Nothing beats the ambience of a wood burning fireplace - cozy heat, beauty, and that familiar, inviting crackle. However, traditional wood burning fireplaces require specialized masonry construction, a fair amount of space, and often additional structural support due to the heavy weight of materials used. For new construction or remodels, homeowners can consider the alternative of zero-clearance fireplaces, which are available in wood burning, gas, or even pellet burning versions.
Zero-clearance fireplaces that burn fuel (as opposed to electric models) require special ventilation systems for safe and efficient operation. However, these fireplaces can be installed almost anywhere in the home. Unlike traditional masonry fireplaces, zero-clearance fireplaces can be located very close to existing walls. The exteriors of these units do not get hot enough to ignite nearby combustible materials like walls or floors, so a brick or masonry hearth or firebox isn't needed. This flexibility of placement means a master bedroom, den, or even a kitchen can take on a newly inviting atmosphere with the addition of a fireplace. Available in many different sizes and styles, zero-clearance fireplaces can be customized after installation with mantels, surrounds, and doors to suit any room's décor. In addition, many models are quite energy efficient compared with traditional wood burning fireplaces and are appropriate for heating a room.
Another alternative to masonry fireplaces is a prefabricated type. Prefabricated wood fireplaces are wood burning units that look like traditional fireplaces, but don't require the structural support that masonry does. The firebox is typically metal and lined with firebrick, and the venting system is metal as well. As a result, these fireplaces are considerably less expensive to install than a masonry unit, and are more efficient. Typically, these types of fireplaces are not used for heating but to provide the experience of a masonry unit without the expense. Like zero-clearance fireplaces, prefab units can be given a unique look with mantels, surrounds, doors and hearths in almost any material imaginable.
As winter fast approaches, these masonry alternatives may be the perfect fit for homeowners seeking the look, warmth and feel of a traditional fireplace without the inherent expense and limitations. Stay warm and cozy this winter!
-courtesy of Pillar to Post Home Inspectors