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Add a Fireplace

March 31 2010

With winter coming, the idea of snuggling around a cozy fire with a good book, your favorite robe, and a warm cup of hot cocoa sounds irresistible.

There’s just one problem – you don’t have a fireplace.

But never fear – you have plenty of options. It’s just a matter of finding the right product for your space and your budget.

Find out if a fireplace breaks any rules

Anything that produces smoke is under heavy regulation today, so the first thing you must do is find out if there are any rules against your having a fireplace.

Rules can be enforced by your municipality, your homeowner’s association, and your insurance company.

Some cities, such as Denver, Colorado, don’t allow wood-burning fireplaces, but you can have a gas-log fireplace. However, you may need a building permit to install a new gas line, so it’s best to find out before you start work.

Some condominium associations don’t allow you to change the exterior of your building by adding a chimney, or even to add an outside vent. You still have an option – a vent-less gas-log fireplace.

Some insurance companies won’t pay for fire damage unless your fireplace is professionally installed, so check your policy.

Wood-burning or gas log?

Few winter delights beat the crackling sound and acrid aromas of a wood-burning fire. On the flip side, you have to have a place to store wood, which can invite critters and insects, and haul it in from the cold and wet just when you want to stay warm and dry. Lastly, the ashes don’t smell nearly as good as the wood, and they have to be cleaned out before you can use the fireplace again.

A gas-log fireplace doesn’t have the ambiance of a wood-burning fire, but it can be very appealing nonetheless. It has a hearth and vents outside, and you get to choose the look of your logs, right down to how burned they look and how they are stacked and lay against each other.

The third option is ventless. These are gas logs that burn so hot, they combust nearly all the fuel they use, leaving little carbon monoxide or soot. They can be installed anywhere, but safety is paramount. Make sure there’s plenty of ventilation from a window, and keep combustibles far away.

What style?

The mantle and surround can be one of the most attractive focal points of any room, but proportion is important. Building and ventilation codes will require that your fireplace is proportionate to the space it’s going to heat. Otherwise, the build-up of toxic fumes could be dangerous.

The cost of adding a fireplace to an existing home can be prohibitive, but it can also add value to your home at resell time. Plan on building costs to run into the thousands of dollars. If you buy a portable unit, your costs will be much lower, in the hundreds of dollars.

A wood-burning fireplace and vented gas-log fireplace must be vented to the outside through a wall or chimney. You must have plenty of room for a firebox, chimney, hearth and mantle.

If having enough room is an issue, you can opt for one of the new plugless, ventless freestanding fireplaces that use gel fuel to achieve a true crackling flame effect. These are available as indoor, outdoor, or portable units, and the cans of gel burn for about two to three hours.

Another option is an electric fireplace. These fireplaces plug into an electric outlet, making them portable as well. However, be sure the outlet has the correct amperage and voltage to run the appliance.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, talk to a fireplace professional.