Imagine Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles Flintstone getting warm and comfortable in front of the fire pit in their Stone Age home.
For thousands of years – dating back to the central fire pits that peasants used for cooking and heating in their small huts in the Stone Age and Medieval times – fireplaces have been around as gathering spots for families and as heat providers in the home. From the primitive dug-out versions in the Stone Age to the make-shift wall types built during the 11th and 12th centuries, the Franklin Stove created by Benjamin Franklin in 1741, elaborate Victorian ones, and 21st-century models, fireplaces have evolved into popular fixtures in the home.
Ben Franklin created a free-standing cast-iron fireplace liner he called “the Pennsylvania Fireplace” and is known today as the “Franklin Stove.” Placed in the fireplace opening and standing a few inches away from the chimney, it generated more heat and less smoke than a traditional open fireplace and used less firewood (photo: Public Domain).
What were once functional appliances for cooking, heating the home, and even drying clothes, fireplaces are now “decorative elements—gorgeous architectural details, beautiful centerpieces, conversation openers, symbols of home and hearth” that add a special touch to the home. Today, the fireplace is one of the most sought-after items in new homes – just behind outdoor spaces and an updated kitchen.
For families, there’s nothing cozier than gathering around the glow and heat of a fireplace, especially on cold days and nights. It's a perfect spot for relaxing and watching television or a movie.
Time to curl up: Cover yourself with a throw blanket, relax, and get warm in front of this fireplace in a 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath Ranch style home (Plan #161-1088).
With an increasing number of homebuyers willing to pay more for a home with a fireplace – at least 40 percent according to a 2013 study conducted by The National Association of Realtors – it's not surprising that many new homes feature more than one fireplace. In addition to the standard Great Room fireplace, new residences may have fireplaces in master suites, family rooms, and outdoor porches.
Fire it up! An attractive and functional fireplace gives this master suite of a 2-bedroom, 2.5-bath Ranch style home a cozy and snug atmosphere (Plan #161-1091).
So is there a fireplace in your future?
While obviously an ideal addition to a dream home, there are a few factors to consider before jumping onto the fireplace “bandwagon.” Here are a number of issues to think about and resolve to ensure that you choose the fireplace style that's best suited to your family’s needs and lifestyle and your home’s architectural design.
Let’s get started with the checklist:
1. What Do I Want to Achieve?
How do you envision the fireplace? Do you want it to serve as a beautiful focal point of a room, a design element that provides heat, warmth and cheer, or a combination of both? Once you determine what you want in a fireplace, you can work with a contractor on options and features that are appropriate for your home.
2. How Much Do I Want to Spend?
The all-important bottom line is a major consideration when choosing a fireplace – whether it’s a simple one or an elaborate fixture with all the trims and finishes. Before you get into all the details, be sure to set a budget that supports all of the design features you want.
Costs to install a fireplace depend on the style you choose and the region of the country you live in. Plan on spending between $400 and $1,600 for an electric model and up to $10,000 for the most expensive style – the wood-burning fireplace with a masonry chimney.
3. Where Should I Put It?
Where do you want your fireplace? For the most dramatic effect, especially if the fireplace is a show-stopping centerpiece, the Great Room or family room is the best spot. Next to the kitchen, these are the highest-traffic areas in the home and the most appropriate locations for a fireplace.
For families who want more than one fireplace in their home, the most likely locations are the master suite, kitchen/dining area, or outdoor patio.
Open the front door of this luxurious two-bedroom, 2.5 Ranch style home and walk into the bright and airy Great Room with its fabulous fireplace. Another fireplace is located in the master suite of the home (House Plan #161-1091).
4. How Will My Fireplace Provide Heat?
Figuring out the best location for your fireplace can guide you to the best options for heating the unit. There are three primary choices as far as the type of fireplace - wood, gas, and electric – which have their unique benefits and disadvantages.
For sheer beauty, atmosphere and a “good ‘ol days” feel, there’s nothing like a wood-burning fireplace. Just imagine a cold winter night and all those logs crackling in the fire, the glow they create, and the aroma they emit in a room! It’s an amazing sight. Not to mention that in case of a power outage, you’ll have light in the dark and warmth for good measure.
Adding to the homey ambiance of this vaulted Great Room in a 3-bedroom Arts and Crafts style home is its striking fireplace (Plan #198-1009).
However, a wood-burning fireplace comes with additional expense and a few inconveniences. First of all, you’ll need to construct a chimney to get rid of the smoke, and with that comes maintenance costs for cleaning regularly and annual inspections to ensure its safety.
Other cons of a wood-burning fireplace include
• Safety concerns regarding embers that may re-ignite and cause a fire.
• Costs of buying and chopping your own firewood, storing it, and keeping it dry until ready for use.
• Cleaning the soot and ashes from the burned wood.
What about a gas fireplace? It’s efficient, and the maintenance is minimal – with no soot to be cleaned up. That said, an annual inspection is still warranted to be certain the fireplace is safe to use.
• You can conveniently turn it on with a switch, a thermostat, or a remote control device.
• Like the wood-burning fireplace, the gas-powered one also works in a power outage.
• But while the flames are real, there is no crackling fire or that woodsy smell from the burning logs. The gas fireplace can be expensive to install, especially if you also need a gas line.
Electric fireplaces are the most versatile, energy-efficient, and cost-effective.
• They are easy to install because they don’t require vents and can be positioned anywhere in the home and controlled much like a gas fireplace.
• They are also safer – especially if young children and/or pets are around.
• For traditionalists, however, an electric fireplace is not realistic enough and just doesn’t give that aura of warmth and spark. In addition, it also doesn’t give off much heat.
5. How Should I Install It?
How you want your fireplace to look in any room in your home depends a lot on the way it’s mounted as well as the design, materials, and trims you choose. Here are a number of mounting ideas to think about before you install the fireplace.
• Wall-Mounted – Fireplaces can be mounted flush with a wall in the home and connected to the chimney (if a home has one).
• Built-in Fireplace Insert – A versatile mounting option ideal for smaller spaces, a built-in insert is a low-cost option to a high-maintenance wood-burning fireplace. Homeowners can buy electric and gas models and simply insert them on inside or outside walls.
A modern built-in fireplace insert blends perfectly with the décor theme and accents of this Great Room in a 4-bedroom, 2,593-sq.-ft. Contemporary style home with 4 baths and 2 half baths (Plan #161-1085).
• Free-Standing– Easy to install with little to no construction; they can be attached to the wall or the ceiling for ventilation or be totally free-standing. If you choose an electric one, you can even move it around.
Warm up your outdoor space with an intriguing free-standing fireplace like this one with rustic touches in the outdoor patio of an exquisite 5-bedroom, 4,501-sq.-ft. Country style home with a Hearth Room and 5.5 baths (Plan #153-1121).
• Corner Fireplace – Perfect for open floor plans, corner fireplaces are designed for unused hard-to-decorate spaces, small rooms, and secondary living areas. They not only provide additional warmth and décor accents, but they also serve as dividers between sections of the home, especially the Great Room. In some instances, corner fireplaces can connect indoor and outdoor spaces.
• Two-Sided Fireplace –Another design option for separating spaces in the home is a two-sided fireplace. For larger homes that can accommodate partitions between the living room and kitchen, dining, and sitting spaces, a two-sided fireplace is a functional and charming addition.
• TV Over the Fireplace – During the days of the square-shaped, thicker televisions, this mounting option was quite popular. A number of homeowners may want to use this technique to make their entertainment centers more interesting and pleasing to the eye. This is also an option to consider for a new dream home – but experts recommend an electric fireplace.
The fireplace below a television also works as a partition between this living area and kitchen/dining spaces of a 4-bedroom, 3,166-sq.-ft. Victorian style home (Plan #198-1021).
6. How Do I Decorate It?
Once you have decided on a mounting option for your fireplace, it’s time to consider design elements – materials, trims, facings, and mantelpiece décor. Some of the most common exterior materials are natural stone, wood, brick, and metal (listed according to their popularity with homeowners). The kind of material you choose will dictate the accents and finishes for the fireplace mantel.
This stone fireplace featuring huge pieces in earth tones that match the furnishings enhances the rustic atmosphere in the vaulted Great Room of a 3-bedroom, 3-bath Craftsman-style home. The simple wood mantel is adorned with tea lights (Plan #198-1013).
Wood and marble surround this fireplace in the living room of a 2-story, 3-bedroom modern Farmhouse-style home. The fireplace – tucked into a long built-in shelf unit – is the charming focus of the room and the shelf. Check out the extended wood mantel and the area directly above the fireplace accented by a photo frame and light sconces (Plan #168-1134).
Add texture to the clean lines of a living space by installing a fireplace with a brick facing as in this family room of a 3-bedroom, 3,449-sq.-ft. French style home. Family photos and a television are the basic décor elements of the mantel (Plan #120-2548).
7. What about Design Style?
Finally, you’re ready to choose the fireplace for your dream home. Just keep your home’s architectural style in mind, as well as the space and furnishings – and you’re ready to go.
• Trendy Traditional – The image that comes to mind with this style is that of logs burning in the fire, a wooden mantel, and a floor-to-ceiling stone surround. This design can be as conventional, modern, and chic as you want it to be.
Traditional meets contemporary: A beautiful 2-story, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath Contemporary style home features this fireplace with the traditional stone facing that reaches to the ceiling (seen from the stair railing). Room accents include a wood mantel, curio cabinet, and leather chairs finished in a rich dark brown that goes well with the slate walls (Plan #161-1092).
• Cozy Country – Casual, inviting and warm are the characteristics usually attached to this fireplace design. It features simple and quaint décor touches on the mantels for a charming and feel-good vibe.
You can be snug as a bug in front of this cozy Country style fireplace in the Great Room of a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath home with Cottage touches. A wood-framed mirror atop the mantel matches the wood trim of the fireplace’s marble surround. A pair of potted pink flowers are the finishing accents on the mantel (Plan #108-1891).
• Chic Contemporary – Sleek, clean lines; simplicity; and elegance define contemporary fireplaces. They are also more energy-efficient and affordable than traditional wood-burning fireplaces.
While the task of choosing a fireplace for your new home may seem overwhelming, you can make the process easier – and even enjoyable – by detailed planning and preparation.