Warming Your Abode Up for Winter: All You Need to Know to Build and Maintain Your Fireplace

A fireplace or a tiled stove are a real asset to any home in winter. After all, it brings warmth to the living space, while at the same time it creates a homely, inviting atmosphere. However, the right fireplace doesn’t just bring real warmth to a room. While the concept of a source of fire and light indoors has remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years, there are many aspects of a fireplace, both functional and aesthetic, to consider when building your own. As the colder time of the year is approaching, you need to get your fireplace back in shape to serve you well throughout winter. Or, if you don’t have this marvel of any house on your property yet, this might be the best time to build yourself one! And in this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about fireplaces: from their building and installation to pre-season maintenance.

Building Your Fireplace: Intricacies of Choosing the Best

Many associate the construction of a fireplace with great effort, complex assembly and, most often, with dirt. But that doesn’t have to be the case, because modern systems of fireplaces offer a quick and clean way to have a fireplace in your own four walls. 

The first thing to consider when starting your research is that fireplaces generally fall into one of three categories: masonry or brick, zero-clearance – also known as prefabricated or manufactured – and gas fireplaces. Of course, each design has advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, before deciding on how to build a fireplace, it is important to consider different options in light of your project’s budget, aesthetics, and details of your home’s structure and architectural style. The number of work steps involved in assembling your fireplace depends primarily on the respective model and the structural conditions on site. For example, a fireplace with an integrated shelf for the firewood consists of more parts and work steps than a simple fireplace without a shelf. We will now expand upon the different types of fireplaces and their intricacies.

Masonry Fireplace

The most expensive option is a wood-burning brick fireplace. It is also arguably the most attractive and impressive. When ordinary people imagine a fireplace, this type is the first thing that comes to mind. A brick fireplace consists of a brick or stone hearth, a brick or stone chimney, and most often a wooden mantelpiece. 

Learning how to build such a fireplace in a new building is much easier when it’s built along with a building it’s supposed to be in. Adding one to an existing home presents countless challenges, but it is certainly doable. Before you do anything else, identify the room you plan to place the fireplace in and make sure the floor joists are reinforced. Neither bricks or stones are light. In fact, when these materials are used in the amounts required to make an average-sized fireplace, they are so strong that building codes require the frame of a house to be modified to accommodate the increased load.

Other considerations for such a fireplace include firebox dimensions and thickness, damper opening size, and the type of chimney and liner used. Local building codes usually provide detailed specifications for each of these details, as well as minimum clearances between chimneys and possible combustibles.

When considering this type of fireplace for your home, you should consult with an experienced specialist about the benefits of installing an air recirculation system that allows your fireplace to draw cooler air out of the room. Once this air is heated, a low voltage fan pushes it back into the house. Without such a system, a brick fireplace could steal warm air and send it up the chimney, resulting in higher monthly heating costs. A non-mechanical way to address this problem is to build a fireplace with a slanted firebox that prevents warm air from escaping to the outside.

Pre-fabricated Fireplace

Compared to their brick counterparts, zero-clearance fireplaces are much easier and cheaper to install and require significantly less construction work to set them up. They’re lightweight and feature a firebox casing that keeps them cool at all times, making it possible to place such fireplaces directly within inches of hardwood floors or existing walls. In rooms of all sizes, especially smaller rooms or spaces, homeowners have found zero-clearance fireplaces to be a viable and satisfying option.

Wood, gas, and electric zero-clearance models are all available, but their differences are primarily a matter of lifestyle and personal preference. All of them are usually vented tightly through lightweight metal pipes that run through the ceiling. However, some models include an external ventilation feature that draws in air from outside. These fireplaces work up to 70% more efficiently because they don’t need to draw air from the room. However, while floor-standing fireplaces can usually be installed anywhere, more efficient designs should be placed against an exterior wall. You should make that final decision about the fixing point of your pre-fabricated fireplace as a result of a consultation with an experienced interior designer or an architect.

Gas Fireplace

While they don’t make sound or smell like a wood then they burn, gas fireplaces create a beautiful atmosphere and often provide more warmth than their wood counterparts. Plus, gas fireplaces are much easier to set up, so say goodbye to all the paper and kindling! No need to clean them up or worry about errant embers from such fireplaces either, which makes them safer to leave as they don’t require active attendance while they do their work.

Much like their prefabricated equivalents, gas fireplaces don’t take up a lot of space. For standard units, the most important installation requirements are their connection to the gas supply line and proper ventilation. To meet the first requirement, you should place the fireplace near a propane or natural gas line, or in a space that is expandable and inexpensive. The second requirement – ventilation – can be handled in a number of ways. This can easily be done through an existing chimney or can be arranged through installation of a new chimney, using a light metal pipe leading from the unit to the exterior.

Note that ventless gas fireplaces are available and becoming more popular. It uses catalytic converter technology to burn all fuel supply cleanly with very little off-gassing, a term that embodies a release of toxic chemicals and VOCs into the atmosphere. However, it should be noted that some people have expressed concern that unvented gas fireplaces do not always burn 100% propane or natural gas. For your safety, remember to place these types of fireplaces near windows that can be opened while you enjoy a fire at home. 

Regardless of what type of fireplace you decide to opt for, you should familiarize yourself with the maintenance and cleaning techniques required for safe operation of any furnace.

Cleaning Your Fireplace: Look Under Every Nook and Cranny You Can Reach

Nothing beats the allure of fire, but this element leaves very apparent and unsightly dirt behind itself, thus knowing how to clean your chimney is very important. The fuel burning process can stain or leave by-products that have no effect on the chimney’s appearance. Dirty chimneys don’t just look bad. This build-up can signify that the process of fire burning is inefficient, and creosote build-up is dangerous. What is the solution to these problems? It is regular cleaning combined with the best fireplace ideas for decorating that will make your living room look great and fire work safely. 

When it comes to chimney sweeping, it’s nice to know that it’s not a difficult task, but it can be messy, so wear old clothes and gloves. Also, keep in mind that different fireplace materials have different maintenance requirements. Whether you prefer modern fireplace ideas or a traditional fireplace, they are made of brick, stone, cast iron, or other materials, so it’s important to keep them from being damaged by cleaning.

Items that may come in handy when it comes to cleaning your fireplace include, but are not limited to following things you should have at your disposal for this process: dust sheets, bristle scrubbing brush or steel brush, scraper or filing knife, black grate polish and beeswax polish for any wooden parts, heavy-duty cleaner and a bucket of water.

The first thing you should do when cleaning your chimney is move furniture, roll up carpet, and protect the floor with a duster or newspaper. Next, fill the bucket with ashes and unburned wood or charcoal that are still in the fireplace. Clean the chimney or use a vacuum to get a good look under the chimney.

Check out the insulating fire bricks on the back and sides of the fireplace. Heavily damaged bricks should be replaced, while cracks and chips can be repaired with refractory cement. The bricks should be dry and free of dust before you proceed with their repair. Use a knife to press the cement into place. After repairing, you may need to light a fire to harden the cement quicker.

Clean the tiles surrounding the fireplace and hearth with warm soapy water while using a stiff bristle scrub brush or nylon sponge. If your home is very old, cracked chimney tiles can become part of your home’s history. On the other hand, if you want to achieve a fresh look of your older fireplace, you can opt for new fireplace tiles that may work better with a different style of room if you plan for its renovation.

An old toothbrush will help clean up the grout that makes your fireplace look untidy. Missing grout joints should also be replaced. Make sure the new product is suitable for surfaces exposed to high temperatures and make sure to press it in firmly. Once partially cured, line the tip of a pencil along the surface to give it a clean finish. The next day, remove excess grout with a nylon sponge.

If stubborn stains remain after initial cleaning, apply a commercial heavy-duty tile cleaner and allow it to stay on the problematic surface for 1-2 hours to remove stains. Scrub once again with a soapy water solution and go over it with a bristle brush. Wipe the area with a clean cloth and water. Once completely dry, buff with a soft cotton cloth to make the tile shine.

Clean rusty metal with a wire or bristle scrubbing brush. Next, apply black rust polish sparingly with a regular paint brush. Leave it on for at least an hour for a glossy finish, then buff with a bristle brush. Be careful with it, as the abrasive can easily rub off furniture and clothing. Use oven paint for a long-lasting finish.

If you have wood siding around your fireplace, it’s a good idea to clean that as well. A high-quality beeswax polish can be rubbed in to nourish the wood and protect it from the drying effects of fire heat. Dry and polish with a soft cotton cloth. Always apply polish sparingly to avoid a greasy finish. Excessive application will discolor the wood.

These are the basic outliers of what you can do to make your fireplace not only cleaner, but better equipped to function properly, leaving less chance to miss out on any technical break or leak that may have formed and would’ve otherwise been hidden by soot and grime. Here are some more specialized tips for fireplace maintenance that can present unique challenges due to their materials and make:

  • When cleaning brick fireplaces, fill a spray bottle with soapy water and generously spray the bricks, afterwards scrub them with fiber, soft bristle brush or a sponge as to not damage and scratch the bricks. Avoid metal brushes when cleaning decorative surfaces at all cost.
  • If your fireplace bricks look burnt, you can try TSP (Trisodium Phosphate), a strong cleaning agent. But keep in mind that it should be used with extreme caution. Wear rubber gloves, goggles, a mask, and make sure your arms and legs are covered. Also, the room should be well ventilated when cleaning with TSP. It is always recommended to try a gentle cleaning method first before resorting to stronger chemicals.
  • If you find soot around your fireplace, you can easily clean it with baking soda and some water. Apply the baking soda to the soot-covered bricks or tiles and let it sit for about 20 minutes, then swiftly wash it off with clean water. It’s important to note that soot appearing on visible areas of your fireplace may mean that it’s time to thoroughly clean your chimney.
  • Glass fireplaces should only be cleaned by special solutions designed to work on tempered glass. Stay clear of store-bought universal glass cleaners when working with glass fireplaces.

Hopefully, with this guide we’ve helped you to get ready for the upcoming season of festivities and cold with prospects of meeting it around a warm, cozy and, most importantly, safe fireplace that will bring warmth to your house and your life. 

%d bloggers like this: