Adding a Fireplace to Your Home!
A fireplace is a much admired house feature. It’s not hard to understand that it’s best to install one while the house being built. But what can you do if your home doesn’t have one? Luckily, you have a few options….
Since the caveman era, humans have reaped the benefits of having a fire within the home. In the early days, it was essential for heating, cooking and warding off nasty predators. These days, the benefits of the home fire are not nearly as pragmatic, although one could hardly argue about the life affirming benefits of a late night, a bottle of wine, a bearskin rug, and a blazing fire.
Whatever the motivation, a fireplace is a much admired house feature. It’s not hard to understand that it’s best to install one while the house being built. But what can you do if your home doesn’t have one? Luckily, you have a few options.
Of course the traditional fuel for a fireplace is wood. A few decades ago, natural or propane gas became a fireplace option. Nowadays, more gas fireplaces are installed than wood.
A gas fireplace is modern, convenient, relatively easy to install, not too expensive, and can actually be used as a heat source. One of the great attractions to a retrofit gas fireplace is that it can be installed just about anywhere. The chief installation factors are the location of the gas supply, and where the fumes will be vented to the outside.
Recently, gas supply pipe options include flexible copper or plastic coated corrugated stainless steel tubing. These pipes can be bent to go around corners and such, making it usually a relatively simple installation. The biggest challenge is often a finished basement, as a common strategy is to run the pipe across the basement until it needs to go up to the fireplace. For a basement with a finished ceiling, this may require removal of some drywall.
Again, fairly recently, the most common option for getting rid of the burned gas (the exhaust fumes) is to go straight through the wall directly to outside. This is referred to as direct venting, and is as easy to do as making a hole in the house, and most simple if the fireplace is located on an outside wall. But, if the unit absolute HAS to be under the full-size photo of Aunt Agnes on an interior wall, a metal vent pipe can be run up and across to the nearest outside wall, or straight up and through the roof.
Gas fireplaces usually have sealed doors. If you pine for the romance of the fireplace in the bedroom, you need to make sure the unit you buy is “rated for use in a bed or bed-sitting room”, to quote the code.
For a basic gas fireplace installation, one can expect to pay a minimum of $2500. The costs go up if other damage is done to the house to enable its installation, and if fancy materials are used to create the hearth extension (the floor in front), to surround or frame the wall around the unit, and if a mantle is desired.
For some, a gas fireplace is about as alluring as simulated wood paneling. These purists require the smell of wood smoke and the crackle of burning sap. The really expensive way to retrofit one of these is to make a big hole in the side of the house, and add a tall brick chimney, complete with foundation. Fortunately, there is an easier way. For a wood-burning fireplace, the most cost effective option is a “factory-built” fireplace. These are basically insulated steel boxes into which a fire is made, and with a hole on top to let out the smoke. Because of the insulation, the steel box is relatively cool, enabling the unit to be installed on a wooden floor, and within a few inches of walls. We used to call them “zero-clearance” fireplaces.
Since the owner carries the fuel to the unit- the felled maple from the neighbor’s yard, for example – the biggest challenge is get rid of the smoke. Smoke likes to go up, so think vertical. A factory built fireplace comes complete with insulated metal chimney sections that screw together. These attach to the top of the firebox, and need to go basically straight up through the roof. It is allowable to make small bends, usually about 15 degrees at a time. Since getting to the roof usually means passing through obstacles like, say, the second floor of the house, holes will often need to be made in a floor. Once we get to the attic, another hole gets the chimney to the roof, and yet another hole allows the chimney to exit to the sky. Many holes need to be made. These need to made properly, by someone accustomed to making holes in the house, in order to avoid the nasty side effects of burning the house down or letting wind, rain and raccoons in.
The floor in front of the fireplace needs to be protected from sparks by a material that doesn’t burn, like ceramic or slate tile. The wall around the fireplace opening is also covered with a surround of some variety. And again, a mantle can be installed, either for the traditional look, or in order to provide a suitable location for hanging stockings, with care. While the cost will vary quite dramatically, one should expect to pay a minimum of $3500 for a basic factory built fireplace installation.