Picking a Fireplace for Your Home Plan

Here at Boutique Home Plans, we love fireplaces. There's something innately human and comforting about enjoying fire in your home. 

When we design our house plans, we often use our judgement to pick a type of fireplace to visually show it to customers, but as the owner of a plan, you get to select the final specification before you build. This post will provide an overview of the different types of fireplaces available and the different fuel options and required ventilation that you can select.

Types of Fireplaces:

Solid Masonry Fireplace:

Masonry fireplaces are built from solid, hand laid masonry (brick, CMU or stone) on an isolated foundation. Historically, this was the only way to build a fireplace but it has been supplanted by modern manufactured inserts and this way of constructing a fireplace is no longer very common since it is very labor intensive and expensive. Some manufacturers now have precast fireboxes and chimneys which helps save the complicated layout but they will still need a full, hand laid masonry veneer. 

Wood Stoves & Pellet Stoves:
Conversely, wood stoves have remained very popular over time. They are very efficient at converting the fuel into heat and retaining that heat inside the home. They work best in a more rustic environment or where space is limited. They come in a variety of form factors that can match any aesthetic or budget. Most are manufactured as stand alone stoves but there are plenty of wood stove inserts on the market as well. Some units have a fan option which can help improve burning efficiency or spread. 
Pellet Stoves fit a similar form factor but the key advantage of a Pellet Stove, is that it has a hopped and feed screw that will automatically add in pellets to maintain the burn without needing you to tend it.
Manufactured Inserts:
The most common type of fireplace today is a manufactured insert. When you buy one of our House Plans with a fireplace, the construction details that come with it are for an insert. Inserts, typically come in a variety of form factors, sizes and fuels. 

Architectural Sizing & Placement:

Architecturally, your fireplace should be in proper proportion to the room that it is servicing. Part of this is the size of the firebox but part of it is also the size of the mantel, facing and/or surround. Check out the table in the image below for sizing your firebox and surround.

If you are looking to use the fireplace to provide supplementary heating, then it's best to place it in the center of the home on the lower level since heat rises and spreads the heat through convection. 

New Construction Fireplace Selection

Considerations for Ventilation:

Ventilation is a core concern with most fuel burning fireplaces. There are some fuel burning, low BTU units that may not need to be vented but it depends on the manufacturer and the size of the room. We always recommend venting, even if a unit can technically be unvented because indoor air quality is a key component to your health and longevity. 
The size of the flue will be specified by the insert manufacturer. The building code specifies that a chimney or flue pipe must rise at least 2ft above any portion of the building that is within a 10ft radius. This means that it's always best to position a fireplace in a part of the house where the vent pipe will be lined up with the high part of the roof, otherwise, you will have to build an expensive (and often unattractive) chimney or vent that will meet that criterion. While, flue pipes can travel horizontally but are very limited since they need to maintain a high slope. 
Make-Up Air:
Since your fireplace will be exhausting air outside of your house, it will cause an imbalance in pressure which will suck air in from the outside. For this reason, we always recommend a source of make-up-air or combustion air. To counteract this effect, your contractor should duct in a small (size specified by the manufacturer) source of combustion air that vents into the firebox. Most manufactured inserts include a properly sized port for this on the side or bottom of the firebox (we also detail this in our construction drawings).

Types of Fireplace Fuel:

Wood / Pellets:
Wood fireplaces are an unbeatable aesthetic. Who doesn't love the crackling and the smell? But they tend to be pretty inefficient at converting and retaining heat, create toxic gases and are messy to clean up.
Pellets are a dense form of wood they removes some of the moisture and parts of the wood that don't combust very well which makes less ash to clean up. 
Gas (Natural Gas, Propane, Ethanol):
It's not quite the same as burning wood, but the key advantage of gas stoves is convenience. A flip of the light switch or quick match is all it takes to start enjoying a robust fire, and there's no clean up the next day. 
If your home does not have a source of gas, you can consider an ethanol insert which can be fueled by hand with a bottle of affordable ethanol. 
The great thing about electric fireplace inserts is that there's no need for ventilation or gas piping. It certainly lacks the romantic appeal of real fire, but does offer a chance to save quite a bit of money on the install. 
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