Friday, November 30, 2007
Fireplace remodels add charm
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
We hang stockings from it, roast chestnuts in it, and cuddle in front of it. With so many reasons bringing us to the fireplace, we thought we would discuss options to remodel yours.
Fireplaces are the heart of a home and the focal point of a room. People tend to look at fireplaces as immutable objects that they have to live with and decorate around. That isn't true. You can give your fireplace a face-lift with less cost and effort than you think.
Fireplaces were traditionally built out of masonry — both the firebox and the chimney. For the past decade or so, metal fireplace inserts with double-walled metal flues have become the standard in residential construction.
Aesthetically, some fireplaces are timeless classics, while others are eyesores in need of renovation. To know the difference, examine your fireplace closely. Look at its architectural style, size and materials. Does your fireplace add charm and interest, or does it leave something to be desired?
Let's say you have a modern-looking, yellow-brick fireplace in your French Tudor-style home. Your best bet would be to modify the materials to create a fireplace to match your home's traditional style.
To alter the appearance of your fireplace, you can replace the materials of the face, hearth or mantel. You can finish them with slate, tile, granite, concrete, mirror, metal plates — anything noncombustible. You can use wood for the mantel and trim pieces, but it must be placed at least 6 inches from the opening.
You can change the size and shape of your fireplace by framing out the wall around it or by adding bookshelves on either side. Smaller renovations include adding sconces, changing or adding a mantel or reconfiguring the hearth.
If you change the hearth, remember a wood-burning fireplace with a typical opening of 6 square feet or more requires a hearth that extends at least 20 inches from the front of the opening and at least 12 inches beyond each side.
Besides the aesthetics of your fireplace, you also need to consider function. For example, do you want a gas or wood-burning version? Adding a gas line and/or a gas log will make the fireplace cleaner and easier to use.
Gas logs can be used when the air quality outside is bad and burning wood is prohibited. And gas fireplaces require a smaller flue than wood-burning units.
On the other hand, wood-burning fireplaces are becoming increasingly rare and therefore valuable, and they can be used if gas lines become damaged.
Another option is to add a prefabricated insert — either wood-burning or gas — into an existing masonry firebox to make the fireplace more energy-efficient. Some of these units have fans that will blow the heat into the room instead of letting it rise up the chimney.
If you want to add a fireplace, you will most likely purchase a factory-built unit that vents through a double-walled metal pipe. With this type of unit, you have the option to vent it through a wall instead of the roof. Because you don't have to take the vent all the way up through the house, this can cause less disruption if the fireplace is being added to a basement or a main level with a second story. There are even units that don't require a vent.
With so many options, there is no reason to live with a fireplace that takes away from your room. Remember, a fireplace should add charm and character, and enhance the style of a room while it remains functional — even if it's only function this time of year is to offer an entry for Santa. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.