Purchasing a fireplace can be one of the most beneficial additions that
you can make for your home. As one of the top investments for remodeling,
a fireplace can return as much as 130 percent of the initial cost
when you sell your home. About 78 percent of prospective home buyers in
the nation seek homes with fireplaces, and many looking for homes costing
over $100,000 see the fireplace as the most appealing amenity.
Pre-Fab (zero clearance) Fireplace
Fireplaces are a more traditional type of wood-burning appliance. In the
past, most people chose to install a fireplace for the aesthetics and recreational
enjoyment of the hearth, rather than for heating purposes. Of all the wood-burning
appliances, fireplaces offer the largest view of the flames. With new contemporary
designs, some are available with 2-, 3-, and 4-sided views.
Until recently, most fireplaces heated the home inefficiently. Some of them,
such as most masonry (brick) fireplaces, are still this way. The flue of
a masonry fireplace allows warm indoor air to escape up the chimney. Conventional
masonry fireplaces can lose between 80 and 100 percent of their heat plus
an additional 10 percent of the heat already in the room. They can actually
remove more heat than they supply.
New, energy-efficient, factory-built (sometimes called zero-clearance fireplaces)
may provide more heat than their traditional masonry counterparts. One of
the most redeeming features of these fireplaces is that they require low
clearance between themselves and other combustible surfaces. For example,
they can be placed between 1/2 and 2 inches away from walls with wood studs
without any danger of fire.
Factory-built fireplaces are light-weight, relatively inexpensive, and easy
to install. They can be placed on any floor of the home without architectural
reinforcement and can be quickly installed. If you are a skillful do-it-yourselfer,
you could potentially install this type of fireplace in two or three days.
You must flow manufacturer's instructions very carefully if you plan to
install one yourself.
Prices for these fireplaces start at $400 and go up depending on the size,
efficiency, and features of the model. Applying wood stove technology to
fireplace construction, many factory-built fireplaces have high efficiencies
(up to 67 percent). Manufacturers achieve high efficiencies in various ways.
Often fireplaces have tight-fitting glass doors and some type of air control
system. Means for achieving high efficiencies differ between models.
Because of their many benefits, factory-built fireplaces are becoming a
popular option for many homeowners and builders. They can be used simply
for enjoyment and aesthetics or, with some of the more expensive models,
they can be used as a source of heat. They have many different designs and
can be faced with many types of materials, such as marble, granite, block,
tile, and stone. You usually cannot safety retrofit a stove or insert in
a factory-built fireplace. Some manufacturers, however, do make particular
inserts that may go in specified factory-built fireplaces.
Increasing the Efficiency of Masonry Fireplaces
If you are installing a masonry fireplace, you may be able to increase its
heating efficiency. For example, you can construct a fireplace with a slanted
back, thereby allowing the fireplace to radiate heat into the room more
effectively. You can construct the fireplace with insulating brick. A fan-driven
heat exchanger can be added to your fireplace, enabling the fire to warm
the air rather than just radiating heat on objects in the room. Moreover,
passive heat vents can be built into a fireplace.
Glass doors for fireplaces are another option that may increase efficiency.
Most retrofits are recommended only for masonry fireplaces; however, some
are designed for specified factory-built fireplaces . Glass doors are currently
required in California for all masonry fireplaces. These accessories reduce
heat loss and improve heating efficiency because they allow more air control
for combustion when burning wood. They also prevent the indoor heat from
escaping up the chimney when you can't shut the flue (such as when the fire
has died down but is not completely extinguished). Using glass doors, however,
cuts the output of radiant heat from the fire in half. Glass doors are also
used for their aesthetics and safety. They prevent burning matter from flying
out of the fireplace into the room (thereby replacing a fireplace screen).
There is a wide variety of glass doors currently available. Some are plain
and simple, while others are elegant and elaborate. These differences are
often reflected in the cost, which varies dramatically from $60 to $3,000.