“There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireplace.” This declaration from Rome’s great orator Cicero remains true even today.


What can be considered the heart of the home, the fireplace is too often a neglected spot. What a pity. The fireplace not only warms a room, it also shows off a homeowner’s personal style and decor. Designed properly, it can be a focal point.


Fireplace upgrades -- from inexpensive quick fixes to total rebuilds -- are an easy way to personalize and improve the value of a home.

“There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireplace.” This declaration from Rome’s great orator Cicero remains true even today.

What can be considered the heart of the home, the fireplace is too often a neglected spot. What a pity. The fireplace not only warms a room, it also shows off a homeowner’s personal style and decor. Designed properly, it can be a focal point.

Fireplace upgrades -- from inexpensive quick fixes to total rebuilds -- are an easy way to personalize and improve the value of a home.

 

Keeping it clean

Storks nesting in a chimney were once considered good luck, but now we know that any kind of blockage or build-up is hazardous.

“With good maintenance, costly repairs and major accidents can be avoided,” said Mel Kahn, owner of Early Times Chimney Sweeps, which serves Chicago and surrounding areas.

Chimney fires are caused by a build-up of creosote, a byproduct of the combustion process.

“When creosote builds up, a spark can catch the whole inside of the chimney on fire. It’s like a Roman candle, a very intense fire,” Kahn said.

To avoid the danger of chimney fires, Kahn suggests annual chimney inspections by a certified chimney sweep and cleaning ($50 to $200) when necessary — usually after burning a face cord of wood.


Pretty as a picture

Like the frame around a picture, the mantel of a fireplace enhances the beauty of your fireplace.

Adding or replacing a mantel is a moderately priced upgrade that packs a big payoff in terms of distinguishing one’s style and decor, said Larry Bostwick, owner of Chicago Fireplace Inc.

The choices are endless -- from store-bought models to custom made designs in a variety of materials such as wood, stone, brick, tile, stainless steel, precast concrete, faux stone or a combination.

“It’s really an interior design project. A new mantel can change the whole look of the room,” Bostwick said.

Popular choices include running cable and adding flat screen TVs above the fireplace, carving decorative niches to display artwork, resurfacing dated brick with natural stone and slate, and chiseling out old tiles and adding new.


The big fix

Rebuilding a fireplace can be a costly, major effort, but it’s necessary if there are safety or code issues. Or a homeowner might just want to restore or update its appearance or improve performance.

Energy-efficiency is a main reason for rebuilding, Bostwick said. “Converting to gas-only is much more efficient.”

While a typical wood-burning fireplace sends heated air right out the chimney, a fireplace with direct venting draws in air from the outside, which is then blown into the room.

Even better, a fireplace insert — like a fireplace inside of your existing wood-burning fireplace, increases heat output, making your fireplace burn like a wood-burning stove.

Another option is a vent-free fireplace. It is connected to a gas line, draws in air from the room and converts it to heated air. While they operate at up to 90 percent efficiency with no drafts, some people are concerned about the air quality produced by vent-free fireplaces.

The silver lining to this eco-friendly upgrade: The government now offers a tax-credit of up to 30 percent of the cost of up to $1,500, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
 

 

Did you know?

In 2006, there were 24,500 residential fires in the United States originating in chimneys, fireplaces and solid fuel appliances, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. These fires resulted in 110 personal injuries, 20 deaths and $115.2 million in property damage.