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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Give fireplace a cost-effective face-lift

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

The fireplace: We hang stockings from it, roast chestnuts in it and cuddle in front of it. (OK, maybe we don''t do the chestnut part.)

Anyway, with so many reasons to gather around the fireplace this time of year, we thought we would discuss options to remodel yours.

The owner of this new craftsman mantle and casework got her inspiration from a fireplace in a home she previously owned.

Fireplaces are the heart of a home and the focal point of a room. People tend to look at fireplaces as immutable objects that they have to live with and decorate around. That isn't true. You can give your fireplace a face-lift with less cost and effort than you think.

Fireplaces were traditionally built out of masonry (brick) � both the firebox and the chimney. For the past decade or so, however, metal fireplace inserts with double-walled metal flues have become the standard in residential construction.

Aesthetically, some fireplaces are timeless classics, while others are eyesores in need of renovation. Step back and analyze yours. Look at its placement, architectural style, size and materials. Does your fireplace add charm and interest, or does it leave something to be desired?

Let's say you have a modern-looking, yellow-brick fireplace in your Country French living room. Your best bet would be to modify the materials to create a fireplace to match your home's traditional style.

To alter the appearance of your fireplace, you can replace the materials of the face, hearth or mantel. You can use slate, tile, granite, concrete, mirror, metal plates � anything noncombustible. You can use wood for the mantel and trim pieces, but it must be placed at least 6 inches from the opening.

You can change the size and shape of your fireplace by framing out the wall around it or by adding bookshelves on either side. Smaller renovations include adding sconces, changing or adding a mantel, or reconfiguring the hearth.

If you change the hearth, remember a wood-burning fireplace with a typical opening of 6 square feet or more requires a hearth that extends at least 20 inches from the front of the opening and at least 12 inches beyond each side.

Besides the aesthetics of your fireplace, you also need to consider function. Specifically, do you want a gas or wood-burning version? Adding a gas line and/or a gas log will make the fireplace cleaner and easier to use. Gas logs can be used when the air quality outside is bad and burning wood is prohibited, and gas fireplaces require a smaller flue than wood-burning units.

On the other hand, wood-burning fireplaces are becoming increasingly rare and therefore valuable, and they can be used if gas lines become damaged.

Another option is to add a prefabricated insert � either wood-burning or gas � in an existing masonry firebox to make the fireplace more energy-efficient. Some of these units have fans that will blow the heat into the room instead of letting it rise up the chimney.

If you want to add a fireplace, you will most likely purchase a factory-built unit that vents through a double-walled metal pipe. With this type of unit, you have the option to vent it horizontally through a wall instead of vertically through the roof.

Because you no longer need to have a masonry chimney, it is much easier to add a fireplace to your home. There are even units that don't require a vent.

With so many options, there is no reason to live with a fireplace that takes away from the beauty of your home. Remember, a fireplace should add charm and character, and enhance the style of a room while it remains functional � even if it's only function this time of year is to offer an entry for Santa. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

© 2008 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.

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