Beyond knowing intuitively that a hearth can make a cold day cozy and serve as the focal point for family gatherings, choosing the right product for your new log and timber home can be a daunting challenge.
What kind of hearth is right for you? What kind of fuel should you use? Do you want to heat your home with it, or merely add ambiance? Where is the best location to install it, so it would get the most use? Is there a particular style of hearth that would compliment your interior design?
Use these tips compiled by the Log and Timber Homes Council to ignite your imagination as to what’s possible with today’s hearth choices.
Alternative Fuels and Green Heat
Manufacturers continue to explore new technologies and fuels to reduce the environmental impact of hearth products while increasing product efficiency. This includes alternative fuels. For example, some hearth manufacturers are offering fireplaces fueled by ethanol gels (great for no-burn days), as well as hydronic heaters that are being designed to meet and exceed strict government emissions standards. Wood, wood pellets, corn and cherry pits are just a few of the other biomass fuel options.
When shopping for your hearth, consider what kind of fuel is available locally. Your options may include firewood, natural gas, propane, coal, oil, electricity, wood pellets (compressed sawdust), cherry pits, corn and more. One of the benefits of most hearth products today is that they can operate during power outages, when you need the heat the most.
Today’s hearths can suit any whim. Some can come with swirling flames, ironwood-sculpted faux wood logs for gas fireplaces, electric fireplaces where the flames dance to music and outdoor-fire pits that double as water features.
Glass is Hot
Manufacturers are switching out faux logs and rocks for glass fire beds in their latest versions of gas fireplaces. Options for outdoor appliances also include patio flames with colored glass options.
Convenience is Key
New inventions include stoves that can be used as freestanding units or inserts, fireplaces that hang anywhere and extinguishable outdoor wood-burning fireplaces.
Illuminating New Locations
In years past hearths were loosing out in the competition for wall space to that other glowing object — the TV. But now that TVs frequently have their own rooms with home theater systems, hearths are making a come back. A hearth can be the centerpiece for the great room or, with today’s new technology, you can also think outside the box. A hearth can bring warmth and ambiance to such nontraditional areas as the kitchen, master bath or home office.
Variety of Venting Options
New venting options are leading the charge of hearths into other areas of the home. Depending on the fuel used, hearths are vented in three ways: natural draft (vented through the roof, such as a chimney), direct vent and vent-free. Direct vent units are the most common in gas-burning units. Because these vent directly through an exterior wall, this dramatically reduces installation costs for materials and labor when compared to venting through the roof.
Vent-free refers to gas fired hearths that burn so efficiently that it eliminates the need for venting. Use of these is limited by building code to certain regions of the country.
Traditional masonry fireplaces use a natural draft chimney.
To Heat or Not?
Some hearth products are designed to be decorative (such as electric units) while others are created to heat — either an entire home or one or two rooms. Heating units are rated as such and they cost about 10 to 20% more than decorative units of the same size. Today, you have a broad range of heating capacities; some even offer duct attachments and blower fans to heat other rooms in your house. The fans can be noisy on some less expensive models, so make sure you give a listen in the show room.
Discuss your climate, floor plan and lifestyle with your hearth provider to ensure you have the right size for your home.
It used to be you only had two choices when it came time to select the colors of the trim and louvers surrounding the fireplace — either matte black or brass. Again, manufacturers are expanding their offerings. Stainless steel louvers and trim kits are gaining in popularity.
After years of being little more than an afterthought, mantels are making a big come back with hearth manufacturers and other offering works of handcrafted beauty that echo the craftsmen of old.
It’s best to consider hearth placement when you’re still in the design stage of your log and timber home to make the most of its appeal. Consult with a design professional, including using your log and timber home producer to help you balance hearth and entertainment needs with window views and traffic flow.
If someone in the family has allergies, then you need to consider that when making your choice in hearth products. For many, dry air is a health issue because it promotes the growth of some bacteria, viruses and respiratory irritants. You may want to combine a hearth with a filtration or humidification system to keep pollutants to a minimum.
Want to make a living room under the stars and enjoy a sing-alongs around the campfire? Then consider adding a hearth product to your backyard deck or patio. People are discovering they can extend their great room outdoors and extend the amount of time they can spend on their patio in the spring and fall — and do it in style and comfort.
Don’t Burn Your Budget
Price is always a consideration. Masonry prices for traditional fireplaces will vary greatly, depending on region, chimney size and the type of rock or brick you choose. Costs for factory-produced hearths, in contrast, are remarkably competitive, regardless of product or the fuel it uses. Prices range from under $1,000 to more than $4,000 (not including installation), depending on unit size and heating capacity. Venting costs can duplicate that range. Costs for accessories, such as mantels, facings, screens, tool sets and and rugs, can cause your budget to climb into the many thousands, depending on what look you want to achieve.