For the Love of Fireplaces

By: Janice Clements

I have found this winter to be longer and more exhausting than usual with what seems like an endless number of frigid days coupled with ice storms and power outages.

As expected, during this season's power outage we all huddled in the family room and more particularly, around the fireplace to keep our fingers and toes warm during some very cold days.  I thought it appropriate to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the fireplace options available to homeowners when the lights go out.

A wood-burning fireplace is my favourite, but having one in my own home probably makes me biased.  From a purely aesthetic perspective, I love the ambiance and glow it emits.  During the colder months, particularly the holidays, it lends an old world charm to our home.  I love the smells and the sounds it produces and it reminds me of family and brings me comfort. 

That said, it's messy.  But for me, the benefits of having this type of fireplace far outweigh our having to scoop out the firebox on a fairly regular basis...and whose kidding who, my husband does the scooping, the emptying and the maintenance, though I think he would agree that it's worth the effort. 

To us, the mess in the firebox isn't a big deal, but I admit to being somewhat aggravated by wood chips on the floor and around the hearth.  Certainly you need to be careful about carbon monoxide output and keeping the flume clean and clear of any obstructions.  An annual chimney cleaning is a must.

Know that if you're ordering wood, logs need time to dry out before using, so plan ahead and order your wood in the summer or early fall to give it time to dry.  You will also need to allocate space both outside and in your home to store the wood, so if you don't have the room, this might not be a good option for you. 

There are several good "long burning" eco-friendly log options available at a reasonable price at grocery and hardware stores should you decide that ordering and storing wood is not for you.  They're easy to burn and don't require you to be an experienced boy scout to start them!

If a full fireplace and mantel are not your thing but you like the thought of wood burning, you may find you can still dedicate some space in your home to a wood-burning stove.  A self-contained decorative unit will generate a great deal of heat and as such will require a non-combustible hearth to protect surrounding surfaces from the high temperatures these units produce.  Contact a fireplace specialist to discuss code requirements for this type of stove.

Gas fireplaces are perhaps the most convenient and popular solution in homes these days.  Commonly built into newer builder-homes, they provide warmth and ambiance at the flip of a switch. 

Vented directly through an exterior wall or the roof of your home, gas fireplaces do not emit smoke or create ashes and because they run on natural gas, homeowners don't have to worry about negative affects on the environment.  There are numerous designs and styles available and log set options to suit every taste, allowing for the creation a natural-wood- fireplace feel.

Since gas fireplaces are not electrically operated, they are a real asset in your home when the power goes out.  I dare say many rooms were kept warm in the icy, electricity-starved days leading up to the holidays.  The warmth generated by this type of fireplace is largely a result of the unit's BTUs, so check with a supplier like Summers and Smith to ensure you're getting the unit that meets your needs (summersandsmith.com).

If you have space limitations, you may want to consider an ethanol fireplace that in its smallest form, can be hung on a wall like a piece of art.  This type of fireplace generates some heat (not as much as a gas fireplace) but requires no venting. 

Liquid ethanol, which is a natural plant-derived combustible, is poured into a container in the fireplace and burns clean, producing CO2 and water steam.  An ethanol fireplace is an Eco and small space-friendly solution for any home and is particularly ideal for modern spaces that call for a sleek look.

Wishing you much warmth!



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