tag : electric fireplace, gas fireplace, home decor, home design, Robin Siegerman, wood burning fireplace
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When the leaves start turning shades of russet and gold, and the evening air has a fresh, crisp snap, the cocooning instinct kicks into high gear and the thought of cozily sitting in front of a blazing fireplace holds great appeal. If the fireplace is beautifully dressed with a mantle and surround to compliment the architecture of the home, it completes the scene like a stunning pair of shoes with an evening gown. Whether your interior is urban casual, country chic, formally traditional or cleanly modern, fireplace style shouldn’t be overlooked.
Before style comes function, so if you don’t yet have a fireplace, ask yourself a few questions about what you want and why you want it. Do you want a fireplace for heat or just aesthetics or both? How big is your room? Will there be a TV competing for the attention? Are you just dressing up an existing fireplace or are you installing a new one? Do you feel it must have real wood to be authentic or are you happier with a remote and instant flame? Are you afraid that an electric fireplace will look like you bought it at the local hardware store, brought it home and plugged it in?
If you must have a wood burning fireplace and your home doesn’t already have one, as long as you have a clear route to the roof, you can build a zero clearance fireplace with a steel chimney inside the house and dress it up concealing the vent pipe, installing a stone surround, a custom mantel and stone hearth so it looks like it was always there. Or, for absolute authenticity, you could build a full masonry firebox and exterior brick chimney but you will need a permit to construct the exterior chimney, and it’s by far the most inefficient and expensive option According to fireplace experts, about 90% of the heat goes up the chimney of a wood burning fireplace unless you install a blower to expel the heat into the room. A wood burning fireplace insert with a blower is more efficient, but for many people, the louvered trim and bulky glass doors are aesthetically obtrusive.
Generally speaking, by contrast, most gas fireplaces are 75% efficient, distributing more heat into the room than up the chimney. If you want to put a gas insert in an existing wood burning fireplace, and your house was built before 1954, your fireplace installer must add a stainless steel liner to the inside of the chimney to ensure emissions do not leak into the home. Depending on the model of gas unit, they can be vented out the top, side or straight out the back, allowing great flexibility for placement. A big advantage, as my family discovered during a particularly brutal winter ice storm when we were without power or heat for 4 days over Christmas, the gas fireplace continued to work, keeping at least one room comfortably warm while the rest of the house was about 3’C or 37’F.
Some fireplaces have a self-regulating temperature gauge that will turn down the flame and heat once the ambient temperature has been reached. If your house is warm and you don’t need the heat but really want the visual pleasure, you can install a gas log set with a burner into your existing fireplace, no glass doors and, like a wood burning fire, most of the heat will go up the chimney. The aesthetically striking, new linear gas wall units, are less like a traditional fireplace and more like a line of flame in a slim rectangular box higher up on the wall without conventional mantel or surround. Since some brands have a power assisted venting system, there is maximum versatility in locating this unit, even in condos.
Electric Fireplace Options
While electric fireplaces have historically been the poor cousin of both the wood-burning and gas varieties, in recent years their aesthetics have vastly improved and since they can also generate heat, are a very shallow depth, have no clearance requirements for combustibles, need no venting and only require a 110 volt receptacle for operation, they can be installed virtually anywhere and are particularly appropriate for condominiums or other living spaces where venting could be problematic. Many electric units allow the user to vary the flame speed and firebox light. With its glowing embers, the look of these products are leagues beyond the rotating light bulb and tin foil of bargain basement brands.
Dress it Up or Down
Unless I’m designing a rural property with a wood stove, my pet peeve is a fireplace that is only half dressed or dressed improperly for its surroundings. A fireplace without a décor appropriate surround, mantel and hearth looks unfinished and detracts from the visual comfort of the room. Conversely, a fireplace that is overly grand is distracting and creates a mental “disconnect” from its surroundings. Keeping the size of the mantel proportionate to the size of the room and the ceiling height will keep it from being uncomfortably dominant or insignificant.
In a contemporary interior, a mantel could be entirely out of keeping with the décor, in which case a clean, stainless steel surround on its own could be the perfect finishing touch. The key is to integrate the fireplace into the décor, rather than ignoring it simply because it was there when you moved in.
In both contemporary and traditional settings, wood mouldings can be combined to create a mantle piece, which, when painted or stained can look very gracious. For traditional interiors, there are wood appliqués, corbels and brackets available, but they should be used with great caution. An appliqué which is either too small, or too ornate or simply the wrong style, will cheapen the final effect. However, used judiciously, they can add style and can be an architectural reference point to the style of the home.
The surround can be stone, tile, brick or metal. The stone can be rustic or refined, slabs which have been hand hewn or machine cut, polished or honed. Tile can be stone, ceramic or porcelain, but true terracotta is too soft and can crack with repeated exposure to heat. Metals used could be stainless, copper, zinc or brass.
As in all circumstances, the right accessories are the perfect finishing touch. Even with a gas or electric fireplace, a beautiful screen, fireplace tools and an attractive container with birch logs, adds to the atmosphere the fireplace itself will create.
Do you have a fireplace that you use regularly? If not, why not? Do you wish you had one? Leave me a comment below with your fireplace stories!
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