TRADITIONAL MASONRY FIREPLACES
Traditional masonry fireplaces, like the one shown above, have been around for centuries. They are typically built of firebricks and concrete masonry units covered with a more decorative material such as stone, include a masonry chimney and are custom-made on site. They are beautiful and give homeowners a good view of the fire. However, they are also relatively expensive to build, require structural support and are not very energy efficient, since as much heat may go out the chimney as is created by the fire, which can also create drafts. Because the fireplace is open to the room, careful consideration must be given to how air which rises up the chimney will be replaced in order to prevent depressurization of the house and potential backdrafting of equipment such as furnaces or exhaust hoods.
Zero clearance wood-burning fireplaces are pre-manufactured units built of metal, which are typically built into a wood-framed surround, which can be finished with stone, tile or drywall. They are called zero-clearance because they require minimal clearance to combustibles such as wood studs and drywall.
Within the category of zero clearance fireplaces, there are fireplaces which have the open feeling of the traditional masonry fireplace and others which are designed to be very energy efficient. The EPA-certified fireplace shown in the photo above has a gasketed door which prevents the fireplace from pulling air out of the room, so that the heat it produces stays in the house. A high-efficiency zero-clearance fireplace such as this is more expensive than a zero clearance open fireplace but will do a much better job of heating the house and will be much less likely to create backdrafting of equipment (when operated with the door closed). The model above, the Topaz by RSF, has a built-in fan to push heated air into the room.
Another option is a free-standing wood-burning stove, such as the one above. Although these commonly have a very traditional look, there are some very modern-looking versions, such as the F370 by Jotul. Because they are generally operated with the door closed, wood burning stoves tend to be more efficient than open fireplaces.
Learn more about traditional masonry fireplaces and zero clearance fireplaces and wood stoves .