Is a Fireplace Right for Your Home?
Go through this list of considerations before deciding to install a fireplace in your home.
1. Payback—now and later. You may want a fireplace just for the romance of it, but it's also a good investment. According to a study supported by the National Association of Realtors, a fireplace adds 12 percent to the selling price of a home. It's not surprising, then, that almost 60 percent of all new single-family homes are built with at least one fireplace.
2. Plan, then plan some more. If you're including a fireplace in your remodeling project, think ahead. What types fit your budget? What is most important to you—size, appearance, ease of operation, heat output, or efficiency? Check local building and environmental codes that may limit your choices. Your home may have structural limitations, or the spot you've chosen may preclude conventional venting or make it difficult to run a gas line. Consult a hearth products professional to clarify your options and to ensure safe, expert installation.
3. Snap, crackle, pop. Fireplaces that burn wood are humble and cheery, and they give off the pleasant smells and crackling sounds that we traditionally associate with a hearth. But 90 percent of the warm air they generate goes up the chimney instead of into the room. To refit a wood-burning fireplace, try a factory-built recirculating fireplace insert with glass doors. These convective fireplaces use a series of vents to draw in cold air, heat it, and then send it back out into the room.
4. Twice as nice. Wherever you site it, a see-through fireplace provides warmth and charm for two rooms. If you choose a double-sided wood-burning fireplace, it will be less expensive to install than two separate fireplaces because it requires only one flue and chimney. A two-sided direct-vent gas fireplace can create a partial wall or peninsula to divide an area and define its uses.
5. Flexible and easy. Compared to wood-burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces are cleaner and involve less work—you don't have to tend the fire, and to turn them on or off, you can simply flip a switch or use a remote control. Gas fireplaces also offer flexibility in installation and more control over heat output and flame height. They can supplement furnace heat and lower utility bills. By how much? It depends on where the fireplace is located, whether your home is one story or more, and how well it is insulated. Some homeowners reduce furnace heat and use a gas fireplace to keep a family room or kitchen warm when activities are centered there.
6. Here, there, everywhere. Direct-vent gas fireplaces can be installed almost anywhere in the home because they send gases to the outside via a short section of pipe that can exit through a wall. The same vent pulls in outside air to heat, eliminating concerns about indoor air quality—very important for family members with allergies or asthma. Like other gas units, direct-vent fireplaces are relatively inexpensive to install, offer touch controls, and can be handsomely outfitted.
7. Put a lid on it. If you have a direct-vent fireplace, you can dress up the vent cap on the side of your house with a decorative radius cap, which can be painted to match your home's siding.
8. Safe retrofitting. Before retrofitting a fireplace, have an expert assess the condition of your chimney and hearth. If your fireplace draws well—that is, if it maintains a fire by efficiently moving warm and cold air through the chimney—be wary about altering the structure. However, if it doesn't draw well, retrofitting provides the perfect opportunity to set things right. Remodeling that involves the firebox is even more cause for concern. A trained professional installer will follow codes that govern the required gap between the firebox and floor joists or framing.
9. Check codes. Local building codes spell out rules for installing a new fireplace or renovating an existing one. Even if all you're doing is replacing your mantel, be aware of safety requirements, including the width of solid masonry needed between the firebox and any nonmasonry material, such as a wooden mantel.
10. Down under. Most basements could use some warmth, but before adding a fireplace, check with a professional to make sure moisture is not a problem. A fireplace can wick moisture; heated air will rise through the house and deposit moisture on cooler surfaces upstairs. On the plus side, if you have a gas-fired heating system and the mechanicals are located in the basement, you have a gas line and flue already in place.
11. Take it outside. Outdoor fireplaces are being installed in record numbers. An existing fireplace can share a chimney with an outdoor fireplace. Consider extending your fireside season by sheltering a new outdoor fireplace in an enclosed porch or covered space.
12. Sight lines. The size of a fireplace often makes it a room's focal point, but a beautiful view will compete for attention. To highlight both, build your fireplace on an outside wall and surround it with windows.
13. A clean sweep. If you want to retrofit an unused fireplace or chimney, it's a good idea to call a chimney sweep, who will thoroughly examine the area. You'll probably have to evict wildlife and clean out debris. Check for damage from water and ice, and make sure the chimney hasn't been plugged or capped. If it has, repair any damage before attempting to use the fireplace.
14. Beat the rush. If you're adding a fireplace to your home, aim for a late-spring or summer installation. Colder weather prompts many homeowners to install new fireplaces, so you'll benefit from scheduling a professional installer before others do, and you'll have your fireplace ready when cooler weather arrives.
15. Kitchen catchall. If you're planning a kitchen remodeling that includes a new fireplace, you can equip it with a grill, a bread oven, or even a crane that will hold a kettle for soups and stews.
16. Instant romance. According to builders, most homes' second fireplaces go in master bedrooms. You can make your master suite a little sweeter by adding a gas fireplace with remote control. If the bedroom is on the upper level, locating a new fireplace directly above one in the room below allows them to share the chimney structure, thus reducing construction expenses.
17. Do your bath math. A bathroom fireplace adds wonderful ambience, but make sure your contractor knows it's part of the plan before siting the tub, toilet, sink, and plumbing. When it comes to bathrooms, local building codes can be rigorous.
19. Keep it clean. Once your gas fireplace is installed, remember to dust and clean it before each burn season. Don't use oven cleaners or scouring powders, which may leave scratches. All you need is a spray window cleaner and a soft cloth.
20. Both sides now. If you're adding a fireplace, flanking it with built-in shelving and cabinetry hides clutter, provides display space, and gives your room symmetry.
21. Plug and play. Want to take your fireplace along when you move? You can, with an electric fireplace. Just plug it in and enjoy a heatless glowing fire in any season—or turn on the heat option to warm a room when needed. An electric fireplace needs no venting, so it can be installed in locations such as a basement.
22. Let it shine. When remodeling a room with several functions, locate the fireplace on a wall that's visible from every activity area.
23. Log in now. One option for retrofitting an existing fireplace is a gas log set, which is cleaner and easier to use than wood. Vented or vent-free log sets installed in a wood-burning fireplace improve its efficiency and mimic many types of firewood.
24. The first burn. During the first burn with a gas fireplace, the paint cures a bit. So try to use it for the first time on a mild day, and open the windows to dissipate odors.
25. Remember: The glass on a gas fireplace will fog up during each lighting. Don't worry—condensation will dissipate quickly and does not harm the glass or fireplace.