Fireplace Selection

There's a lot to think about when selecting a fireplace for your home. Below are three basic questions you can ask to help yourself decide which fireplace is right for you.

1. What purpose will the fireplace serve?

When fireplaces were first invented, they were meant to be functional. Their purpose was to provide heat and a means of cooking food. But in the 1950s, more and more homes began to add fireplaces that were purely decorative. Far from heating the home, they actually drew warm air out and sent it up the chimney, increasing the heating bills. In the past few decades, as designs have improved and costs have come down, homeowners have again warmed up to the idea that a fireplace can be part of their heating system rather than in competition with it.

If that's not a concern to you, then you don't need to worry about finding a fireplace that puts out the right number of BTUs at maximum efficiency. You're ready to go on to questions 2 and 3 and to start thinking about look and feel.

Most homeowners will want to spend the time to find a fireplace that not only looks good but heats efficiently. These two goals are not at odds. Check to see how many BTUs the fireplace puts out and what its efficiency rating is. That rating should be at least 70%, and the higher, the better.

It's even possible to find a fireplace that can be used for cooking. But in this case, your design options really do become limited.

2. How do you want the fireplace to fit in your home?

If you've got the space, a freestanding "stove" unit may be right for you. You don't have to tear down any walls or fit it in any tight spots. Just make sure you've got enough space left over so that nothing needs to be situated too nearby.

An "insert" is a popular option if you have an existing fireplace that you would like to convert to a more fuel-efficient design. The fireplace that came with your home is likely to be the sort that sucks heat out rather than puts it in. An insert can convert this space to a heat-producing design.

The built-in style is also nice, especially if you can choose what you want before building starts. Otherwise, it will take extensive remodeling to change the look

3. What fuel source would you like to use?

You can choose from gas, electric, wood, and wood pellets. Electric is the simplest, since you just plug it in. Gas requires venting, but doesn't produce ash, charred wood, and creosote. It doesn't require a chimney. Wood is the most "realistic" and you may want the delightful variation it provides. Wood pellets provide a cleaner, more even burn, and tend to be cheaper as well.