It’s been a long time since Torontonians relied on fireplaces as their main source of heat, however many did over the Christmas break. We still crave fireplaces and no more so than during this bitter winter of our discontent.
Fireplaces don’t merely heat up a room, they set a mood; a blazing fire on a bitterly cold day gives us a feeling of security, of shelter. Alas, zoning restrictions have made wood-burning fireplaces out of the question for a lot of city dwellers.But luckily alternative fireplace models which once had an air of tackiness because they were obviously fake, have improved dramatically over the past several years. The only one that is still disappointing for me is the electric fireplace.
The best part, from an inner-city viewpoint, is that you don’t need to have a chimney at all with zero-clearance gas fireplaces or vent-less fireplaces. The first simply vents through the wall of the house, directly behind the fireplace and the latter requires no vent at all. As a result, fireplaces are available to almost anyone.
As a bonus, they are a much more economical way to heat than a traditional wood-burning fireplace, where much of the heat is drawn up the chimney. The look of the traditional fire place is what attracts most homeowners. The recent Interior Design Show revealed fireplaces that could be for the visual of the flame, a more efficient fireplace or just a stove to heat the room all in one unit.
There are rules and regulations you need to look into before you buy. To find out more about them, check www.tssa.org, the website of the Technical Standards & Safety Authority or speak to a retailer to find out what is right for you. If possible, try not to put your fireplace in the corner of the room because the mantel becomes awkwardly deep, and is not very useful. But if your fireplace has already been installed in a corner, build a wall to the ceiling that closes the space created by the corner angle.
The big downside to gas fireplaces is that they don’t necessarily come with the architectural surround to incorporate them into a space. Since a fireplace will automatically become the focal point of the room, it cries out for some finish and pizzazz. Gas fireplaces generally have a finish that is brass, black or brushed steel. Black is preferable, as it is neutral and resembles iron and/or the soot buildup that appears naturally over time.
You can often have the people who are installing the fireplace custom build a surround. There are a variety of materials for this: wood with a traditional wooden mantel and mirror, brick (usually with a larger hearth), or a surround made of such materials as field stone or marble. Be warned: This is where the project can get expensive so explore the options.
For a more high-tech look, you can finish the whole wall in which the firebox sits with the same material. You often see this look with a long linear fireplace off the ground. Be aware that in a small room the long fireplace can create a huge amount of heat making the room unbearably hot. Explore having the heat diverted to other parts of the house.
If you really want to have a fireplace and have no chance for a venting system to a chimney or zero clearance, then you can select a vent-less unit. They burn ethanol and a full unit will give you beautiful flames for about 12 hours before it needs refilling. They do produce heat as well and can go just about anywhere.
The fireplace and finish should command attention in the room — but like a school principal, not a substitute teacher.