Written by webtechs

Anatomy of Fireplaces – Different Types of Fireplaces

When most people think of chimneys, they think of fireplaces. Memories of cold winter evenings, relaxed and cozy in front of a crackling fire are hard to beat, and the ability of an open fire to soothe the wild beast within us all is legendary. Since the dawn of time, humans have gathered around the open fire for a sense of safety and community, and the fireplace is still the focus of family living in many homes, especially around the holidays.

But in spite of all the glowing aesthetics, there are some practical considerations. When you’re dealing with an element as capricious and potentially dangerous as fire, knowledge really is power, so please read on to learn how to make your fireplace both safer and more enjoyable.

Let’s start with a quick anatomy lesson, and a brief explanation of commonly used terms:

Fireplaces come in 4 general types, masonry fireplaces built entirely of bricks, blocks or stone and mortar, insert fireplaces, prefabricated fireplaces and factory built or prefabricated fireplaces consisting of a lightweight metal firebox and a metal chimney. (There are a few hybrids too, the most common being a heavy metal firebox and smoke chamber coupled to a regular brick chimney). To figure out which you have will take only a moment of detective work on your part.

A masonry fireplace has a firebox built of individual generally yellowish firebrick, a brick chimney above the roof, and if you look up past the damper you will see a roughly pyramid shaped affair also built of brick. A prefab fireplace generally has a firebox of cast refractory panels, and usually some metal is visible in the room all around the firebox. If you look up past the damper you will see a round metal chimney. And above the roof is more round metal chimney, sometimes surrounded by a simulated brick housing.

Although basically similar, there are some important differences. We have provided areas with some special considerations for masonry or prefabricated fireplaces that you can jump directly to by clicking the appropriate name.

Masonry Fireplaces

Masonry fireplaces, built entirely of bricks, blocks or stone and mortar, are massive structures often weighing between 6 and 7 tons! They are aesthetically pleasing, long lasting, and add real value to your home. With a little care and periodic maintenance they can literally give you a lifetime of enjoyment.

Masonry fireplaces require an extensive footing capable of supporting their great bulk, and if not provided with one will often shift and crack, allowing the fire to escape to nearby combustibles. You should always keep an eye out for any signs of settling or movement. Just inside the firebox, where the facing material meets the firebrick, is one weak spot where this settling is often first apparent. Keeping downspouts directed away from the fireplace and careful sloping of the ground around the fireplace to be sure water runs away from the structure can keep settling problems to a minimum.

Although masonry is quite durable, and in fact is often seen as indestructible, this is certainly not the case, especially for a chimney. While the rest of the brick on the house is somewhat protected by the eave, the poor chimney is sticking up like a flagpole, exposed to every raindrop and freeze/thaw cycle. A quality chimney cover, keeping the crown in good repair, and a waterproofing treatment, are money well spent to avoid expensive repairs or rebuilding. See the section on waterproofing for a more detailed explanation.

The firebox of course takes the brunt of the fire’s heat and it requires some special attention. The firebrick can take the heat pretty well, but the joints will fail in time from the constant expansion and contraction. In addition, refractory mortar is specified and seldom used. In a fireplace without a chimney cover, the rain water will also pool on the smoke shelf, mix with the soot behind the damper, and form an acidic slurry that seeps into the fire back destroying the mortar joints. These joints must be kept in good repair with a high temperature refractory mortar to ensure the fire is contained.

The tile liners used in most masonry fireplaces are just fine as long as the fireplace is properly maintained and not exposed to chimney fires. One good chimney fire will usually crack these tiles, rendering them incapable of performing their intended function. The general rule of thumb is that a masonry fireplace should be cleaned before 1/4″ of soot accumulates. If you ever do experience a chimney fire, it is very important to have the chimney swept and inspected before it is used again. We suggest a side trip to the areas on Chimney Fires and Liners for further information.

Unlike prefabricated fireplaces which are factory engineered products, a masonry fireplace is built on site brick by brick, giving the mason ultimate control of the final product. This results in a wide range of masonry fireplaces available, from long lasting, heat producing beauties, to smoky pits that crumble in a relatively short time. Most masonry fireplaces that chimney sweeps encounter, although far from perfect, can, with a little tender loving care, and carefully considered maintenance procedures, provide you with many peaceful, relaxing hours in an otherwise often hectic world.

Prefabricated Fireplaces

Factory built, or prefabricated fireplaces, are relative newcomers to the fireplace scene, commonly available only for the last 25 years or so. Unlike traditional site-built masonry fireplaces, most factory built fireplaces are made of metal, and come from the factory as complete units with a firebox, a specific chimney system, and all miscellaneous parts. With proper installation and maintenance, they can give years of service, but there are some special considerations owners of these systems should be aware of:

1)The factory-built fireplace and chimney are a complete system, engineered to work safely and efficiently together. Both units(fireplace and chimney), undergo testing together, then are listed specifically for use with each other.

2) The installation instructions must be followed exactly, especially the specified clearances from the firebox and chimney to any combustible materials. Most manufacturers require 2″ minimum air space (no insulation allowed either), between the chimney components and all wood framing. If you are installing a new unit be sure these clearance instructions are strictly adhered to. If you have a unit already installed it is very important you check these clearances wherever possible. Any wood that is too close to the chimney will continue to dry and undergo a process called pyrolisis. It can eventually catch fire at temperatures as low as 200 degrees. Over half of the units inspected by chimney professionals are improperly installed, and a trip to the attic to check clearances is definitely time well spent! It is much more difficult to inspect the firebox clearances, but we suggest you consider installing an access port to both check these clearances and monitor the units condition as the years go by.

3) Most factory built fireplaces are tested and listed as decorative heating appliances and will not withstand the abuse often heaped on their masonry counterparts. Although they are tested to U.L. standards, severe over firing and chimney fires will often badly damage these units. Regular yearly maintenance and careful monitoring can assure a safe enjoyable system.

4) Many prefab chimneys, especially older units with an imitation brick housing above the roof, seem to be a preferred nesting site for birds in many areas. It is not unusual for chimney sweeps to take literally buckets of nesting material from these chimneys. This nesting can catch fire directly, or it can block critical air passageways between layers of metal chimney pipe, allowing the chimney to overheat. Both scenarios routinely cause house fires. Most aftermarket chimney covers do not correctly address the problem, and can often make the situations worse. A careful screening of all potential nesting areas with the proper sized screening may be in order.

5) Finally, prefab fireplace systems eventually just plain wear out. Models go out of production and manufacturers go out of business. A factory-built unit will reach the end of its useful life when repair of the unit is no longer possible, particularly if the components that are necessary to maintain the listing are no longer available. Keep a close eye on an aging unit, and be prepared to send ole faithful to the great recycling plant in the sky before she fails completely.

But in spite of all the glowing aesthetics, there are some practical considerations. When you’re dealing with an element as capricious and potentially dangerous as fire, knowledge really is power, so please read on to learn how to make your fireplace both safer and more enjoyable.

Ethanol Burning Vent Free Fireplaces

Fireplaces that burn ethanol or gas fireplaces have been becoming more popular in 2015 for their minimalistic look and clean burn/mobile friendly capabilities of them. These types of fireplaces push towards biofuels and being eco friendly. It burns on denatured ethanol so you don’t have to hook up any utilities and also means that you won’t have to clean up any ashes or worry about smoke. It’s a smoke-free fireplace. They can be installed quickly as a freestanding unit or can be built-in to your specifications. It also doesn’t need a chimney which means all the heat will stay in the home. These ethanol burning fireplaces can be installed for as little as $850 or you can go with one of the top units all the way up-to $13,000.

EcoSmart Fire
Blomus Pure Life

Insert Fireplaces

If you are looking to buy a new fireplace or just looking to upgrade your inefficient one, an insert fireplace unit could be what you are looking for. They are also energy efficient and insert fireplaces come in modular boxes that can be installed into any opening or one that already exists. The inserts circulate warm air well and can be configured in multiple ways: vent free, wood burning, direct vent, gas, pellets and more… The best configuration set up is with using glass doors to control the heat flow and use the outside air as a combustion intake, which will use the air outside to burn rather than your air indoors. If you configure this fireplace correctly it can be a huge source of heat for single rooms or sometimes a whole home. These units usually run between $600-$1,900.

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Written by webtechs

What’s The Best Type Of Fireplace For Your Home?

There is no need for a heated discussion, so here’s the scoop on selecting the right fireplace for your home.

Legitimate gripping in the winter would be about stuff such as driving on ice, having to wear layers of clothes, and extremely cold weather. Yet, cold weather has its romantic side, like when two people spend their leisure together nestled by the fireplaces. Who is going to argue about sitting by the fireplace drinking wine on a cold evening, staring into the flames? Time and technology has made the installation of fireplaces much easier than it once was, even the less fussy fireplaces that need no chimneys have been made easy to install these days. The general manager at Phoenix based Diversified Builder Supply Inc., PJ, gives information on five different fireplaces, which includes an idyllic, an old time-wood burner, and electric fireplaces that are portable.

Wood Burners

“Keeping up a wood burning fireplace regularly can be a challenge,” says PJ, Yet, many homeowners want them. PJ also stated that “It seems to be the open faced fireplaces that you see every year on Christmas cards that most people prefer,”

Why wouldn’t they? With breath taking flames, a spark flying now and then, entwining pieces of wood – which if you think about it, these things create an aura of peace and comfort. Jane Whitman, a native of Dutchess County, once had, not one, but two wood-burning fireplaces in the Hyde Park home that she lived in, yet, she said that “With all the maintenance involved in keeping them up, that it wasn’t worth it, and that they did not burn correctly all of the time.”

Having to bring in wood every night is quite the responsibility, and when it all said and done, these beautiful fireplaces are not heat efficient. According to PJ. “The little bit of heat these fireplaces give off is mostly sucked up the chimney.”

The Pros

Pro 1. Fireplaces can set an atmosphere of the days gone by.
Pro 2. It doesn’t get much better than sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold evening, watching as the flames shoot from the logs.
Pro 3. Fireplaces require zero electricity to run, saving you on your electricity bills

The Cons

Con 1. If you have a fireplace, it is necessary to have a chimney, which will consist of keeping it regularly maintained because of the soot and other substances it can build up can be flammable.
Cont 2. Most of the heat from a wood burning fireplace gets sucked up the chimney (which is mandatory), thus, heating with a fireplace that burns wood is not efficient for heating the entire home.
Con 3. There is as much work in taking care of a wood burning fireplace (ash clean-up, firewood chopping) as there is beauty in its appearance when the fire is roaring and flames entwining one another.

Special Options

Special Option 1. Choosing a wood burning fireplace with doors that are made of cast iron will increase the heat it gives off.
Special Option 2. Cast iron doors is a feature that will serve more than just one purpose, as they will also give you the feature of an added safety measure by protecting your home from flying embers.

Tips On Designing

A majority of fireplaces are made with bricks, including the chimney, (sometimes stone or metal) designed and crafted in a way that makes one feel cozy. However, you may prefer one of the pre-fab fireplaces, these contain metal fireboxes that have refractory bricks, and give off an appearance of being industrial. You can give your fireplace a little more drama by having a glass screen, referred to as a ‘peek-a-boo’. You can also give your fireplace a rustic appeal by adding a ‘stone veneer’ or surrounded with a ‘wood frame’.

Pellet Stove

This is the type of fireplace that is going to put an atmosphere of ‘back in the old days’ in your home. You will be able to watch the flames as they flicker through the glass screen protector, giving a true feeling of being back in time. There will be a noticeable difference due to the dried form of the pellets used being an energy source that is renewable.

PJ stated that “A pellet stove is a great alternative.” To top it off, it takes less maintenance than does the wood burning fireplaces. Another terrific thing about this type of fireplace is that it will let you fill it with enough pellets for it to keep running for up to 24 to 48 hours at a time.

The Pros

Pro 1. It lets wood pellets burn more efficiently, with less ashes to have to keep cleaning on a regular basis.
Pro 2. It will give your home good heat as opposed to the other types of fireplaces.
Pro 3. It will be much easier to keep the ash pan (located under the fireplace) cleaned up.
Pro 4. The pellet stove lets you be more flexible, and it can be installed about anywhere on an exposed wall, the same as a washer and dryer.

The Cons

Con 1. Pellets are sold in large bags; this creates a need for ample storage space.
Con 2. Because pellets are made from processed wood, they are generally more expensive than traditional firewood.
Con 3. Pellet stoves require electricity to run, increasing your electricity bills
Con 4. If pellets aren’t available near you, you may have to have to pay to have them shipped to you.

Special Options

Special Option 1. The wood for a fireplace can be bought rather cheaply, However, purchasing in pellet form is going to be costlier.
Special Option 2. Usually created from cast iron, which is heavy duty and having an enamel finish, pellet stoves presents itself as you would like, ‘charming’.


All homeowners would find fireplaces more attractive if they were easier to care for, or even did not require any maintenance at all. “This is the type closest to that you are going to find, which includes Whitman’s,” PJ said. This being the most popular with his customers, due to how simple its installation is, as well as how well it heats.

Whitman moved into one of those Phoenix condo’s soon after the passing of her husband, and spent time remodeling what was going to be her new home, which meant a fireplace in her new living room that was going to be easier to keep-up and with low maintenance. She made the statement “I do love it, all I have to do is push a button when I want to turn it on or off because of its thermostat control, it looks terrific, and heats the home great too.”

Gas fireplaces only require the flop of a switch for some heat and you do not have to go out and gather wood for it. Instead of having a chimney like a wood burning fireplace, the gas fireplace has gas that comes through a pipe (PVC) that runs through the walls of the home, this is the way it vents, making it more convenient to homeowners to place it wherever they want to.

The Pros

Pro 1. With a gas fireplace you only need to turn a button or push one and the ceramic logs automatically light, no wood to bother with.
Pro 2. Everything will be behind the glass or in the burning area, making the clean-up easy.

The Cons

Con 1. Many homeowners do not have the feeling of a real fireplace knowing the flames are coming from ceramic logs.
Con 2. You will end up spending more on gas or propane than you would on wood or pellets.

Special Options

Although vent-less inserts may be higher in their rate of efficiency, it is alarming to know that they produce an exhaust that is emitted throughout your home. You could choose to use direct venting units which will pull the air in from outside as it expels the exhaust to the outside, and these would be the safest.

Designing Tips For Gas Fireplaces

Usually, this type of fireplace will be encased by granite, slate, and/or marble and occasionally, the masonry may be stacked in many different pieces in various shapes and sizes. This type of fireplace will also make the home feel luxurious. PJ once said that, “Always use materials that are non-combustible, you do not want them to ignite, one can even use ceramic tiles.”


An electrical fireplace is no different than a refrigerator, or a toaster for that matter, because it is merely another appliance. It is a good thing that it does not produce flames in the long run, which will give it a longer life span. This type of fireplace can even be moved from one room to another, making it more easily accessible.

“However, you are not going to get a lot of heat for your home out of this type. This may be a little dis-appointing to homeowners, but on the other hand, it would be great for places such as hotels and restaurants,” PJ said.

The Pros

Pro 1. With an electrical fireplace you do not have to worry about any fumes.
Pro 2. The only type of fireplace that is mobile, which makes it so convenient.
Pro 3. Electrical fireplaces are less costly than either, gas or wood. All you have to do is plug it in and you got your fireplace.

The Cons

Con 1. Your wood fireplace is going to continue to work even if there is a power outage.
Con 2. An electrical fireplace is of course, an imitation to the wood burning fireplace, and there will be many who will never come to terms with that.
Con 3. The style options are very limited than with traditional wood fireplaces and gas fireplaces, and you may not be able to find a style that suits your décor.

Special Options

Option 1. Electric fireplaces will certainly hike up the electric bill in the winter time, just like an A/C unit does in the summer months.

Design Tips For Electric Fireplaces

Choosing wood veneers for your fireplace may give your home that country look, but, you might want to give something new a try, such as tempered-glass panels.


These days, having echo-friendly fireplaces with sustainable designs and running off of bioethanol, which is a clean burning fuel that is made using the fermentation of carbohydrates using alcohol. This type of fireplace is becoming another high end option for people. According to PJ, “this type is modern, and considered to be linear, however, they do provide more than just a great flame, they also will give you a minimal of heat for your home.”

The Pros

Pro 1. This type does not use gas or flame – and does not need an electrical outlet. It does not put off any smoke, soot, ash, and has no exhaust for you and your family to worry about breathing.
Pro 2. Easily cleaned.
Pro 3. It is pretty much sleek and looks good. It is a bioethanol fireplace that can double in its design by being a striking part of your homes furniture.
Pro 4. You can even use this type of fireplace in your backyard.

The Cons

Con 1. This is a more expensive type of fireplace. A cheaper fireplace might sound inviting, but you are compromising on quality.
Con 2. The bioethanol fireplaces do not give you as much heat as you would get from gas.
Con 3. Installation could possibly be expensive depending on the type of fireplace you decide to get.
Con 4. While the flame is beautiful, it will never match the crackling and popping like a real fire.

Special Options

Option 1. You can get the fuel for this type in either liquid or a gel form, in fact, the liquid fuel tends to burn longer than does the gel form.

Design Tips For Bioethanol Fireplaces

This type of fireplace gets its polished, fashionable edge from designs using tempered glass and also brushed steel.

Free Fireplace Quotes in Phoenix

To buy Fireplaces In Phoenix, or to request a free fireplace quote, call us at 480-961-3780. Diversified Builder Supply, Inc. is a Custom Masonry & Fireplace Contracting company.