creosote From Your Chimney Flue


Chemical creosote cleaners

Probably the best weapon against creosote is vigilance. Regularly examining your chimney firebox and flue for creosote’s early residue will let you act proactively to stop its spread.

Hiring a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney flue can often be expensive and time-consuming as you research which local chimney sweep offers the best service. For do it-yourself enthusiasts, there are a variety of solutions, powders, and tools to help first break down creosote and then safely, effectively remove its residue. These tools range from brushes and scrapers to whips and special stripping implements.

Fireplace experts do recommend having a professional chimney sweep or other fireplace expert (fire marshal, et cetera) evaluate your chimney and fireplace before undertaking a creosote removal project. Make sure to exactly follow all safety precautions, including wearing protective eye wear, gloves, and breathing masks. Creosote is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) so taking all precautions is critical for safety.

Wood StovesThe wood stove, or simply the stove, offers an enticing alternative to space heaters and traditional fireplaces. Probably their greatest advantage is their versatility. Many “vent-free” stove models require no chimney or venting through a home’s exterior. Others burn a wider variety of fuels than traditional wood-burning fireplaces.

Wood stove models, despite their name, also operate using gas, electricity, coal, or special fuel “pellets” that work similarly to charcoal briquettes.

Homeowners should consider their home heating needs as well as how much they’re willing to spend before investing in a wood stove. Though they are not generally expensive, the right choice of stove depends largely on personal needs and expectations.

Stove Operation Is Surprisingly Modern, Accessible

Shoppers are often surprised by the electronic features that are common among different stove classes. Electric thermostats, push-button controls and easy-to-read displays are all basic standard features. As a rule, the level of sophistication varies according to manufacturer and model.

Seniors and those with limited mobility often find wood stoves to be a better alternative to fireplaces for just those reasons. Those same groups may prefer a stove because it is easier to access than a firebox or fireplace insert, which is typically embedded in a hearth or chimney.

Choosing the Right Stove Fuel for Your Needs

Pellet FuelWood-burning stoves are really only a more compact form of fireplace. They require a direct vent, or stovepipe, to help them channel their exhaust away from their surrounding room.

Gas stoves run on natural or propane gas, supplied through a line from the surrounding building or from an external tank. They are usually either direct-vent or vent-free, depending on their construction. (See section on venting options below.)

Electric stoves run on basic household current. They offer a greater range of placement options, but some models may not feature high energy efficiency. However, their relatively light weight and ease of installation make them an attractive choice for areas where venting is not practical.

Pellet stoves use a special wood-based pellet as a fuel source. They are energy efficient compared to wood-burning fireplaces and offer more convenience than gas models. The pellet stove has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, thanks to their fuel’s composition. Pellet fuel is often made from compacted sawdust or other waste products created from saw milling. Because the pellets are essentially recycled waste, they’ve become popular among shoppers who value environmental sustainability.

Finally, some stoves use common coal to effectively heat even larger-space rooms. They require very specific venting, and are not recommended for use inside mobile or modular homes.

Making the Right Venting Choice

A stove’s venting describes its method of funneling exhaust, or smoke, away from its surroundings. There are three basic types of venting.

Natural venting, or B-vents, uses air from inside the home or other surroundings. The hot air creates buoyancy that channels the exhaust through a venting system (for example, a stovepipe.) They are typically easier to install and cheaper than direct vents, but are not always as energy efficient.

Direct vents, also called pipe vents, use a specially constructed, double-walled pipe to channel exhaust outside. They don’t rely on a chimney or flue, and this allows them greater placement options in the home including bedrooms, sitting rooms, and converted garages and basements.

Vent-free stoves produce no exhaust and are self-contained and sealed. They make an ideal choice for limited or smaller spaces such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and basements. They are also more efficient than natural and direct vents because they retain all the heat they produce, rather than allowing some to escape through the chimney or stove pipe.

Space Heaters Also Represent A Valuable Choice

Wood Stoves

An electric space heater

Space heaters are typically gas- or propane-fueled, and work best in areas where space is limited or a stove would prove impractical. Some are wall-mounted, while others are easily portable throughout the home or building. Like stoves, many space heaters feature modern electronic controls for easy operation.

Stove Accessories Offer Convenience, Performance

There are literally hundreds of stove accessories available for all models and fuel types. These include enhanced electronics, home cooking and brewing implements, maintenance and repair tools, remote and wall-mounted controls, and a full range of decorative elements. Before making a final decision, it’s helpful to browse what accessories are available for the stove you want to purchase. This will help you anticipate upgrade, cleaning, and repair resources for use at a later date.

Fireplace Renovation

From time to time, every home’s fireplace needs some fixing up. Whether from normal wear and tear or just the changing whims of style, your home’s fireplace is a great focus for your remodeling creativity.

Unify Your Fireplace and Room Designs

A big part of understanding how to best update or renovate your fireplace lies in understanding the room surrounding it. Take stock of your design scheme. Is it modern? Classic? Does it fit a particular motif? (Colonial, Southwest, Asian, et cetera.) If you’re renovating the room as well as the fireplace, you should consider making the fireplace one of the room’s main design “anchors.”

Though the classic image of the fireplace involves rustic or classic Americana design schemes, in fact the fireplace remains perfectly suitable for any decorative ambition. The most sweeping – that is to say the most readily apparent – changes will come when you alter the surround (the area around the fireplace’s opening), the mantel, and the interior portion of the chimney.

Re-stain or Resurface Your Chimney

In terms of fashion, brick chimneys and mantels are often the worst offenders when it comes to looking outdated. Bare, “natural finish” brick and heavy wooden mantels can weigh down otherwise careful room renovation plans, throwing the room’s design balance out of whack. Fortunately, they’re some of the easiest elements to change.

A fresh coat of white paint will brighten not just your brick chimney but help to brighten and enliven the entire room. Installing a larger surround that complements the room’s new color palette will also help minimize the brick’s presence in the finished room. Surrounds are also great ways to add texture and contrast: using a tile, metal, or ceramic model can give a room depth and nuance that ordinary paint sometimes cannot.

Upgrade to a Decorative Surround

Fireplace Renovation

Instead of constructing a surround out of materials, using a surround component provides a strong decorative voice that can serve as a centerpiece for the fireplace renovation as a whole. Surrounds also work powerfully as contrast to the chimneys behind them.

When replacing your surround, it’s also a good idea to go ahead and update your flashing (the filler between the fireplace insert and the surround or firebox edge) as well as your fireplace or insert’s decorative panels. Replacing all three components will give your fireplace the fully restored look that will complement the renovated room or chimney to its ultimate degree.

Replace Your Mantel

Mantels don’t have to be strictly contemporary. In fact, classic- and traditional-styled – even retro – mantels often make the most interesting visual elements. Remember, too, that mantels range in size from simple shelves to elaborate hand-carved wood or stone centerpieces.

Keep the mantel at the same size scale as the furniture surrounding the fireplace. If your end tables and coffee table are relatively small, the mantel should be small as well.

Install a Fireplace Insert For Greater Efficiency, Convenience


Fireplace Inserts

Fireplace inserts are self-contained but fit comfortably within the firebox, or opening, of your existing fireplace. Some are direct vent, meaning they use a ventilation shaft, while others are entirely self-sealed. Besides the traditional wood-burning fireplace insert, there are also electric, propane, and natural gas burning models.

Inserts provide greater energy efficiency by more effectively containing the heat they produce when compared to traditional fireplaces. Heat is not lost through the chimney but redirected back out towards the room.

Install New Accessories For the Fireplace and Chimney

Don’t let this step’s place on the list fool you: the new accessories you select for your fireplace and chimney should be more than an afterthought. A new grate will make your firebox seem instantly alive (when installed after a thorough cleaning), and a new tending kit will likewise energize your hearth. For the chimney, a mirror above the mantel will make your room brighter but can also make it seem larger.

Finally, your fireplace can remain a place of light and warmth in the spring and summer by burning candles in the firebox and atop the mantle. Use different-sized candles within the firebox and hearth, and a simple string of tea lights on the mantle to create a charming mood, day or night. Warm weather, after all, is no reason not to enjoy a newly renovated fireplace.

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