Nothing beats the warmth and ambiance of a crackling fireplace. If you are looking at purchasing or upgrading a fireplace, wood stove or fireplace insert (or any hearth appliance) there are lots of choices. Depending on the style and features of your home, your energy needs, design preferences and budget there are many hearth options to choose from.
New masonry fireplaces have come a long way since the days when they provided more ambiance than warmth. Today’s models are much more energy-efficient and some kaminofen aduro European models can even heat an entire small home.
Housed in their own metal casing, gas fireplaces can be installed just about anywhere. Inside the gas fireplace you will find ceramic logs, fiber gas logs or glass or crystal elements and a burner that produces a glowing natural gas-powered flame. These new gas fireplaces are not the old gas fireplaces. Many gas fireplaces now have flames that are difficult to distinguish from wood burning fire flames. Modern gas fireplaces also come with electronic remote controls and automatic fans to better circulate the heat.
There are three different styles of gas fireplaces: the direct vent model, the top vent design, and the vent-free model.
The direct vent gas fireplace uses two vent pipes that lead directly to the outside. One pipe uses combustion air from the outside while the other vents the exhaust gas.
The vent-free gas fireplace model uses no exhaust vent. This style includes an oxygen-depletion sensor that turns off the gas if it senses a dangerous lack of oxygen inside the house. While fireplace manufacturers claim that vent-free fireplaces burn clean, are energy-efficient and don’t threaten indoor air quality, be aware that a number of states do not permit the installation of vent-free fireplaces. Massachusetts has in the past not authorized the installation of vent free gas fireplaces for safety reasons.
They are preferred in new construction because they’re much lighter in weight, are faster and easier to install than standard masonry units, and are energy-efficient. Many newer prefabricated fireplaces are prefabricated from metal and installed in wood-frame walls. They generally have a metal shell and a realistic brick-lined firebox.
A wood stove is essentially a metal container for a fire. Made from cast iron or brick-lined, welded plate steel, a wood stove has an inlet for combustion air and an outlet for combustion gases, or smoke. Most modern wood stoves are airtight and allow the amount of combustion air that feeds the flame to be controlled. This control allows a wood stove to burn far more efficiently than a traditional open fireplace.
Wood stoves built during the 1970s and early 1980s offer efficiencies of 50 to 60 percent. Concern about particulate emissions or air pollution carried by wood smoke have also forced changes in wood stove designs. Although old wood stoves gave off up to 50 grams of particulates per hour in smoke, new certified stoves give off only about 5 grams.
Most new wood stoves are energy efficient, environmentally friendly and come in many styles and colors. If you thought that wood stoves only came in black and belched smoke then think again. The new wood stoves are energy efficient, clean burning and there is a wood stove to fit any home or life style.
If you have a masonry fireplace but don’t like the associated, draftiness, energy costs or overall inefficiency, you should consider purchasing a fireplace insert, sometimes referred to as a fireplace stove insert.
Installing a fireplace insert will typically require the installation of a chimney liner. The chimney liner essentially narrows and insulates the chimney vent and connects directly onto the fireplace insert creating a closed highly efficient system. No more opening and closing the damper. Fireplace inserts can use various fuel options and are clean burning (minimal smoke and particulate emissions). Fireplace inserts like wood stoves are heavy, usually weighing upwards of 300 pounds.
Most gas inserts have fans or blowers that automatically circulate the heat. Gas inserts are available with remote controls, wall switches or wall-mounted thermostats.
Pellet fireplace inserts use wood pellets or other types of pellets (corn based, soy based, etc.) as the fuel source. Pellet fireplace inserts come with fans or blowers that automatically circulate the heat.
Pellet-Burning Hearth Appliances
Pellet-burning hearth appliances are simpler to operate and more convenient than other wood-burning appliances. In fact, they are almost as easy to use as gas, oil or electric heaters. Pellet stoves and pellet inserts burn wood pellets or compressed wood. Most pellet appliances have at least two burn settings and some new models use thermostats to control the fire. They also use a forced-air system to distribute the wood pellet heat. Pellet-burning appliances are highly efficient, clean burning and environmentally friendly.
Pellet stoves burn wood very efficiently and many do not need chimneys. Rather, they can exhaust fumes by venting directly through a wall to the outdoors. Refueling varies from once a day to twice a week, depending on the model and your heating needs. Most pellet stoves require electricity to operate.
Customizing Your Fireplace
Gas fireplaces, for instance, feature three different kinds of logs: vented logs that provide a realistic burning wood look with less heat; ventless logs, which produce a yellow flame with a high degree of efficiency; and partially vented logs which provide a middle ground option in warmth, appearance and efficiency. Each type of gas log is available in many different gas log set styles including types of wood (oak, cedar, northern oak, etc.), flame size and color and other unique and interesting styles (camp fire, beach fire, glass, crystal, etc.).
Gas fireplaces, gas stoves and gas inserts can all be used with remote controls, wall switches and wall mounted thermostats.
Other options or accessories for fireplaces include a wide array of hearth rugs, custom glass doors, ash containers and buckets, wood holders, fire starters, flame enhancers, fireplace screens, tools and fireplace gloves. There are many accessories and options available for wood stoves as well. The most popular options include tool sets, hearth rugs, stove scents and steamers.