Fireplace & Stove Basics

Imagine…its January…blustery cold…you plop on the couch after a tough week at work...gazing through the window of your log home you can see kids ice skating on the frozen lake.  Totally relaxed now, you turn to the fireplace to add another log on the fire. 

For many, a similar Norman Rockwell like image is etched in their minds when they think of their dream log home.  The fireplace is often a center piece of any design and adds comfort and value to your investment.  

But today you have many choices, here are some basics to help you get started.

There's a wide selection of size, style, quality, price, efficiency, performance, etc. for a fireplace or stove from numerous manufactures.  To help you narrow your search, start by asking yourself these questions to help you determine what’s best for you.
  1. How often do you plan to use the fireplace or stove?  As a heat source (alternative/primary) or just have an occasional fire for ambience?
  2. What type of fuel do you plan to burn, hardwood, pellets, corn, coal or gas?  What are the availability, access and cost of your fuel of choice?
  3. Is efficiency or environmental concerns important to you?
  4. What level of priority is a fireplace or stove on your “wish list” and how much can you allocate to this item in the budget?
Fireplace Options:
The traditional masonry fireplace or firebox which is typically made of brick/stone and mortar and requires substantial structural support to carry the weight.  If this is your choice you’ll need to plan ahead and design in footing and foundation support at the preliminary design stage.  A traditional fireplace is very inefficient, around 10%.  You’ll also have an option to install a fireplace insert to improve efficiency.
The most popular option today is to install an engineered (also known as pre-fabricated or zero-clearance) fireplace unit with a double wall stainless steel chimney pipe inside a framed wall with culture stone veneer.  This option, you get the look of real stone, but with the choice for higher efficiency than a traditional fireplace.  Many manufactures offer outside air intakes and fan blowers to push heated air into the room.  There are typically three grades of fireplaces in this class, builder grade, heater grade, furnace grade.  The later can be EPA certified, offer insulated fireboxes, heat exchangers, upgraded doors for improve efficiency and offer higher quality of construction.
Masonry heaters (a.k.a.: Russian Stove, Finnish Fireplace, Soapstone Fireplace) are common in Europe and are a becoming a popular option in the USA (this will also require planning at the preliminary plan stage for structural support in the foundation).  They are designed to burn a hot fire where the exhaust flows through a series of baffles which allows the masonry thermo mass to slowly absorb the heat energy and release it back into the space.  These units are very clean burning, emit little smoke and very efficient up to 90%.  Masonry heaters can be custom built or you can purchase manufactured units of all sizes.  If you want to heat efficiently with wood and have the budget, this maybe a choice for you.

Stove Options:
Typically less expensive than a fireplace this is a cost effective way to add heat to your home as a primary or secondary heat source.    There is a wide selection of stoves on the market that burn a variety of fuel such as wood, corn, coal, gas, wood pellets, cherry pits and more.  Typically the stove is placed on tile or stone over a fire retardant underlayment.  Some pellet or gas stoves are near zero clearance and can be placed close to a wall with direct horizontal venting through the wall.  Efficiency varies by stove, but expect up to 60%.

No matter what system you choose, we recommend you consult with a fireplace professional to explain more about the products, performance and costs so you can determine which fireplace or stove that’s right for you.   Your builder can often supply you with names of local fireplace stores that can assist you.  We always recommend that you have your fireplace, stove, masonry heater built or installed by a professional. 

TIP:  If you plan to burn daily as a primary heat source, you’ll want to review with your builder of record and/or HVAC contractor about maintaining the correct relative humidity level in your log home.  

By The Leelanau Log Home Company LLC