3 Steps to Installing a Fireplace in an ‘Old’ Home

BY DAWN KLINGENSMITH ON JULY 21ST, 2017

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As we head into fall, a hearth and mantel factor into so many traditions as well as up the ante on being cozy. But what would it take to install a fireplace in an existing home?

It may be easier than you think, thanks to a range of pre-fabricated options on the market. While a traditional masonry fireplace is a built-in architectural feature, complete with a foundation and footings, a factory-built fireplace looks like part of the home’s structure but is actually more like a built-in appliance.

1. Install with (Relative) Ease

Many factory-built fireplaces can be installed in an existing room affordably with very little effort and without the need for major remodeling.

Factory-built fireplaces need no added structural support, and because they have fewer limitations than site-built masonry fireplaces, they can be easily and safely installed in almost any room, including nontraditional locations like the kitchen, home office, bedroom or master bath.

Prefabricated fireplaces can burn wood as well as natural or propane gas, with some vent-free gas-burning models available. Electric fireplaces simply plug into a regular wall outlet.

2. Pick a Function & Fuel

The best option depends on the fireplace’s main function. “Down here in South Texas, it’s all about achieving that big roaring fire just for looks. Heat output is not as important,” says Donald Roberts, inside sales manager for Perfection Supply, a Houston-based homebuilding products supplier.

If your fireplace needs to warm your home, look for something heater-rated, as opposed to decorative models. Roberts says, “Up north, where people use fireplaces as a supplemental heat source, certain efficiency requirements are mandated by law.”

This requirement does not necessarily disqualify wood-burning fireplace options, which generally “are a whole lot cleaner and efficient than they used to be,” says Roy Mjelde, owner of Top Hat fireplace and chimney specialists, with locations in Madison and Baraboo, Wisconsin.

A “re-burn feature” prevents today’s wood-burning fireplaces from belching exhaust up the flue by supplying it with more oxygen “so what comes out of the chimney is clean and mostly water vapor” following that secondary combustion, Mjelde says.

As a bonus, the re-burn process makes for “some interesting flame patterns and colors,” he adds.

3. Keep to Code

Wood-burning units must vent above the roofline, whereas gas fireplaces can vent horizontally through an outside wall. With either type of installation, “building inspectors need to be involved in most areas,” Mjelde says. “It’s also important to follow manufacturer’s instructions.”

You should also check to see how adding a fireplace might affect your homeowner’s insurance coverage and rates.

“When you’re doing a fireplace, it’s important to do it right,” says Mjelde, a member of the United Fireplace & Stove network of Hearth Stores. “If it’s installed wrong, then it’s obviously a fire hazard.”

For safety’s sake, both the network and HPBA recommend hiring professional installers certified by a reputable organization such as the National Fireplace Institute.

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