A home heating accessory that’s often overlooked as a key part of Texas culture is the fireplace. Sure, our winters are shorter, and warmer, than up north, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the toasty comfort of a well-built fire (or the convenience and beauty of a gas model) on a chilly winter night.
Even though winter is on its way out, the lingering chill in the air might inspire you to consider adding a fireplace to your home for heat, aesthetics, or both. But before you make the leap (or bust out your lumberjack togs), it’s important to understand the challenges and rewards of owning a fireplace.
Choosing the Right Fireplace
It seems like such a simple question: is a fireplace right for you?
It’s a matter of taste, mostly, as well as some practical concerns if you’ll be using it as your primary heat source. Consider these two key factors:
Wood, gas, or something else? While humans have been relying on hunks of burning wood for warmth and cooking since ancient times, we have a lot more options when it comes to bringing a fireplace into our homes. While gas fireplaces have the edge in efficiency (the EPA recommends them not only for their efficiency, but low pollution and next-to-nonexistent maintenance), wood fireplaces have a slight edge with some folks when it comes to raw beauty.
Gas fireplaces are fantastic if you already have a gas line running to your home, but can add a significant cost to your installation if you need a line run to your home. You’ll also have a new monthly bill to pay if you don’t already use gas for your home water heater or stove.
Gas or wood, you’ll want to consider your fuel options carefully. Wood-burning fireplaces can save you money if you have steady access to free or cheap wood, but also create a substance called creosote that can give you some pretty serious health and homeowner headaches. If you have an existing fireplace and chimney but don’t want the challenges and maintenance that come with a traditional model, you can improve efficiency, safety, and performance by opting for a fireplace insert. These modular devices combine the aesthetic appeal of a roaring fire with the functionality of a wood stove.
Finally, be aware that other options, such as electric or propane models, have their own associated costs, and more exotic options such as masonry heaters or hydronic heaters are better suited for heating than aesthetics and may require extensive assistance from a professional to locate, buy, and install.
Indoor or outdoor? One advantage you’ll get with an indoor fireplace is the ability to install a heat exchanger with it. This can make your fireplace a welcome supplement to your central heating system (or even a potential replacement for it, although space considerations are an issue).
If your primary aim is to entertain, rather than heat your home, you might want to consider an outdoor fireplace for your patio or deck. Not only will you avoid most of the potential issues that accompany an indoor fireplace installation, but you’ll enjoy a longer outdoor entertaining season each year (as well as a high probability of more frequent guests—not many folks can resist the appeal of cozying up to a roaring fire when visiting friends and family).
As with any other home heating device, it’s a good idea to consult your local HVAC experts when considering a fireplace for your home. They can help you determine your home heating needs, find potential conflicts with your existing HVAC setup, and even offer you customized solutions to help make sure your new addition adds warmth to your home without leaving you feeling burned.