The Hearth is the Heart of a Home
Don’t forget the fireplace when planning your dream cabin or log home
Published: November 1, 2009
A fireplace is a key element in any home, but particularly in a cabin or log home. Besides adding beauty and ambiance, a fireplace might even provide primary or supplementary heat to your retreat. If you’re dreaming of building your dream retreat, when do you need to think about the fireplace? “You need to think about the fireplace early in the process of designing your cabin,” emphasizes Chris Maxson, president of Acucraft Fireplaces, a leading manufacturer of fireplace systems that places a special focus on log homes. “It’s not always possible to get what you want if you wait until construction begins.”
The large scale of the great room, with its massive logs, can handle a grand fireplace. Note that the builder supplied the log mantel. And the stones are real field stones, not manufactured stones. Fireplace model shown: Acucraft, www. acucraft.com.
Photo by Tomahawk Log & Country Home, www.tomahawklog.com
Classic, rustic or contemporary? Stone, brick or tile? Wood or gas- burning? Only your imagination – and budget – will set limits on the configuration, materials, fuel source and functionality, and it can be challenging to narrow down your choices. For starters, collect clippings from magazines and manufacturers’ websites and present them to your builder or fireplace installer, recommends Ron Volz, vice president of Tomahawk Log & Country Homes. “The more insight you can provide the better,” Volz says. “Your idea of a fieldstone fireplace may be different from your contractor’s idea, which may be different yet from the fireplace guy’s concept,” he acknowledges. “But if you can show them photos of the type of stone you like, the arched opening of a fireplace you admired at a neighbor’s cabin or a mantel you thought was neat, you will end up with exactly what you envision.”
Your builder or fireplace installer will also take a look at structural considerations when planning a fireplace for your cabin. Examples include: • Real stone: If you plan to build a masonry fireplace with real stone, it will likely need footings beneath it to support the weight of the stone and cement. • Log homes: Because log walls shrink over time – as much as 2 inches – the structure of the fireplace must be separate and independent to preserve its integrity. Likewise, log home fireplaces need an insulated roof shield which allows for shrinkage in the roof system while protecting the flue.
Decorative vs. Supplemental Heat
A wood-burning fireplace like this one might be a good choice if you want a very large viewing area.
Photo by www.heatnglo.com, Model shown: Heat & Glo Exclaim
Like the fireplace above, the model below is wood-burning. However, this unit is EPA-certified, meaning it burns and heats very cleanly and efficiently so much so that it can be burned in some areas in the U.S. where conventional wood-burning fire-places are banned.
Photo by www.heatnglo.com, Model shown: Heat & Glo North Star
An old-fashioned, open-hearth, full-masonry fireplace may look great, but it’s highly inefficient. Drawing air from inside your house, for combus tion, causes much of your home’s heat to be lost up the chimney.
But a modern, factory-built fire place, which features a manufactured metal firebox surrounded by finish material and a mantel of your choice, is usually more efficient and often less expensive.
Taking this a step further, think “whole system.” Some factory-built or prefabricated fireplaces can link to ductwork to heat your entire cabin, as well as provide radiant flooring and even supply your hot water.
Then there’s the ever-present question: Wood or gas? Both full- masonry and prefabricated fireplaces can be fueled by wood or gas. Wood generally produces more heat, but propane or natural gas offers on-off push-button convenience. And there’s no wood to chop, stack or store, and no clean up – all of which are seen as tremendous advantages by some.
“With energy costs what they are, it makes sense to get as efficient a unit as possible,” explains Peter Rosi, president of Midwest Log Home Construction/Barna Log Homes. “Look for a fireplace that can provide economical auxiliary heat and reduce utility bills. These units may cost a little more initially, but they pay for themselves in three years or less.” Again, he reminds, early planning is vital in order to run necessary duct ing and piping in the walls and under the floor.
Location with Imagination
This energy-friendly, pellet fireplace burns a variety of biomass fuels including wood pellets, shelled corn, sunflower seeds and wheat.
Photo by www.quadrafire.com, Model shown:Quadra-Fire Edge 60
A room’s focal point determines the fireplace’s exact positioning. For instance, if the room has a fabulous view of a lake, valley or mountain range, this view should be the focal point and the fireplace positioned on a side wall. No scenic vista? The fireplace becomes the focal point and the room furnishings and television are oriented around it.
Most cabins feature the fireplace in the family room or great room, but people are increasingly choosing multi-sided fireplaces, which can be enjoyed in adjoining rooms, such as the family room and kitchen.
Sizing Things Up
The fireplace should be proportional to the size of the room. Obviously, an expansive family room with a vaulted ceiling requires a more prominent fireplace than does a cozy den.
Keep in mind, however, that the size of the firebox does not directly correlate to the amount of heat generated. Heat generation is more a matter of the fireplace’s efficiency, so compare BTU ratings between units.
Putting a Facing On It
While brick and tile are still viable options, stone has become the most popular facing for log home fireplaces today, complementing the rustic warmth of the wood. With recent improvements that make it nearly indistinguishable from real stone, combined with lower costs and lighter weight, manufactured stone has become the preferred stone option. Another advantage is that faux stone usually comes in many more varieties and color options than the selection of real stone found in a local stone yard. Just make sure the color runs throughout the entire artificial stone; if only surface-painted, a chip or nick would reveal white cement.
Designers recommend choosing a style of stone – whether it’s river rock, fieldstone, ledgestone or another variety – that coordinates with your color scheme is indigenous to your area.
The Right Mantel
In vacation homes, logs are a popular choice for fireplace mantels. For a distinctive look, request a log with the bark left on or one with knots or worm holes. Other mantel options include stone or even no mantel at all, as more homeowners opt to hang the television above the fireplace.
One final piece of advice from Volz: Don’t skimp on the fireplace. “It’s not as easy to upgrade or change down the road, as it would be for say the countertops or light fixtures,” he cautions. “You have one chance to get the fireplace right.”
If you keep these points in mind, your fireplace will add beauty and comfort to your cabin for years to come.
Lisa Readie Mayer enjoys writing her articles in front of the hearth.
Photo by www.jotul.com, Model shown: Jotul GZ 550 DVII Acadia
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Photo by www.heatilator.com, Model shown: Heatilator FL92 (wood-burning)
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