Dear Dean & Alan,
To quote my favorite TV show, “winter is coming” (to Chicago). While I want to come home, pour a glass of wine and touch a button to start my fireplace, my husband is a total pyromaniac. He wants blazing, raging wood fires- I even have to hide the lighter fluid from him!
So we’ve compromised: I get control of one fireplace, he gets the other. What can we do with each?
Dear Ms. Fyre,
You’re not alone! We’ve found there’s two types of people when it comes to fireplaces: those who want to flip a switch, kick their feet up and start a fireplace with minimal effort, and those other rugged individuals who love every time-consuming part of burning real wood: the build, the hauling of the wood, the smell of the burn. You know, the lumberjack and Boy Scout types. You are firmly in one camp or the other. Pretty cut and dry.
So we divided up the camps and figured out what you need for each fireplace, and what you might want if you’d like to make it prettier
The bigger fireplace projects we’ve done involve adding in new ones, knocking out old ones, or refacing the walls around the firebox. We’re not going into that level of remodeling today, because those projects are long-term and best started during warmer weather, You will curse the contractors for all the cold air swirling around your house in the middle of winter. Take our word for it, don’t do this level of project when it’s cold out.
We’re instead going to talk about simpler and easier ways to upgrade your fireplace whether you burn wood or prefer gas.
if you’re burning real wood: essential
if you’re using gas logs: not necessary but aesthetically pleasing
Fireplace doors are essential if you’re a woodburner because they give you peace of mind when you go to bed that a random spark won’t pop out of your fireplace and burn your house down. That’s a nice reassurance.
They also help in heat retention and dissuade little curious ones from exploring the insides of a fireplace.
There’s two main types: masonry doors and prefabricated firebox doors. A lot of people don’t know what type of fireplace box they have: check this first as there are different doors that correspond to each. If the inside of your box is metal, you’ve got a prefabricated firebox. If it’s real brick and mortar, it’s masonry (more detailed ways to check here).
Masonry Fireplace Doors
They’re usually more expensive than people think, at least to not get the generic, flimsy kind. The good news is that companies like Stoll (who we love) will make them in virtually any finish and style that blends in your décor scheme.
Then you have to decide if they can be mounted outside (which is way easier), or if you have an irregular opening, they will have to be inset and “mortared in.”
Want a Fireplace Mini-Makeover?
Fireplace Doors For Zero-Clearance Fireboxes
If you don’t have a masonry firebox, then you have a metal firebox, or prefabricated box. Confusing the point further is that sometimes, people put a brick looking panel inside the box to make it prettier.
“Heatilator” is to a zero-clearance firebox as “Kleenex” is to tissue. The company was so successful in branding their version of a metal firebox, people started using the terms interchangeably. Zero clearance fireplaces are manufactured fireboxes that are fire-rated so that no (zero) clearance is required between the firebox and construction materials like wood framing and sheetrock. Zero Clearance Fireplaces require an air exchange between the “inner” firebox and “outer” cabinet to keep all surfaces cool against the walls of your home. Each door is specially made to fit your brand of manufactured fireplace, with proper “air flow” provided in various ways to ensure the doors meet all ventilation requirements of the manufacturer. You can still get beautiful doors like these:
but you just have to know in advance what type of firebox you have.
A surprising number of our clients are seriously annoyed with their 80’s brass fireplace doors. Simplest solution? Get some heat-resistant paint and change the offending parts to black.
Or if you don’t feel like painting, you can get some simple doors that fit into your existing track in black or nickel.
If you’re lazy and would rather have gas logs instead of spending all day building a fire, you don’t have to get rugged, manly steel doors, as you can turn off the gas and close the flue when you’re done, But they do add a finished look!
Gas fires: nice to have for aesthetics
If the idea of a hurling red hot fireball spitting into your room seems rather unpleasant, and/or you’d like something less permanent than a set of doors, a fire screen might do the trick. Yes if you just want a functional solution, just get a cheap one at
the big box hardware store. You’re not going to be in Architectural Digest this season, right?
But if you’ve got a beautiful fireplace, why would you? It’s like framing an original work of art in an Ikea frame! Spend some cash- there’s some beautiful screens out there but they’re not easy to find, and usually not at your neighborhood fireplace shoppe. But we know how to get them!
Decorative Fireplace Screens
If you’re not burning wood, you can get a bit fancier because you don’t have to worry about renegade fireballs. Think of these as sculpture.
Andirons and fire dogs are devices made of metal or ceramic which support the firewood so that a draft of air may pass around it, allowing proper burning and thus reducing smoke. They normally stand upon short legs and are usually connected with an upright guard. The guard keeps the logs in the fireplace as they burn and settle (Wikipedia).
Today, they’re not viewed quite as functionally. We like to think of them as jewelry for a fireplace.
Fireplace Surrounds and Mantle Shelves
These words sometimes are confusing. Technically, a mantle surrounds the firebox on three sides. If it’s a wood mantle, some sort of non-combustible material like tile or marble serves as a heat shield between,
Builders put in notoriously boring shelves. There’s a wealth of more interesting options out there, and if you’re a DIY person, you can negotiate putting in a new one relatively quickly. But if you’re like me, I’d call a contractor!
Mantle surrounds are a bit more elaborate than shelves. They can be made from stone, marble, wood, or metal. They’re designed to overlap your facing material and provide a finished transition between wall, facing and firebox. A few of our favorites:
So there’s lots of ways available to upgrade your fireplace without demolition or disruptions during the impending winter season. The holidays are coming!