Decisions, Decisions: Fireplace Edition

I’m not sure how many of you remember back in the day—the pre-blogging, pre computer day—when if you got a little over-eager with punching the keys on a typewriter, one minute you’d be going along fine, and the next minute there were like four keys jammed up and everything came to a halt.

Yeah. That’s pretty much exactly what happens to my brain when I have too many unrelated decisions to make at once. So basically, building a house was a good choice of extracurricular activities for me, right?

Here is just one of the decisions I have to make this week:

Fireplaces.

On one hand, I want the fireplaces and I want them now. On the other hand I was kind of hoping we could wait until everything else was done and then worry about picking-out and paying for the fireplaces.

Um… yeah, I didn’t really think through that very well and it was probably an early symptom of decision-making denial. So, hey! We need to get some fireplaces!

One for here:

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This is the master bedroom leading into the bath, where we’ll have a two-way fireplace. Praise be to heaven the day I’m actually soaking in the bathtub with a fire at my feet.

This one actually isn’t giving me fits, because I’m not stoking logs up every time I want to enjoy my bath and fire. We framed the wall to accommodate this fireplace, and this is the one we’re getting.

In the miracle of fireplaces these days, the thing can direct vent right out the side of the house.

This one is a whole other story:

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This is the living room/trim-drying area. We have a big arbitrary hole here that will at some point contain some kind of fire-ish…thing.

Because this is the kind of fireplace I had on Garrison Road, for a long time I thought we were going to get a mason in to do a little firebrick work…

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Which made MysteryMan blink at me, expressionless, for a good three minutes. I guess they make inserts for this kind of thing too. My experience with gas fireplaces is limited to back in the eighties when you put gas logs in your wood burning fireplace and huddled up next to it for warmth, so when I went to the fireplace showroom I was all, “What is this fire behind the glass museum-style shit? Um… can I get one of these without the big piece of glass in front of it?”

The sales guy liked that question.

Apparently, folks, fireplaces aren’t just about aesthetics and roasting marshmallows these days…. they’re appliances. And I could buy two stoves for what one fireplace will cost and just stick one in the living room with the door open.

Here are the only fireplaces I really liked, but I’m still having a hard time with the fake logs/coals/ glass thing…

I did find in the store one set-up that was a wood fireplace insert with some big gas logs in it (no glass, and didn’t look half bad, but was like $1000 cheaper than the cheapest full gas insert.

So here’s the conundrum:

1.)    We can buy a gas insert, pay the extra $1000, live with the big piece of glass in front of the fire, and easily vent this thing horizontally out of the house. (it would probably be this one)

OR

2.)    We can buy the wood insert with gas logs and save $1000. Without the big piece of glass in front of the fire, comes the necessity to vent the fireplace straight up. With an exterior wall this isn’t usually a big deal, but this thing is smack dab in the middle of our house. The front middle. Which means the chimney stack would be located right about here.

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First, not pretty. I could box it in, yes, but I may have actually reached my limit of projects I need to complete before it snows in four days. Also, the placement is a little awkward, even for a nice-looking chimney.

Second, it means disturbing the roof, and even though MysteryMan roofed the thing himself and has professional experience… I hesitate to cut holes in our roof and create more possibilities for leakage.

All compounded by the fact that I kind of hate the “brick” they try very unsuccessfully to make the inside of the fireplace look like. I think the complete demoralization of society is due to the pervasiveness of fake things that make such a minimal effort to look authentic that it’s a little insulting. Paris Hilton, I’m looking at you. At least something like this just owns its fake-ness with a “hey, I’m not a big woodburning fireplace, so deal with it” kind of attitude. You have to appreciate that.

Also, let’s make that the first and last time I ever mention Paris Hilton on this website.

13 Responses

  1. I had the exact same thoughts as you when we went to look at fireplaces for our house three years ago. I totally didn’t get the glass fronts and how the fireplace is all flush with the wall. I wanted to be able to stand in front of the fireplace, lean in, and look for santa’s boots inside the chimney! But, we did settle on a fireplace and I LOVE it.
    We got the Heat N Glo 6000TR-Oak with the following details: Delux 36″ gas fireplace IPI system, Essence Doors, Mission Decorative panels. It was $2,522. I can send you a picture if you’re interested. Let me know. We do love it. We also got a woodburner for the basement, which was a Lennox 7100 Wood Burning Fire Place with Black Door and Mission Hill Front.

  2. Have you consider a wood burning stove? Looks like a fireplace, but it actually heats your home efficiently. You’d have to put wood in it, you’d have to start your fire each time but when you maintain it it is wonderful. My parents heat their home all winter long with their wood burning stove, it vents out the roof, but it is incredibly efficient and will serve your purpose – BUT it will have a glass in front of it to avoid smoke getting into your home – but the heat coming off the thing from the vent below feels like you can just feel the fire.

    Just an idea.

  3. Two words — pellet stove. Along the same lines as Lauren’s idea, but easier to keep the fire going and it can direct vent. Of course, that’s only if you want to use it for warmth. They’re certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing things in the world….but I hear it gets cold up there.

  4. You all are absolutely right about it getting cold up here, BUT… we’re putting in a geothermal system, so we actually don’t need to burn anything to keep warm. The ground is doing it for us.

    This fireplace is more of the centerpiece of our main room…

  5. Yeah back off everyone geothermal systems kick word burning stove’s butts! ; )

    In all seriousness the glass is there so that it doesn’t create a huge draft in your home. Traditional fireplaces like you had at your old home are extremely inefficient they are actually produce negative Btus. When you start a fire in them they draw air from you home and send it out the chimney along with most of the heat. So even though you don’t want it for heat it’s stealing all the heat your geo system produced. Yes, eventually the bricks around the fire will heat up and radiate some additional heat but it’s not a lot compared to how much fuel you burn. This isn’t a big deal if you’re using free wood from fallen trees and such but when you hook a gas line to it you are losing big $! A friend of mine has a natural gas style fireplace with no glass or damper and it costs him $1 an hour but he gets very little heat. You are far better spending that $1 on your heat pump. In addition the typical dampers don’t seal very well at all (I’ve even see fireplaces that don’t have any!) so you basically have a huge hole in your house all year round. You leave your front door ajar all winter but people don’t bother to stick one of the inflatable balloons up there to actually seal the gaps. Sorry for the rant but traditional fireplaces are pretty to look at and a place to hang your stockings and not good for much else.

    **steps off my energy efficient natzi soapbox**

    So my point is you need the best sealing damper you can find and you need a piece of glass. Sorry.

    1. See? This is what I need… someone to just lay out the facts for me. Even if I don’t listen, I feel 100 times more informed. I’m probably going to have to go back and look at that “fake” fireplace again now. It will save me the roof hole and chimney, which I desperately don’t want to do.

  6. We all make questionable decisions sometimes, there’s chocolate, and sitcoms, and personal days from Actual Real Jobs, I say go for the real fireplace. Here are some options for the energy czar in all of us:

    1. Make a real fireplace with no real chimney. This seems somehow less fake to me, though it’s clearly ridiculous.
    2. Surely there has to be a way to employ a fan when you light a fire to pull the smoke a different direction? It sounds complicated to install, but I mean, we have iPhones. We can figure this out.
    3. Install the chimney in the “ugly” front and center spot on the house but brick around it in such a way as to make it a charming feature. Maybe make it much larger than necessary? This bit of fakery seems worth it.
    4. When in doubt or in conflict, my husband and I ask ourselves, WWHHD? What would Holmes on Homes do? He would install a gas fireplace and call it a day.

    1. Seriously Nicole, I think I was crying I was laughing so hard when I read this. Swear to god something like “This seems somehow less fake to me, though it’s clearly ridiculous” goes through my head at least twice a day. It explains why MysteryMan is rolling his eyes at me half the time.

  7. I think it just depends on what you want to do with it, in the sense of what it is you want to accomplish. We have always had fireplaces, but we live in Southern California, in San Diego, for the last 28 years. At first I used to haul in wood and do that thing whenever we wanted a fire. Very nice, very romantic, etc. When we moved to the house we own 18 years ago, we went for a period of time with very little in the way of fires because of the pain-in-the-buttsky aspect of buying the wood, bringing it home, etc. Some time back we put in a gas log and have been happy ever since.

    Granted, for us, it is different. We are a childless couple living in a very mild climate. We do heat the house in the winter months, but we just damned near never turn on the central heating. We use space heaters, as it’s a big house and to heat everything when all we’re doing is sitting in a room watching TV or reading… Yow!

    But that said, we do get a lot of use out of the gas log in the winter months. Before we got it, we used to use a space heater in the living room. Now we fire up the fire! Man, you don’t often get a chance to write a sentence like that! But I digress.

    We just have a plain old gas log. We move the fireplace screen because the heat tends to bounce off it and go up the chimney, which, as others have pointed out, is where most of the heat does go. But we like the romance of the fire, and it heats the living room just fine for us, as we have a nook formed with a sectional before the fireplace.

    The idea of the glass doors and such is to make the gas log a more efficient heating device. But there are more cost efficient ways to accomplish this. We already had the fireplace—lots of bricks to make one of those fake ones you don’t like much, but hey, we’re Philistines—we like it! The gas line was already there, so all we had to do was buy a gas log and have it hooked up. It cost us about two hundred dollars as memory serves. They also have any number of devices that are designed to channel the heat in the fireplace back into the room. We don’t use them because we don’t actually need them, but they might be just the thing for your winters. Go online; what you find in that regard will amaze you.

  8. Four fireplaces in our 200+ yr old house. We have always heated each of our homes with wood. Wood furnace or wood stoves. I feel qualified to speak on fireplace/chimney issues. Currently we have one in living room with good damper we don’t use much since flat screen tv is above it. But it can be used with some smallish logs for “appearance only” fire. Damper works, no air leaks out, well worth the few romantic fires we have a year.
    Fireplace #2 in parlor has a stainless steel liner installed by hubby and we heat the entire house with a Woodstock Soapstone Woodstove. ENTIRE house. We get wood for free off our property or when hubby has to clear land on one of his jobs. I cannot speak highly enough of this woodstove product or the company.
    Third fireplace upstairs in a bedroom with glass door front/insert. Never use it, have one of the inflatable damper bag things to make sure its sealed good. That damper in this fireplace is suspect. Fourth fireplace also in another bedroom upstairs and also original damper, etc. We use for romantic fires couple times a year, NO air leaks. Yes, it leaks WHILE YOU ARE BURNING A FIRE. But seriously, how many fires do you have a year? How much air are you losing in an new airtight home to forgo the pleasure of a REAL honest to God fireplace with fire in it?
    I say, POO POO on the fake ass shit and go with a real fireplace, stones (you do have a man who can build this and make it beautiful so go for it) and just learn to ignore any air loss during those romantic firelit nights 😉

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