Request some opinions/advice re alternatives for our existing fireplace
which lives in an imposing rock wall in our family room.
A recent insurance survey identified that the open grate fireplace with a
hanging metal curtain in front of it, should have an 18 inch hearth in front
of it. The 22 inch high and 23 inch wide fireplace opening is about 12
inches up from the floor with a rock 'lip' projecting about 8 inches. We do
have a semi-non combustible plastic shield laid on the carpet in front of
it, which has prevented ash and cinders melting the floor carpet.
The 'damper' originally operated by a turn-screw device has rotted away over
some 25 years. The flue is presently blocked to prevent heat loss. The
fireplace chimney has a 6 by 8 inch rectangular masonry flue in good
Such a fireplace while cheery when it was used is very inefficient and
creates dirt/ashes and heat loss etc. There is no possibility of an ash dump
because the back of the chimney is in a storeroom with same floor level.
Chimney construction also provides a separate 6 inch by 6 inch flue which
goes further down and is connected to a wood stove in the basement below
this room. Insurance has approved that installation.
Alternatives may be;
1) Add hearth 18 inches out at floor level or very slightly above it. Repair
or replace damper etc. Continue to burn wood etc.
2) Convert by adding a propane gas fireplace insert. This would require a
gas line, large gas bottle to be located outside (with certain clearances),
with regulator, ice snow protection, access for refilling etc. Also certain
regulations may require a different flue and/or a special stainless steel
flue liner? Propane heat with the use of the small electric blower in such a
fireplace is nice and would add local warmth to the room .
3) Install an electric fireplace. Have never liked these because of their
'artificiality' etc. But since rest of house with exception of the basement
wood stove is 'all-electric' anyway it would be easiest to install and with
no combustion involved cleanest. While I have the skills to maintain most
items electric would probably be simplest (and cheapest) to maintain, myself
4) Although some interesting oil stoves are available fuel becoming more
expensive? And the regulatory precautions for oil tank and fuel line are
considerable and a concern; insurance against environmental damage would be
another ongoing expense. So I omit this option.
Propane is going to be usually cheaper to operate than electric, looks
Bottles come in various sizes with the larger ones able to be partially
buried out of view. However, for just a fireplace, your propane use
will be small, so its a small cylinder.
4" stainless steel exhaust flue routes up thru your existing chimney.
Its not a special item, its INCLUDED with EVERY gas fireplace
installation!! The use of a separate flue for combustion air is
recommended so that you can keep the fireplace doors closed, and have
the blower circulate air around the firebox to collect heat and push it
out to the room.
My father installed an electric fireplace in his gas fireplace. At
first I didnt like the thought of it since it was so artificial looking
to me...but I came to apreciate it more and more for its maintenance
I find myself turning it on while we are in the livingroom becasue of
the feel it gives to the room. I know electrics can appear cheazy when
you see them in a showroom, but they kind of grow on you, and it sure
beats messing with tanks or wood.
If you want a nice insert, go with one that uses ceramic glass that stays
closed when used. Some are 85 percent efficient like a furnace. Get one
with stainless steel vents that go up your chimney. They are flexible pipes
and are easy to install. One is for intake and the other is exhaust.
Thank you to the several people who posted fireplace suggestions and good
information; thank you.
And, good question: I guess the answer is that with other heating including
a basement wood stove and a retirement life style 'we want pretty'! i.e.
less chimney heat loss and less mess in family room!
Regarding the comment about electrical utility cost; in this province of
Canada that is not such a great concern.
Piped in gas is not available at all. Most of the electricity is generated
by water power so that is less polluting and less expensive than electricity
generated by burning coal, gas ,oil and/or atomic energy which seems to be
proving very costly?
Also since the house is (apart from the occasionally used basement wood
stove) all electric, using baseboard heaters, the occasional use of, say, an
electric fireplace, to 'look nice' would merely provide some additional heat
that would cause the room heaters to operate less! i.e. electric heat is,
more or less, electric-heat.
For this 1600 sq foot house with a full concrete in ground but basically
unheated basement the electric utility (total energy) cost is around $2500
per year, including all sales taxes. That includes cooking, refrigerator,
freezer, home heating, washing clothes, daily showers, some workshop
equipment, occasional garage heat, outside lights on at night and two
computers running 24/7. Temperatures in this coastal climate are not that
low but the cold season is long, requiring some heating almost every month
of the year and it is windy.
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