By Paul Rugarber
Question: We are planning a great room addition and would like to incorporate a fireplace, but can’t decide on where or what type. Can you guide us through this decision?
Fireplaces add such a warm touch to any room. They provide that special feel that makes you want to sit and relax with a glass of wine. There are many options to consider when thinking about a fireplace, which may affect your room layout and furniture orientation. I will discuss what type of fireplace, gas or wood burning to use, where to locate the fireplace and design options for the hearth and mantle.
When deciding whether to go with a wood burning unit or gas fired, the first item to think about is do you want to stock up on wood and bring it into the house each night to make a new fire? Many people love the charm of a wood burning fireplace, hearing the wood crackling and the aroma of a new fire in the house. The drawback to this is that wood requires work to stack the wood, make the fire, tend the fire, clean the chimney. You are also not likely to make a fire if you only have an hour or two, whereas if you have gas, you can just flip a switch and enjoy a fire for a few minutes or hours. Wood burning fireplaces give you access to an open flame, while most gas units have sealed glass doors. I love the smell and feel of a wood fire, but each client is different, so think about what you would prefer.
Locating the fireplace is a big decision. Based upon your location, this may guide you in the wood or gas decision as well. A wood burning fireplace requires a chimney to go up and out the roof, while a gas unit can be vent free (which I don’t care for, although they are allowed in living rooms) or direct vent, which means it vents straight out the back and through an exterior wall. These direct vent units can also vent straight up like a traditional unit. Wood units will require a substantial foundation if you use a masonry design, or a standard metal unit can be used for wood burning that looks similar to a masonry unit. Now you need to consider whether you want the fireplace to be the focal point of the room, which is very common, or the TV unit as the focal point. Look at where a couch and chairs would work, how the fireplace will fit in and where you would like the TV. If you go with a gas unit, you can locate the TV above the fireplace. I recommend using a mantel to deflect the heat away from the TV with a gas unit. The TV or fireplace can be located along a wall or in a corner, so they can share the attention. There are many more options to create a beautiful focal point with the fireplace, so it is more common for that to take center stage and the TV to be concealed in cabinetry nearby. It is even possible to design a room without a TV (gasp!). Consider views and window locations as well, as you don’t want to block a beautiful view with a fireplace.
The surround for the fireplace is a very important decision. Wood burning units require a hearth in front of the unit, which is a noncombustible surface. Gas units do not have a hearth requirement, but a hearth is a traditional look and many people will incorporate this into the design either way. The hearth can be the same material as the surround on the fireplace or something complimentary. Typically, you will need 8” to each side of the fireplace to have either tile, marble or stone and 12” above the unit. The hearth extends 16-20”, depending on the size of the unit you use. After you have decided upon the stone surround, you can think about the wood mantle and legs. This element is not necessary as the fireplace can stand alone with the stone surround as the decorative piece, but a wood surround gives the fireplace a greater feeling of importance. Another option to this is to treat the entire fireplace wall with stone, thus creating a wonderful look and feel to the room. The mantel can range from a large slab of wood for a rustic look, to a detailed mantel resting on sculpted legs. To expand on this concept, the wall above the fireplace can be treated in a similar style with the wood surround, creating one large piece or art on the wall.
Look at lots of pictures to see what style you like when designing this focal element and don’t be afraid to be bold with your creativity! Decide on what type of unit you would like, where you would like to put it and then how you want to treat the surrounding area. Fireplaces can be located in any room, but are commonly found in the great room or master bedroom. Have fun and call us if you need some inspiration!
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PaulD.Rugarber is the owner of PDRdesigns LLC, a Design / Build company located in Jackson, NJ. PDRdesigns specializes in providing a complete package of Architectural and Construction Services. They can be reached at (732) 773-3000 or on the web at www.PDRdesigns.com.