Tuesday, September 18, 2012

All About Fireplaces

All About Fireplaces

Indoor Fireplaces - Warm, comfortable and atmosphere-enhancing

When most people think of fireplaces, indoor fireplaces are the only things that come to mind. For this reason, it may not seem that a discussion of them is even necessary. But given the wide variety of other choices of outdoor fireplaces, patio heaters, chimineas, cooking tripods for firepits, and other outdoor choices, there is certainly a distinction to be made between outdoor and indoor fireplace choices.

When discussing indoor fireplaces, it further makes sense to point out the wide selection of options available, including masonry heaters and traditional masonry fireplaces, natural gas and propane fireplaces, and freestanding “fireplace substitute” wood stoves. These “fireplace substitutes”, complete with large transparent glass viewing area, are an increasingly attractive alternative to the more labor-intensive fireplace installation within a wall. For many homeowners, a freestanding fireplace or “fireplace substitute” made of stone, cast-iron, or plate steel offers the same ambience as a traditional fireplace while making minimal demands as far as construction, requiring only a chimney, heat-resistant floor material, and adequate clearances to any nearby combustible materials.

Indoor fireplaces come in a variety of shapes and sizes, offering whole-home comfort or little more than an accent. There are fireplaces which are certified for installation in a bedroom or bathroom, and even smaller units meant for installation in a mobile home. Some are made with such mundane materials as limestone or even clay bricks, while the most opulent fireplaces are made of bronze, silver, even gold or platinum!

While luxury fireplaces constructed of precious metals may be well beyond the budget of most homeowners, there are many highly tasteful options which are considerably easier on the wallet, some of which even offer gold, silver, copper, or bronze highlights, making lighter use of the highly valuable materials while still providing their gleam and attractiveness.

When choosing an indoor fireplace, many factors play into the decision process, including the practical concerns of budget and other available heating options, but you'll also want to consider the value of a relaxing evening next to your own open hearth, flames crackling as you spend time with your family. As well, heating your main living space with a fireplace can reduce your bills by letting you turn down your furnace while still staying comfortable.

One of the most common types of outdoor fireplace is the chiminea, which features a bowl-shaped base with a single opening which connects to a short chimney or stack. In some cases, chimineas are described as patio heaters, but the two do have some significant differences. A chiminea can be made of a variety of materials – most commonly cast-iron, aluminum, ceramic, clay or terra cotta. Chimineas are generally meant to contain smaller fires, but the heavy duty cast-iron models are more durable and can be used for relatively large fires. Chimineas are best used during the summer and stored during the winter, as some of the materials (most notably terra cotta or clay) can crack when heated in cold temperatures. Chimineas range in price from $150 to $250 for a very basic, low-end model. High-end models with features such as safety grills and pitched chimney stacks to contain ash and embers start at around $500. Only firewood should be used in a chiminea unless the manufacturer specifies that other fuels can be burned.

Outdoor Fireplaces - A flame in the back yard.

If you're looking for a larger fire, a grated cylinder style outdoor fireplace may be a better choice. Grated cylinder style units have a simple, open design: a bottom basin for the fire, a grate for cooking food, open grating surrounding the basin and a lid. Many models have wheels, allowing the fireplace to be easily moved. And unlike a chiminea, which only has one opening, the grated cylinder style allows the fire to be viewed by everyone. A grated cylinder style outdoor fireplace starts at $100 and uses wood, or sometimes either natural gas or propane for its fuel.

On a larger scale, there is a permanent outdoor fireplace. Similar to a traditional indoor fireplace, the outdoor fireplace can be an extension of the house or patio, or it can be completely free-standing. Some outdoor fireplace models include a drainage system to divert rainwater away from the fire. The available styles are simply firepits within stone wall enclosures, while others are more elaborate and include a mantel and hearth. There are nearly limitless options available. You are limited only by your imagination… and your budget, of course.

Whenever the summer season draws nearer, we look forward to the times and places where we can spend time with friends and family such as the pool, the cottage or the lake, and the fireplace. Not your regular indoor masonry fireplace of course – most houses don't even have one today, and they can be very expensive to install. Increasingly, people want to gather around a semi-portable fireplace which can be located on the patio or in the backyard. Such outdoor fireplaces provide summertime gatherings with an enjoyable ambience, and they are less expensive than you might think.

Chimineas - Outdoor fireplaces at their finest.

The chiminea is by far the most common kind of outdoor fireplace. It basically consists of a concave base, an opening in the front through which to fuel the fire, and a short chimney or smoke stack. You can find chimineas constructed from a variety of materials, most commonly cast-iron, aluminum, copper, ceramic or terra cotta. A chiminea is typically designed for very small fires, mostly for style rather than function. Despite this, there are larger, more durable units which are typically made of cast-iron. These chimineas are meant for a closely supervised but sizeable bonfire within the safety of your own back yard.

Chimineas and other outdoor fireplaces are generally intended for summer use with the intention of winter storage, since clay or terra cotta can easily crack in extremely cold winter temperatures if a fire is built inside. Although cast-iron chimineas are at no real risk of cracking, precipitation such as snow and sleet will very quickly rust them into disuse. So in any case, your best bet is to replace a chiminea with an outdoor patio heater for the winter season. Chiminea prices can range from $150 all the way to well over $500 depending on the construction materials, size, and other features such as covers.

Some chimineas have safety grills or pitched chimneys to prevent hot embers or glowing ash from floating away and posing a risk of fire, while others are really nothing more than a firebox with a hole in the top. Whatever type of chiminea you may have, you should only burn firewood inside of it. Other substances are known to release toxic chemicals when burned. This can destroy the atmosphere of your gathering - literally as well as figuratively. Additionally, some solid fuels such as coal may leave hard-to-clean deposits on the inside of your fireplace.

Outdoor fireplaces are becoming a very popular way for people to gather together and experience the outdoors without having to trek far from home. If you ever find yourself thinking fondly of childhood memories of open campfires, wood smoke and no air conditioning, an outdoor woodstove might just be the thing to try.

Electric Fireplaces - Convenience and simplicity at the cost of aesthetics.

Electric fireplaces are an even more convenient alternative to traditional wood-burning or ventless natural gas/propane fireplaces and stoves. Lacking the need for any kind of permanent ventilation structure such as a chimney or a flue, electric fireplaces can be set against fireplace mantels or moved to different rooms and used when needed.

Older electric fireplaces provided quick heat, but they were not as cost-effective for long-term use due to cheap design and short life. The other major issue with electric fireplaces has traditionally been that they looked “fake” and were generally not a very attractive centerpiece. Modern, advanced electric fireplaces have far more aesthetically appealing views, including fiber optic displays, or randomized lights designed to simulate the look of dancing flames. However, if “real” flames are important to you, the obviously artificial look of electrical fireplaces may be a deal breaker.

Like other types of portable electric heaters, electric fireplaces are able to radiate heat very quickly and can just as quickly be shut down for the night. In addition, there are many models which are portable and safe for use in cottages and mobile homes.

Models of electrical fireplaces range widely in size, with 20”- 42" models the more popular options. For owners who have cemented chimneys but don't wish to lose the allure of a fireplace, they may opt for an electric fireplace insert – this has the dual benefit of filling the unused space left by your fireplace and preventing the loss of additional heat through the open chimney.

Electric fireplaces are generally preferred where portability, convenience, and low initial cost are important but aesthetics are a secondary concern. It is also worth noting that dollar for dollar an electric fireplace will generally yield much less heating energy than a natural gas or propane unit – so if you're looking at a system for primary heating or to provide economical backup heat, an electric fireplace may not be the best option for you.

Alternative Fuel Fireplaces - Renewable choice for a ‘greener' heating system.

Due to increasing awareness of environmental issues combined with rising energy prices, more and more people are interested in environmentally friendly fuel options for home heating and entertainment. Although wood-burning fireplaces use a renewable fuel, many people see them as dirty, because their emissions traditionally included dirt, ash, and other particulate matter (PM) which are now regulated in many areas. In order to address these issues, the EPA Clean-burning Woodstoves and Fireplaces Program was implemented.

But there are other renewable fuels – wood pellets , corn, even alcohol (ethanol). All of these fuels are derived from plants, rather than from fossil sources. All of these fuels can be grown domestically, and in the case of wood pellets, the raw material already exists – it has only to be processed into the small pellet shape necessary for use in pellet-burning stoves and furnaces.

Different fuels provide different benefits. Since wood pellets are made of sawdust or other wood waste from existing industries, they serve as an inexpensive way to make use of what is essentially garbage. In addition, when trees or other plants grow, they store up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. When they are burned, the CO2 that is released is only what was present in the air before the plants absorbed it. As such, burning wood, ethanol, or other plant matter does not contribute any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which is believed to be at least partially responsible for global warming or climate disruption.

Gel Fireplaces - Crackling Sound Like a Real Fire.

Gel fuels are typically a thickened ethanol that comes in a can, much like the cans used with fondue sets. These have the same environmental benefits as other ethanol-fuelled heating systems, but tend to have a shorter burn time of only an hour or two. In addition, gel-fuelled fireplaces tend to be less expensive than designer fireplaces that burn liquid ethanol. If you want to have an easily lit fire of a short duration, a gel-fuelled fireplace might be a good option for you. If inexpensive heat and a long time between re-fuelling is the main goal, you should consider a wood pellet stove or fireplace insert.

Gel fireplaces can be placed in any room of your home with no installation hookup, gas lines or construction. These are one of the most efficient fireplaces on the market. Gel fireplaces are designed and operated in a very different way than traditional fireplaces. Many individuals are opting for this type of fireplace for many reasons.

Gel fireplaces do not function by burning wood, but instead they operate through the burning of a grain-alcohol gel. Each can of gel can burn for about 2 - 3 hours. While the gel is burning and producing heat in the room, there are no fumes or smoke released into the room. These products do; however, release a very small amount of carbon dioxide into the air. This is the same gas we breathe out with each breath. The amount is so minimal that there is no cause for worry. These units have passed all the standard safety tests regarding this form of gas in the air.

Faux Fireplaces - Can you tell the difference?

These fireplaces still appear as normal fires with flames and even produce the crackling noises that real fires make. They heat your home and provide your family with a comfortable living environment, while requiring very little maintenance. Before you purchase one of these heating units, you should know that while they do provide warmth to your home, they are not designed as a primary heating source for your home. You will still need your furnace or other heating systems to provide warmth to your entire home.

If you're the kind of person who wants your home to look complete with a fireplace, but hates the hassle involved with the maintenance of these products, a gel fireplace is perfect for you. There's no soot, smoke, fume or creosote involved which means that there is virtually no clean-up involved either. Gel fireplaces are not only easy to maintain but they are also the most energy efficient, cost effective heating units on the market.

If you are looking to purchase a gel fireplace for your home, expect to pay at least a thousand dollars for a middle-end model. These heating units can cost considerably more, depending on the features and model of the fireplace. Despite the initial cost, these fireplaces are well worth the money and will add elegance, class and warmth to your home.

Many households don't have fireplaces – that's an unfortunate fact for anyone who is a romantic or who simply appreciates the beauty of a hearth with dancing flames on a cool fall or winter day. But there options even for apartment dwellers and others with limited space or no existing fireplace enclosure or ventilation system (such as a flue or chimney). These include direct vent natural gas fireplaces, which can use a very small ventilation tube to move exhaust gases outside, or even vent less natural gas fireplaces, which are so efficient that the combustion exhaust can be safely released inside the room without harming its inhabitants.

Many locations do not have readily accessible gas fixtures, or may not have gas service at all. In such a location, other choices are available including portable denatured ethanol fireplaces, gel fireplaces, or electric fireplaces. But some people only need the ambiance of a fireplace, without the heat itself. Whether they live in a temperate climate with no need for supplementary heating or they already have a fully functional and economical heating system, a full fireplace capable of heating the home is outside of their budget range for the project. In such cases, a faux fireplace tends to be a very good option.

Faux probably looks like a familiar word to most of you – in fact, it's simply French for “false”. Faux, or false fireplaces allow the ambience of a fireplace without the need for major renovations, the installation of a chimney, ongoing fuel bills, or any of the other challenges that are typically involved when purchasing and installing a fireplace. Some of these fixtures are home made, but in most cases they come as a kit, including a faux mantle and fireplace surround, a small fireplace enclosure which fits into the wall, and a platform allowing candles to be placed inside of the fireplace. Faux fireplaces can be purchased for as little as $100, but in most cases will fall into the $600 - $1,000 range once fully installed.

So if your only real concern is the aesthetic appeal of having a fireplace and the heat provided by one is specifically undesirable, a faux fireplace might be for you. If only the cost gets in the way, consider a low-end natural gas or propane fireplace as a supplementary heat source.

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