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Hearth.com LLC
Staff member
Hearth Supporter
Oct 18, 2013
Purchasing a fireplace can be one of the most beneficial additions that you can make for your home. As one of the top investments for remodeling, a fireplace can return as much as 130 percent of the initial cost when you sell your home. About 78 percent of prospective home buyers in the nation seek homes with fireplaces, and many looking for homes costing over $200,000 see the fireplace as the most appealing amenity.

But what about the Energy Equation? Luckily, many fireplaces of today can provide welcome heat from the wood. In fact, some newer units match the efficiency of the best woodstove and central heaters!

Fireplaces are a more traditional type of wood-burning appliance. In the past, most people chose to install a fireplace for the aesthetics and recreational enjoyment of the hearth, rather than for heating purposes. Of all the wood-burning appliances, fireplaces offer the largest view of the flames. With new contemporary designs, some are available with 2-, 3-, and 4-sided views.

Until recently, most fireplaces heated the home inefficiently. Some of them, such as most masonry (brick) fireplaces, are still this way. The flue of a masonry fireplace allows warm indoor air to escape up the chimney. Conventional masonry fireplaces can lose between 80 and 100 percent of their heat plus an additional 10 percent of the heat already in the room. They can actually remove more heat than they supply.

Factory-Built Fireplaces

New, energy-efficient, factory-built (sometimes called zero-clearance fireplaces) can often provide more heat than their traditional masonry counterparts. One of the most redeeming features of these fireplaces is that they require low clearance between themselves and other combustible surfaces. For example, they can be placed between 1/2 and 2 inches away from walls with wood studs without any danger of fire. Instead of a brick chimney, these fireplaces use a stainless steel lightweight metal flue. This means much lighter foundation requirements….or even none at all. As a result, you will have much more flexibility in your installation.

Factory-built fireplaces are light-weight, relatively inexpensive, and easy to install. They can be placed on any floor of the home without architectural reinforcement and can be quickly installed. If you are a skillful do-it-yourselfer, you could potentially install this type of fireplace in two or three days. You must follow the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully if you plan to install one yourself.


EPA rated efficient Fireplace

Prices for these fireplaces start at $1000 and go up to $5000+ depending on the size, efficiency, and features of the model. Applying wood stove technology to fireplace construction, many factory-built fireplaces have high efficiencies (up to 70+ percent) and are EPA rated (clean air and more heat for less wood!) . Manufacturers achieve high efficiencies in various ways. Often fireplaces have tight-fitting glass doors and some type of air control system. Means for achieving high efficiencies differ between models.

Because of their many benefits, factory-built fireplaces are becoming a popular option for many homeowners and builders. They can be used simply for enjoyment and aesthetics or, with some of the more expensive models, they can be used as a source of heat. They have many different designs and can be faced with many types of materials, such as marble, granite, block, tile, and stone. You usually cannot safety retrofit a stove or insert in a factory-built fireplace. Some manufacturers, however, do make particular inserts that may go in specified factory-built fireplaces.

Increasing the Efficiency of Masonry Fireplaces

If you are installing a masonry fireplace, you may be able to increase its heating efficiency. For example, you can construct a fireplace with a slanted back, thereby allowing the fireplace to radiate heat into the room more effectively. You can construct the fireplace with insulating brick. A fan-driven heat exchanger can be added to your fireplace, enabling the fire to warm the air rather than just radiating heat on objects in the room. Moreover, passive heat vents can be built into a fireplace.

Glass doors for fireplaces are another option that may increase efficiency. Most retrofits are recommended only for masonry fireplaces; however, some are designed for specified factory-built fireplaces . Glass doors are currently required in California for all masonry fireplaces. These accessories reduce heat loss and improve heating efficiency because they allow more air control for combustion when burning wood. They also prevent the indoor heat from escaping up the chimney when you can’t shut the flue (such as when the fire has died down but is not completely extinguished). Using glass doors, however, cuts the output of radiant heat from the fire in half. Glass doors are also used for their aesthetics and safety. They prevent burning matter from flying out of the fireplace into the room (thereby replacing a fireplace screen).

There is a wide variety of glass doors currently available. Some are plain and simple, while others are elegant and elaborate. These differences are often reflected in the cost, which varies dramatically from $200 to $3,000.

We have an article on upgrading your existing fireplace here:


Older inefficient Metal Fireplaces


“Builder Box” Pre-Fab

Millions of homes have been built with lightweight and inexpensive pre-fab fireplaces called “builder boxes”, a title which reflect the low cost of these units. At Hearth.com we regularly hear from readers that they have problems with these, including:

1. Lack of heat

2. Drafts in the house when the units are not in use

In other words, these units can often make the room colder! Unfortunately, there if often no easy solution to these problems. Here are the ways our customers have upgraded these units:

1. Install a wood burning fireplace insert in the existing metal firebox.

This can ONLY be a unit approved for such use. See:


2. Completely remove the unit AND the chimney pipe from the framed enclosure and replace it with a more modern and efficient built in.


Building a NEW Masonry Fireplace


Masonry Heater

If your desires lean toward a real masonry fireplace, consider these options which are likely to provide more satisfaction than the standard masonry type:

1. Rumford Fireplace - this is a masonry fireplace designed to throw massive amounts of radiant heat into the room. See:


2. A pre-cast masonry fireplace which is assembled on site - these are usually superior to site-built models


3. A Masonry Heater - these are capable of whole house heating in cold climates


Good luck in your continuing Quest for Fire and welcome to Hearth.com!

Craig Issod, Founder

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