Friday, June 10, 2005
Plan now for a fireplace remodel
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
We know what you're thinking. It's the beginning of summer; why are these architects writing about fireplace remodels? Well, besides the fact that with this year's crazy weather you might actually still be using your fireplace, we want to give you a heads-up. If you want a remodeled fireplace to warm and adorn your home by Thanksgiving, the time to start planning is now.
Fireplaces are the heart of a home. Some fireplaces are timeless classics, while others are eyesores in need of renovation. To know the difference, examine your fireplace closely, including its architectural style, size and materials. Does your fireplace add charm and interest, or does it leave something to be desired as a suitable focal point for your home?
For example, if you have a modern-looking, yellow-brick fireplace in your French Tudor-style home, your best bet would be to modify the style, size, and materials to be more consistent with a Tudor home.
To alter the appearance of your fireplace, you can replace the materials of the face, hearth or mantel. Possible new finishes include slate, tile, granite, concrete, mirror, metal plates — anything non-combustible. Wood can only be used for the mantel and trim pieces, and 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 of it. Smaller fireplace remodeling projects include adding sconces, changing or adding a mantel or reconfiguring the hearth. If you change the hearth, remember that a 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 its function. For example, do you want a gas or wood-burning version? Adding a gas line and/or a gas log set will make the fireplace cleaner and easier to use. Gas logs can be used when the air quality outside is bad and wood burning is prohibited, and they require a smaller flue than wood-burning units. On the other hand, wood-burning fireplaces are becoming increasingly rare and therefore valuable, and can still be used if gas lines become damaged in an emergency.
With either option you can add a prefabricated insert into an existing 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 completely new fireplace you can purchase a factory-built unit. These do not require a traditional masonry chimney but are vented through double-walled metal pipes. Some units can be vented horizontally through a wall rather than vertically through the roof. Today there are even units that do not require a vent at all.
With summer upon us, it might be a little hard to think about these things now, but come November, we promise you'll be glad you did! As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.