Consider fireplace alternative

The warmth of a glowing fire sparks the senses. Sitting by the hearth evokes memories of family, feelings of comfort, and thoughts of romance.

Many older homes feature original fireplaces that charmed their owners twenty or thirty years ago. Unfortunately, about 85 per cent of the heat produced by an older woodburning fireplaces goes right up the chimney. Rather than efficiently warming homes, they can make the rooms they occupy drafty and uncomfortable. In these energy conscious times, many homeowners are looking for a remedy to this problem.

One solution worth considering is the installation of a natural gas fireplace insert. Just as the name suggests, a fireplace insert is a heating appliance inserted into an existing fireplace opening. These inserts contain a burner system, logs and grate, enclosed in a metal firebox. They are available in a variety of different sizes to fit almost any situation. A ceramic glass front window transfers radiant heat into the room. Most units are also equipped with a fan to circulate warm air.

Flame look improved
Burner systems vary by manufacturer. If you have looked at these systems in the past, you wl notice a marked improvement in the flame quality. Many of these fireplaces burn like the real thing, flickering and dancing just like a wood flame. The size of the burner determines the amount of heat (B.T.U’s) the fireplace can produce. Both the size of your old fireplace opening and the amount of heat you want the appliance to provide will determine what unit you purchase.

For example:

  • A three by four metre (approximately 10 by 12 foot) family room would require a 20,000 B.T.U. unit to meet heating requirements.
  • A six by six metre (approximately 20 by 20 foot) room would require a 30,0000 B.T.U. for heating needs and so on.

Whatever size of fireplace you decide on, you are buying an energy efficient addition to your home’s heating system. The average natural gas fireplace (30,0000 B.T. U.’s) will cost between 12 to 18 cents to run per hour. They burn smoke free and odourless. Models are available with a remote control on-off unit that adjusts the flame height and temperature at the touch of a button.

Log sets have also enjoyed dramatic improvements over the past few years. Models look surprisingly realistic. Ceramic fibre logs, available from some manufacturers, actually glow when heated, adding to the fireplace’s ambience and warmth. Cement logs are more affordable, but do not glow.

Liners, trim kits
The inside interior of the firebox, or refractory, comes in either a simple black or ceramic fibre compound.  The ceramic resembles real firebrick and gives the fireplace a much more traditional look. But it can also detract from the drama of a flame burning against a simple black background. The ceramic liner also costs about $90 extra.

The addition that will set your fireplace apart is the trim kit. This is also sold as an extra. These kits are applied to the fireplace front, outside the glass. Most fireplace manufacturers offer a variety of trim kits in various styles and finishes. You can find a trim kit to compliment almost any decor. They are available in polished or antique brass, plain black, stainless steel, brushed stainless and pewter finishes. Trim kits are also available in decorative cast iron for a truly old fashioned look.

A bay window is another option on most models. Expect to spend from about $250 for a basic black trim kit to $1500 for a cast iron kit complete with a bay window. 

Not do-it-yourself
The installation of a gas fireplace insert is not a do-it-yourself project. You will require the services of a licensed gas technician. Installation arrangements can usually be made at any authorized dealer when you purchase your fireplace. The job takes about four hours, and costs from $500 to $600. The installer will also put a gas chimney liner in the original chimney. The cost for this should be included with the installation cost.

Depending on size and style, you can expect to spend about $1500 for a standard fireplace insert, plus the cost for for trim kits, refactories and installation. Expect to budget at least $2500 if your are considering this home improvement.