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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Remodel fireplace to enhance its charm and safety

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer


A fireplace is one of the most satisfying, romantic and rewarding aspects of a home, especially this time of year. It should be the focal point of a room and reflect the style of the whole house.

Aesthetically, some fireplaces are timeless classics, while others are eyesores in need of renovation.

The wood molding of the old fireplace, left, was salvaged and reused but the owners replaced the stone facing and hearth.

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 but want to redo your home in a French country style.

Although it may seem you will just have to live with this immutable object, there are surprisingly easy ways to modify the look of your fireplace to match a change to your home's style.

You can begin by replacing the materials of the face, hearth or mantel. You will have the option to choose any number of new materials, such as slate, tile, granite, concrete, mirror, metal plates — anything noncombustible.

If you use wood for the mantel and trim pieces, it must be placed at least 6 inches from the opening of a wood-burning firebox.

You can change the size and shape of your fireplace by framing out the wall around it or by adding bookshelves or cabinets on either side.

While custom cabinetry is lovely, there are many options for cabinets and bookshelves that you can assemble yourself and combine to simulate that built-in look.

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.

It is extremely rare for a new fireplace to be built in place from scratch these days. The common approach is to purchase a pre-fabricated fireplace unit to install in your new construction or remodeling project.

These units are typically either natural gas or wood burning; the wood burning units must vent vertically, but the gas units can vent directly out through an exterior wall, saving the expense of a chimney.

Today there are also fireplaces with less traditional fuel sources. Electric fireplaces have come a long way in terms of looks and function. Other units function with gel fuel cans or propane; some do not require any venting to the exterior.

If you have a traditional fireplace, it is important to maintain and update it for safety.

A dirty chimney can become a fire hazard, particularly if left unattended. It is also not a good idea to burn improper materials in the fireplace, such as used wrapping paper, which contains hazardous dyes, or clippings from the Christmas tree.

This is a quick ticket to a dangerous chimney fire.

If you haven't had your fireplace inspected in a while, call a professional out to make sure everything is in working order.

If there is excessive soot or creosote in the chimney, have it thoroughly cleaned before burning even a single log.

Another safety measure is to install a fireplace screen or glass fireplace doors to keep the embers where they belong — inside the firebox.

For gas fireplaces in a bedroom, a fixed glass cover is required over the opening to minimize the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Traditional brick fireplaces with chimneys are typically very energy inefficient, both when they are burning and when they are not.

Today's new prefabricated units are far less wasteful and can be good alternate sources of heat. Units with circulating fans will ensure the heat generated by the fireplace is directed into your room, rather than floating up a flue pipe.

While planning your fireplace remodel, remember a fireplace should add charm, character and a focal point to a room and enhance the style of your home.

With so many options, there is no reason to live without a fireplace or one that does not add comfort and beauty to your home. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at ask@renovationdesigngroup.com.

© 2010 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.


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