If you don’t own a fireplace, you’re missing out on the joy this feature of a home can bring you. There’s a reason hundreds of movies set their most romantic scenes in front of a warmly burning fire. A glowing fire perfuming your living room with the smell of burning wood creates an authentic atmosphere nothing can imitate.

If this sounds like an atmosphere you want to experience and share with your loved ones, it may be time to consider having a fireplace in your home.

A Fireplace Guide from Our Chimney Cleaning Company

There are two types of fireplace chimney systems. The one that’s right for you depends on your home situation.

First are traditional masonry fireplaces, which are constructed on-site, usually when a home is built, out of brick, stone, or mortar. These fireplaces add value to a home and can last a lifetime. If you’re house hunting or building a home, these are a great option to look for or build into your home. But because these require extensive construction, they aren’t the best option for someone who wants to add a fireplace to their current home.

On the other hand, factory-built fireplaces, or prefab fireplaces, are built exactly where the name suggests- in a factory. These are a newer form of a fireplace and are usually built with metal. While more convenient in some ways, they add less value to your home and eventually wear out. However, they are a great way to get the fireplace experience without having to leave your current home.

Where they were built is not the only difference between these two systems. They also work differently and need to be taken care of accordingly. Understanding the inner-workings of both can help you decide which is right for you.

Anatomy of a Masonry Fireplace

Masonry fireplaces are huge and extremely heavy, so they need a strong base. Any settling or movement in the base can cause it to crack and needs immediate attention. If you’re purchasing a house with a masonry fireplace, make sure the base isn’t damaged or you will need to have it extensively repaired.

The floor of your fireplace is called the fireplace hearth, and the interior is the firebox. Below the firebox is a small pit called an ash dump, which collects deposits of ash from fires. This pit needs to be regularly emptied to prevent overflows.

Above the firebox is a damper. It seals your fireplace shut from the rest of the chimney when it isn’t in use. Shutting it prevents heat in your home from escaping through the chimney, or cold outside air from entering. Just behind the damper is a smoke shelf. It catches any water or debris that falls in your chimney and helps the smoke from a fire transition into the chimney. Just above is a smoke chamber, which also helps funnel smoke into the chimney flue. The flue is the tunnel that takes all the smoke out of your home. It sometimes has a lining made of different materials that better withstand heat.

At the very top is the chimney crown, usually made of mortar. Cracks on the crown can let in water and substances that damage your chimney, so have a chimney cleaning company repair it if you notice such damage.

Anatomy of a Factory-Built Fireplace

Factory fireplaces are newer and smaller. They are complete units, with every part of the system engineered to work together.

At the very bottom of a factory-built fireplace is the hearth and firebox, which leads straight into the chimney. Above that is a firestop, which stops the fire from spreading to the rest of the chimney system. The chimney also contains an angled sheet of metal called a flashing. The flashing helps ensure water doesn’t enter your chimney. Finally, there is a chimney cap. This is like the chimney crown of a masonry fireplace but is much smaller and usually made of metal. It prevents water, animals, and debris from getting into your chimney. If you notice any of the latter a chimney cleaning company will need to make repairs to prevent them from damaging your chimney.

A prefab fireplace has some unique characteristics to be aware of. First, there should be at least a two-inch clearance between the chimney and the surrounding wood framing. If the chimney is too close to the wood the wood will slowly decompose or even catch on fire.

Second, they can’t handle the same amount of use a masonry fireplace can. With these units, it’s twice as important not to overload your fireplace and to have them regularly checked by a chimney cleaning company if you use them frequently.

Finally, prefab fireplaces don’t last as long as masonry ones. They eventually wear out and need to be replaced, so it’s important to keep an eye on yours and have it regularly inspected by a chimney cleaning company.