Today, our experts here at Chimney Sweeps of America present a handy overview that will help you get to know your masonry fireplace or factory-built fireplace.
While closely understanding all the ins and outs of a fireplace is not required as a homeowner, having basic knowledge regarding the anatomy of a fireplace can come in handy.
In fact, if you take time to get acquainted with your fireplace, you can better protect your family from an unfortunate, even devastating chimney fire.
Masonry Fireplace or Factory-Built Fireplace?
Fireplaces are available in two general types. Masonry fireplaces are the traditional and often impressive structures of brick or stone and mortar that we typically imagine when conjuring images of a fireplace.
Factory-built fireplaces are generally made from metal, including a lightweight metal firebox and round metal chimney. However, the outside of factory-built fireplaces can be decorated with stone or brick so it may take a bit of detective work on your part to figure out which type you have.
To determine the difference, just check inside the firebox and chimney.
If they’re made of brick, you have a masonry fireplace. If they’re made of metal, it is factory-built even if the outside is decorated with stone or brick.
There are also some hybrid varieties that usually consist of a metal box connected to a brick chimney, so be on the lookout for that as well.
Now that you know about the basic two types let’s look at each one a little closer. The basic premise is the same for both the masonry fireplace or factory-built fireplace, but there are key differences.
As we mentioned, masonry fireplaces are remarkable structures. Because of their materials and size, these fireplaces can end up weighing 6 or 7 tons!
Along with looking great, these fireplaces are very durable and can potentially last for many years with minimal maintenance. In fact, the general perception is that these fireplaces are indestructible.
But don’t fall into a false sense of security. While masonry fireplaces are very durable, there are still a few things to keep an eye out for and have repaired right away.
Because they’re so heavy, masonry fireplaces need a very sturdy and extensive foundation to hold them up. If the foundation is old or not built well, the fireplace can shift and crack over time and potentially allow flames to escape and ignite nearby materials like insulation and wood framing.
Keep an eye out for cracks to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. Check inside the firebox, where the facing material comes together with the brick, as this is a common place for cracks to form.
Ensure that downspouts or any other type of water runoff runs away from the structure and consider a quality chimney cover. Protecting your fireplace from water, rain, and the cycle of freezing and thawing will go a long way towards ensuring a long life for your fireplace.
The firebox is built to be strong as it takes the most heat abuse. However, eventually, all that expanding and contracting will beat up the joints. A chimney cap will help with this so that rainwater doesn’t get inside and exacerbate the issue. You can also use a refractory mortar to protect the joints further.
Most masonry fireplaces have a tile liner in the chimney that you don’t have to worry too much about. However, one chimney fire can crack the tiles considerably so be sure to keep it clean. A good rule of thumb is to have it cleaned once there is barely a ¼ inch of soot built up inside.
If a chimney fire does occur, do not use your appliance (whether a masonry fireplace or factory-built fireplace) until it has been inspected by a professional and cleared for use.
When it deciding between a masonry fireplace or factory-built fireplace, you’ll find that factory-built is a relative newcomer to the fireplace, only having been available for about 25 years or so.
Instead of being built on-site like a masonry fireplace, these fireplaces come in a complete set with firebox, chimney and miscellaneous parts necessary to assemble the fireplace.
These parts are specifically tested and designed to fit together, and the exact instructions from the manufacturer should be followed when installing.
Minimum clearances should always be strictly observed to ensure that nothing eventually catches fire.
You might think that nearby wood will be all right, but with prolonged exposure to high temperatures that wood will dry excessively and become combustible at a much lower than average temperature.
It’s a good idea to have pros install these fireplaces, or at the very least professionally inspected before use. These types of inspections reveal that more than half of them are not correctly installed. As this can have dire consequences for your home and family, the cost is well worth it.
Birds can pose a hazard for factory-built fireplaces, particularly those that have a fake brick housing. They find this to be an ideal nesting area. Virtually all their nest building materials are combustible and can catch fire directly or block essential airflow and cause the chimney to overheat.
Either way, you end up with a potentially devastating house fire. Be sure to screen over possible access points and regularly check your chimney for signs of these unwanted house guests to prevent this.
It is also important to be aware that factory-built fireplaces are not as sturdy and durable as masonry fireplaces, and you cannot expect them to last as long. Repairs may be possible, but after many years, models are often discontinued, or manufacturers go out of business, and it becomes difficult to find the proper replacement parts.
It is always safer and worth it to replace a factory-built fireplace before it gets to the point of being a serious safety hazard.
When it comes to your masonry fireplace or factory-built fireplace, knowing its anatomy and keeping an eye out for signs of trouble is crucial. Of course, always keep in mind that you don’t have to be an expert in fireplace care and maintenance. That’s what we’re here for!
If you need installation, repair, a certified inspection or a cleaning, just call Chimney Sweeps of America, and one of our friendly professionals will be happy to help.