How Can I Tell What Kind of Fireplace I Have?
People often move into a home that has a “fireplace,” and they just start using and enjoying it without any thought to what kind of fireplace it is. Yes, there are several different appliances/setups that can rightly be called a fireplace.
The reason to know what kind you have is so you’ll know what is necessary to keep it running safely and optimally. The information here will be especially helpful to people who’ve just moved into a new home.
Traditional open masonry fireplaces
Description: These are the large fireplaces built into a wall and connected to a masonry (brick and mortar) chimney. Brickwork or stonework surrounding the fireplace is common. Unless these fireplaces have been converted, they are wood-burning.
Maintenance needs: Because wood smoke creates a flammable substance known as creosote, which forms inside the flue, professional chimney sweeping should be scheduled once a year. Masonry fireplace flues also need regular inspection and the removal of any tree debris or small-animal nests that may have entered and will block air-flow.
Zero-clearance wood fireplaces
Description: You’ll find these fireplaces situated within a wall but not connected to a traditional chimney. They burn wood logs and have their own vent pipe. ZC wood fireplaces are highly insulated, which protects nearby home building materials from the risk of fire.
Maintenance needs: These units need annual inspection and cleaning just like masonry fireplaces to keep them safe and performing at their best.
Zero-clearance gas fireplaces
Description: Like wood ZC fireplaces, gas models can be found in various places throughout the home. Many people install gas fireplaces in kitchens, bedrooms and even bathrooms.
Maintenance needs: ZC gas fireplaces burn much cleaner than their wood counterparts and usually require only check-up inspections and minor cleaning. If the faux logs become damaged, they should be replaced.
Wood-burning fireplace inserts
Description: Fireplace inserts are factory-built and are placed into the firebox of an existing masonry fireplace. Inserts provide far more heat than a standard fireplace. They employ their own vent pipe, which extends through the existing chimney.
Maintenance needs: As with all wood-burning appliances, wood inserts require annual service by an experienced chimney sweep to remove creosote.
Gas-burning fireplace inserts
Description: Gas inserts operate on the same principles as wood inserts, but they are much easier to use. A switch or remote starts and stops fires immediately. The vent pipes on gas inserts extend up through the existing masonry chimney.
Maintenance needs: Maintaining a gas fireplace insert involves periodic interior surface cleaning and annual inspections to check gas line connections, burners and other components.
Gas log sets
Description: Gas log sets are an arrangement of highly realistic-looking faux logs that operate on their own, i.e., they’re not part of a full fireplace. Gas logs are placed inside an existing fireplace’s firebox.
Maintenance needs: The main maintenance tasks with gas logs are occasional cleaning and watching for cracking or other damage that could cause unsafe operation.
This brief overview gave you a good idea about the most common types of fireplaces. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert in fireplace technology to keep yours running safely and properly. That’s our job.
Felgemacher Masonry & Chimney serves Buffalo, NY, Rochester, NY, and other western New York communities with certified chimney and fireplace inspections, chimney sweep services and repair work for all gas and wood fireplaces and stoves.
When you need help, put more than 60 years’ experience to work for you by calling (716) 907-4914 in the Buffalo area or (585) 308-4914 in and around Rochester.