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Written by Colleen Coleman, CMC Design Studio LLC

Oh the dilemma…

What size fireplace, faux logs with a gas source or real wood? How does one choose? Is it simply a matter of personal choice or is there more to the resolution than thought or whim? There are so many options on the market today as well…but how to DECIDE which is best is why I am here for you!

First, lets chat about WHERE you’re planning to install your fireplace. In new construction, this is an easier decision and can be thought out at the architectural drawing stage. However, in a renovation, we don’t always have as much room as we would like, forcing our hand one way or another. 

The biggest detail to pay attention to is CLEARANCE. Fireplaces get hot, so each type of fireplace will require a certain ‘distance apart’ for the installation of surrounding cabinetry, mantel and even hearth depth. Without belaboring the details, wood fireplaces have greater clearance requirements, and in NYS, are now required to have glass doors to keep embers contained. The only exception to this code is the Rumsford Fireplace. This style of fireplace is my preferred option to recommend to clients as it is designed with a tight-fitting damper, restricting the outside air infiltration more so than a pair of tight-fitting doors (for more information, ask your builder to review the 2020 International Residential Code Chapter 10 R1001.6 Firebox Dimensions). In a nutshell, a true wood fireplace of any design will require certain standards that must be adhered to. Some other details to remember for a wood burning fireplace are proper foundational support for the heavy structure, ash collection area, use of a required firebrick, increased height of the mantel, increased depth of the hearth, flue size and chimney height. Now, if the glass door isn’t a deterrent for you, there are many wood burning options that install more like a firebox. 

Take for instance this natural wood fireplace from
Heat & Glo; the Exclaim 42, which was recently installed in one of my projects on Lake George. My clients wanted that authentic wood feel on the first floor, adding to the character of their wood beams and walnut mantel and side cabinets. The large viewing area rests at 42 x 28-1/2" and is majestic in this great room! My client was able to choose either a hexagon or traditional brick pattern and 2 different door styles. They just love the radiant heat, emitting warmth passively, with no fan required! If you need an alternate size, this fireplace is also available in 36” and as large as 50” wide! For the best wood choices, Saratoga Fireplace & Stove recommends Oak as it’s a dense wood, slow to burn with a low flame. Its best to season this wood for 1-2 years before burning. However, they do warn against using pine, as its high sap content creates a messy burn. Pine is best reserved for kindling.

For clients who prefer the ease of a gas fireplace, this Mendota FV41 Arch with full view is a great option! With many customizable features including the choice of five front glass frames in 11 metal selections, 12 interior linings, and four log species options! This gas fireplace also ranges in sizes from 36” to 54” wide. Both of these can be found at Saratoga Fireplace and Stove on Maple Ave. in Saratoga.

In general, a gas fireplace will have zero clearance, meaning that combustible materials can be placed much closer to the firebox than with a traditional wood fireplace. Each gas fireplace manufacturer will have its own specifications so be sure you understand how much space you have and that the unit you love will fit including any side cabinets, etc. 

So, what’s the catch? Why do folks still insist on installing a wood fireplace over a simple firebox that turns on with the flip of a switch? To start, many love the natural sounds of burning wood, the flames’ organic dance and the aroma of the wood…all so romantic! It’s quite a dreamy thought if you love sitting for hours in front of the fireplace. But many people love to sip a glass of wine in front of the fireplace for an hour and head to bed without all the fuss of prepping the fire, waiting for it to mature and then damping the flames before leaving the ashes for the night. I must say, some of the gas fireplace companies have gone to great extremes to make their faux logs seems quite realistic as noted prior. I always recommend to my clients to review a gas fireplace in action. Watch the flame pattern, the log arrangement and the small details of what’s included with the kit to enhance their experience. Also, be mindful of the framework of the glass on either type of fireplace. Be sure the architectural details are synonymous with your homes’ style and metal finish for door hardware and lighting. 

In the end, after the size, scale and details are all worked out, yes…it all comes down to a personal choice. The nostalgia of preparing and lingering in front of a flame, stoking occasionally to entice the flames to billow even higher; or, the allure of getting comfy with a good book and simply touching the “on” button of a remote to watch a rhythmic dance of flames which never extinguish except for the touch of the “off” button. Either way, rest assured…your new fireplace will be your center of relaxation, family and warmth. 

Until next time my friends,