Fireplace Renovations Rank 3rd in ROI
research by Re/Max Canada, fireplaces rank 3rd in return on investment
in a list of the six smartest renovations for best return on investment:
With more people than ever
opting to renovate rather than move, home renovation spending in Canada has climbed
from $21 billion in 1999 to an estimated $42 billion in 2006, according to Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC).
Renovating an existing fireplace, or installing a new one, is one of the most frequent
choices by homeowners not only because it increases the enjoyment of the home but
it also adds considerable value.
According to the National Home Builder's Association, 77% of home buyers list a
fireplace as a most-wanted amenity. As a seller, you may enjoy a 6% to 12%
increase in your home's sales price simply by adding a fireplace.
As a key component of any home ventilation system, the fireplace can be one
of the biggest energy wasters if not properly outfitted. The damper, a piece of
hinged steel inside the chimney, controls the air flow in and out of the chimney.
When you light a fire, the damper must be fully open. Once the fire has started
burning, the damper should be almost fully closed only leaving a small opening of
approximately 1-2 inches. This enables the chimney to expel only the smoke, not
the heat. With the damper wide open, both smoke and heat are exhausted at
about the same rate.
Almost closing the damper allows smoke to exhaust and in turn retain more heat inside
You can install glass fireplace doors and outside air ducts to retain even more
heat and reduce overall energy consumption. Glass doors act as dampers when the
fireplace is not being used and reduce the amount of warm air that is drawn out
of the home and into the fireplace when a fire has been lighted. Outside air ducts
(also known as combustion air ducts) are required in the construction of all new
fireplaces and can be retrofitted into existing ones.
Fires burn oxygen, and in a tightly sealed home, a fireplace will drain its oxygen
in no time. Combustion air ducts provide the air from the exterior of the home,
leaving oxygen for you to breathe. If the fireplace draws air from ducts, it won't
need to draw warm air from within the home.
Because a fire reduces the oxygen in a home through combustion, the air pressure
in the home also is reduced. When the air pressure in the home is less inside than
it is outside, the siphon action of the chimney slows (or stops) and the home quickly
fills with smoke. This problem can occur to varying degrees, but is usually for
the same reason. Outside air ducts can eliminate this condition.
Upgrading Your Fireplace
- Although fireplaces
are available in a wide range of designs and styles, there are three basic types:
wood burning, gas and electric.
- Fireplaces that are
used as heat sources require the installation of a high quality model to achieve
the necessary efficiency.
- Builder-grade fireplaces
or decorative fireplaces, as described below, should only be used for occasional,
recreational fires such as family gatherings at holidays.
- If you expect to use
your fireplace more than once per week, opt for a higher end model that will last
for many years if you want to avoid the cost of replacement.
If your open hearth brick fireplace is looking drab or has sustained damage
over the years there are some affordable ways to improve the overall look and attractiveness.
Paint is a great way to change the look of your fireplace. However, keep in mind
paint is permanent on brick surfaces. If you are painting a brick fireplace, masonry
primer is a must. Because brick isn’t a very smooth surface two coats will
help the paint adhere better. If your brick fireplace was painted once before you
will need a bonding primer and use a top quality acrylic latex paint.
There are many different materials and products you can use to create a unique mantel
design with stone, tile, wood, stainless steel, copper, chrome and more.
You may also want to think about re-tiling your hearth to create a more updated
look for your home. Fireproof hearth tile can be made of ceramic, glass, porcelain,
terra cotta or natural stone and is available in many patterns which can be used
to build very creative designs.
A fireplace insert is designed to be very energy efficient and
includes tightly sealed glass doors that help create longer burn times and provide
increased heat output. If you are relying on your fireplace to supplement room heating
requirements a high-efficiency fireplace design is the optimal choice.
Decorative fireplaces consume a lot of fuel, can produce excessive amounts of smoke
and particulate into the atmosphere and offer little or no heat output. High end
models are a much better choice offering many more years of service, longer burn
times, more heat, less smoke and of course a cleaner chimney.
Your chimney won’t be clean for long if you burn inferior grade wood so find
a good source of high quality firewood in your neighborhood. The type of wood you
burn, how you store and care for your firewood will greatly affect your wood burning
Choose the Right Fuel
In general, hardwoods like oak, maple, birch, ash and beech burn cleaner
than softwood logs such as fir, pine and cedar. Softwood is prone to producing
dangerous sparks that can permeate fireplace screens.
Use only seasoned wood from a reputable source. A moisture content of at least
less than 20 percent burns much cleaner than unseasoned wood.
Gas fireplaces come in a variety of styles, sizes and designs and offer multiple
venting options. Decorative models won't give you much heat, while higher end models
can heat an open floor plan nearly as effectively as a furnace. Direct vent models
may vent horizontally or give you enough options with offsets for the vent to terminate
remotely from the fireplace. Every model from every manufacturer is different, so
check installation requirements carefully to make sure your design can be implemented
for safe and efficient use.
Gas fireplaces offer a convenient, realistic flame at the touch of a button. Remote
controls are available for most models. Many can also use thermostat controls that
adjust the flame or turn the fire on and off based on the room temperature. Venting
options may allow installation in nearly any room, on any floor of your home.
Gas fireplaces are designed to burn either Natural Gas (piped into your home by
the city gas company) or LP (Liquid Propane) which is stored in a tank in your yard.
Installation of a gas fireplace will require a plumber or HVAC technician (check
local codes) to run gas lines to the fireplace and to install the fireplace and
venting system, so this is a project that will require professional installation.
Once not even a consideration for fireplaces, electric fires
are now all the rage. They operate at 100% efficiency and require no venting so
they can be installed any where. They may also be the only option for renters or
for high-rise condos and office buildings. Designs range from small to large, traditional
to contemporary. Most include a heater than can provide plenty of warmth for smaller
areas. There are no special installation requirements - just plug into an existing
3-prong outlet - so this is a relatively simple installation that most homeowners
can accomplish on their own.
The fireplace hearth is the extension into the room that provides
protection to your flooring while the surround provides protection for the walls
surrounding your fireplace. The fireplace surrounds extend from the hearth to both
sides of the fireplace and blend with the mantel.
Requirements will vary greatly for the surround and hearth based on the type of
fuel your fireplace burns and the individual requirements for the model chosen.
Wood burning fireplaces will most often require a hearth 18" or more in front
of the fireplace, and extending to each side to offer maximum protection for sparks
and tumbling embers. Gas fireplaces and electric fireplaces may require little to
no hearth or surround, although incorporating these elements into your design may
offer a more authentic look and appeal for your room.
Hearths and surrounds can incorporate a wide variety of materials; just be sure
and choose the right material, in the correct thickness for heat transfer protection
and make sure it's installed correctly. Make sure there is adequate weight support
beneath the fireplace and hearth area to support the fireplace, venting system and
hearth/surround materials. A fireproof underlayment may be needed in some installations.
Here are some materials you may consider for hearths and surrounds:
- Brick or brick veneers
- Stone, stone veneers
or cultured stone
- Ceramic tile
- Slate, marble, granite
& solid surface materials
- Metallic surfaces such
as stainless steel or copper
- Cement slabs
Your mantel and trim choice
may have the greatest impact on the aesthetic design of your fireplace. A grand
mantel can take a standard fireplace from ordinary to exquisite!
Many home owners choose
to allot more of their budget for the fireplace installation into the mantel than
any other part of the project, so consider how the mantel will affect your overall
look and costs. The mantel is installed to the surround and provides a finished
look. Detailed mantels are most often used in homes with a traditional design. The
mantel includes decorative vertical trim that sits on the fireplace hearth and most
often includes a mantel shelf.
Make sure the mantel is
installed to allow sufficient clearances to amply meet the fireplace manufacturer's
instructions. Deep shelves, for example, can present challenges with wood burning
fireplaces as the overhang can cause fire hazards due to the excessive rising heat.
Mantels are available in
a huge variety of materials, styles and designs:
- Cast Iron
- Cultured Stone
a Fire Escape Plan and Practice It
Dirty chimneys and smoker’s materials are two leading causes
of house fires. There are over 50,000 house fires in Canada every year and
many lives lost so it’s critical to take every precaution possible.
In addition to properly working smoke alarms, the best defense against a fire is
a well-rehearsed, escape plan. Knowing exactly what to do can save precious seconds
in the event of a real emergency.
The Canada Safety Council recommends these steps to prepare for a family fire drill:
- Draw a floor plan of
- Mark two ways out of
- Establish a meeting
place outside the house.
- Be sure each family
member has the plan and knows the escape route.
- Post your fire escape
plan on the fridge or family bulletin board.
Hold a fire drill for your
family once or twice a year. Vary the drills, to practice escaping from different
Key Factors in Home Fires
The most dangerous room for fire is the kitchen, and grease fires are
very often the culprit. Over the past few years, candles have led to more and more
home fires. Outside the holiday season, candle fires most often start in the bedroom.
Fires caused by cooking and candles can be prevented by never, ever leaving cooking
or burning candles unattended.
Most fatal fires start at night. Smoke alone won't necessarily wake you up
in fact, the fumes could put you into an even deeper sleep. That is why you need
a smoke alarm on every floor, near the kitchen and outside all sleeping areas. Test
each unit regularly, and replace the batteries regularly. A good way to remember
is to change the batteries when you change your clocks in the spring and fall.
Staying Alive is a non-profit organization that promotes public safety education
through classroom and community multimedia presentations. They have prepared
a checklist of fire hazards to assist in creating a safe home environment.
- Are fuel-burning space
heaters and appliances properly installed and used?
- Are all space heaters
placed away from traffic? Are children and elderly persons cautioned to keep their
- Has the family been
cautioned not to use flammable liquids, like gasoline, to start or freshen a fire
(or for cleaning purposes)?
- Is the fireplace equipped
with a metal fire screen or heat-tempered glass doors?
- Since portable gas
and oil heaters in fireplaces use up oxygen as they burn, do you provide proper
ventilation when they are in use?
- Are proper clearances
provided between space heaters and curtains, bedding, furniture, etc?
- Do you stop members
of your household from smoking in bed?
- Do you know you should
give matches or lighters to an adult if you find them? What about your younger brother
- Do you check up after
others to see that no cigarette butts are lodged in upholstered furniture where
they can smolder unseen at night?
- Are matches and lighters
kept away from small children?
- Do you dispose of smoking
materials carefully (not in waste baskets) and keep large, safe ashtrays wherever
- Children get burned
climbing on the stove to reach an item overhead. Do you store cookies, cereal, or
other "bait" away from the stove?
- Do you keep your basement
closets, garage, and yard, clear of combustibles like papers, cartons, old furniture,
or old rags?
- Are gasoline and other
flammable liquids stored in safety cans (never glass jugs, discarded bleach bottles,
or other makeshift containers) and away from heat, sparks, and children?
- Is paint kept in tightly-closed
- Are there enough electrical
outlets in every room and special circuits for heavy-duty appliances such as space
heaters and air conditioners?
- Are furnace, stove,
and smoke pipes far enough from combustible walls and ceilings, and in good repair?
- Is your heating equipment
checked yearly by a serviceman?
- Is the chimney cleaned
and checked regularly?
- For safety against
chimney and other sparks, is the roof covering fire retardant?
- Did you have a qualified
electrician install or extend your wiring?
- Do all your appliances
carry the seal of a testing laboratory?