Eternal Flame

Tips for creating the ideal fireplace for your log home.

By Mary Beth Temple

Close your eyes and envision spending quality time in your dream log home. Did you picture yourself in front of a roaring fire? Most of us do.

These days, it's possible to find the perfect fireplace for any (or every) room in the house. And with all the technological advances in recent years, there's a whole new crop of choices in both appearance and function.

Fireplace and HearthThe fundamental decision you'll need to make is whether you want a traditional wood-burning fireplace or a gas unit. Some people relish the crackling sounds and woodsy fragrance of burning logs. Others worry about smoke-scented furniture and the effort involved in getting and storing firewood.

If you're torn between instant gratification and ambiance, note that modern gas fireplaces are light years ahead of their ancestors and look far more realistic. You can even get units with glowing ember beds. Of course, for some folks, natural is the only way to go—and it always will be.

Where It's At
The good news is there's no reason you can't have it all, from a handsome wood-burning fireplace with a fieldstone surround in the great room to a smaller gas unit with glass doors and beautiful brass detailing in the master bedroom. But there are some "rules" to follow.

Options for wood-burning fireplaces are limited by the location of your home's chimneys, which allow the smoke to escape and provide oxygen to keep the proverbial home fires burning. A gas unit can go most anywhere.

Where your log home is built will also impact this decision. If you live in a remote or rural area, getting natural gas piped directly to your home may be out of the question.

If you live in an area with frequent power outages, skip the electric starter.

Also think about the overall layout of the space you're designing. Should your fireplace be the room's focal point, or are you more likely to be playing pool or watching television?

Room Service
"With the new trend in home spas and relaxation, bathrooms are becoming one of the most popular destinations for fireplaces," says Vince Bossany, spokesman for Hearth & Home Technologies, whose brands include Heat & Glo, Quadra-Fire, Heatilator and Fireside. Just imagine taking a nice, long soak by firelight. Ahhhhhh.

"There's also a big trend to-ward outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, which add visual interest to exterior spaces, even when they aren't lit," adds Ferris Robinson, vice president of marketing at Walden Log Homes in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. "What a great way to set the scene when you're entertaining outside."

The Heat is On
All fireplaces generate some heat. But if your goal is to provide supplemental heat for your home, gas units are the most fuel-efficient, because there's no chimney to let the heat out or the cold air in.

To save money on your central heating bill, place your fireplace in the room where you spend the most time. Then just turn down the thermostat a few degrees and bask in the warmth of a fire.

Hot Stuff
If a fireplace will serve as your home's primary heat source, a masonry heater is definitely the way to go. When stoked with a high-temperature wood fire for a few hours, masonry heaters radiate heat into your home for the next 12 to 24 hours.

"Soapstone is an ideal material for a masonry heater," suggests Ron Pihl, owner of Cornerstone Masonry, a Tulikivi supplier in Pray, Montana. "Soapstone bricks can hold twice as much heat as clay bricks, so they're better for heat distribution." Many soapstone models also offer fun add-ons like a bake oven or cook stove.

Freestanding stoves are yet another heating option. They come in many materials (steel, stone or cast iron), finishes (porcelain enamel and high temperature paint) and styles, from minimalist modern to colonial country. Most stand on legs or a pedestal. The average size is about the same as an easy chair.

Burning Money
To get the best bang for your buck, consider a see-through gas fireplace. Great for open floorplans, these units are installed inside a wall between two rooms (say, the living room and the dining room) for double the viewing pleasure. Of course, some multi-sided fireplaces are not see-through—particularly important for bedrooms and bathrooms!

If you prefer a traditional open hearth, you can still maximize your chimney placement by using it twice. "By placing your interior fireplace on an exterior wall, you can use the same flue for an outside fireplace," says Ferris from?store_id=1& Walden Log Homes.

Fireplace units start at about $1,000, but there are styles that cost $30,000 and even more. Before making that investment, check local building codes for regulations about vent specifications or wood-burning emissions.

Most important, leave your fireplace installation to the pros. This is generally not a safe task for even the most ardent DIY enthusiast. But here's the silver lining: Many contractors can get modern fireplaces (such as direct-vent units) "crackling" in a single afternoon.

To learn more about the latest in fireplace options, check out the November 2005 issue of Log Home Design Ideas.