Author – Todd Woofenden
A good set of fireplace tools is a necessity, of course. At minimum, you will want a poker, a hearth broom, and a shovel for ash cleanup. Other useful tools include a set of tongs for moving logs, and a hoe for moving ashes around (especially useful in pushing ashes into the ash pit).
Some people also like a bellows, for blowing air into the coal bed to start a faltering fire (and for decoration).
Building fires directly on the inner hearth isn’t a good idea, unless you have a factory-built fireplace that’s specifically designed without a grate. Fires built right on the floor of the firebox don’t usually burn as well, since it is harder for air to get in. Also, premature wear to the inner hearth might occur.
If you don’t have a grate, take measurements of the inner hearth’s depth, width in front, and width in back. Go to your local stove shop and pick one out. A heavy cast-iron grate will last much longer than a grate made of welded steel bars. If you plan to use the fireplace often, spend a little extra for a good cast-iron grate.
Some people use andirons in place of a grate. But as logs burn down, andirons will no longer hold the logs up. They will collapse to the floor of the firebox. So even if you have andirons, a grate is still a good idea. You can keep the andirons for decoration and ambiance. Just slide the rear legs under the grate, or put one on each side if they are too tall to fit under. You can also buy special short shanks for andirons at a stove shop. These are replacement rear assemblies for andirons (equivalent to the part you set the logs on) but they are very short front to back, so you can place the andirons fully in front of the grate. You just unbolt the old assembly and bolt these on instead. Bring one of your andirons to the stove shop so you can check to see if they will work before you buy them. Short shanks for andirons are also useful for people who have a shallow firebox and glass doors covering the fireplace opening. You can place the andirons with short shanks outside the doors on the hearth (just for decoration, of course)
A must. You can choose from hanging mesh screens that slide open, rigid or folding screens that stand in front of the opening, or attached “gate” style screens. If you don’t have a screen, or if yours is worn out, measure the height and width of the fireplace opening and the amount of clear space around the opening (the clearance to a mantel, or exterior damper handles, etc). Take your measurements to your local stove shop and pick one out.
Highly recommended. These are tempered glass doors in a metal framework, sized to fit your fireplace opening. Most incorporate a hanging mesh or gate-style screen, and some sort of louvers to adjust air flow to the firebox when the doors are closed. The main advantage of a set of fireplace doors is that you can close them before you go to bed, minimizing heat loss up the flue – because you can’t close the damper until the fire is completely out, usually a day or more later.
Also, if the fireplace should start to smoke due to wind conditions or other problems, closing the doors will often prevent smoke from continuing to enter your home. Some common types of fireplace problems can be solved with doors, as well.
Guide to buying fireplace doors
Don’t let sticker shock scare you away from purchasing a good set of doors. The quality difference between a $100 set and a $600 set is immense. The fireplace is the focus of your living room, and a valuable asset. Choose a set of doors that offers durability and beauty, and each time you use the fireplace, you will be glad you spent the extra money. A cheap set of doors will look good for a year or so, then drive you crazy as the doors buckle and bind, the finish wears off, and the focus of your living room turns into an eyesore.
Fireplaces are not designed to be efficient heaters. And in an effort to get more heat from a fireplace, some homeowners install a fireplace insert. There are several types of inserts available, from high-efficiency wood stoves designed to be installed in a fireplace, to hollow grates with a fan to circulate heat into the room.
If you are considering the installation of an insert, do some homework first, or you may be sorely disappointed.
First, decide what your expectations are. If you want this fireplace to heat your home, you will need a high-efficiency modern wood stove with enough power to heat the house.
In the 1970’s we used to just slide a stove into the fireplace and light ‘er up. But we found (often the hard way, through chimney fires and tragic losses) that this isn’t a safe installation.
To install a wood stove properly and safely insert requires, at minimum, connecting the stove up through the smoke chamber and into the chimney liner, which usually starts five feet or more from the fireplace floor. This involves the use of listed chimney liner parts specifically designed for this purpose. Sometimes an entirely new liner is needed, to size the flue for the stove properly. In any case, this is a job for an expert. Go to your local stove shop and ask about an insert.
Bringing some basic measurements with you will help.
Note: Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get all these measurements. Your stove installer will probably want to visit and take exact measurements, anyway. This will simply help you get an idea of what will fit, and the cost.
Measurements needed for a fireplace insert installation
- Height and width of the fireplace opening
- Width of the firebox in the back
- Width of the throat or damper opening (usually 6″ or less)
- Height of the flue liner above the floor of the firebox (Try extending a tape, measure from the damper, up through the smoke chamber to the liner, then Measure from the damper to the floor of the firebox, and add them.)
- Size of the flue liner (best estimate)
- Overall height of the chimney (from the floor of the fireplace to the top)
- Width and depth of the outer hearth (that’s the hearth extension into the room)
- Height of a wood mantel above the fireplace opening
- Distance from the opening to wood trim or mantel legs (needed to figure Adequate clearances to combustible materials around the fireplace)
- Rough idea of how big an area you want this stove to heat.