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by Just in Isel in
The Hearth of a Home
spr ing
or thousands of years fire has been a focal point of human existence. Fire offers
warmth in cold weather, and light in darkness; it cooks the food we eat and
frames social gathering points for friends and families.
With the advent of central heating and modern kitchen appliances, the need
for and use of the traditional fireplace has changed. What once was the center
of activity in the kitchen and the only source of heating in the home, has been freed from func-
tion to become an expressive ornamental and symbolic element. Fireplaces have become a
luxury item, technically unnecessary, yet highly desired.
Traditionally located in the more public gathering spaces of a home, fireplaces are now
found anywhere a touch of warmth or luxury is desired. From grand walk-in hearths to con-
temporary wall-mounted glass enclosures, fireplaces often announce the style of a home
while setting the backdrop for its activities.
When building or remodeling a fireplace, the size, type, fuel, and ornamentation are im-
portant factors to consider.
Aesthetically, a fireplace should be scaled to fit the room and desired effect, be it grand
and monumental or simple and inviting. However, the larger a fireplace, the more air it will
consume. While it can be potentially dangerous to have too large a fireplace in a small room,
this can be compensated for through the use of an outside air inlet on fireplaces located along
the exterior of a building. An outside air inlet will create a more efficient fire through increased
oxygen supply, while decreasing the amount of interior heated air consumed by the fire. A
chimney needs to be appropriately sized for the fireplace it serves, and while a number of fac-
tors can affect the draft of a fireplace, when remodeling, oftentimes the easiest way to improve
the draft of a faulty chimney is to install a chimney fan which draws smoke up the chimney,
improving combustion and efficiency while preventing backdrafts.
When determining what type of fireplace to install, there are several options, the most
common being a traditional single-face fireplace in which the fireplace is inside a wall with
the firebox facing the room. Single-face fireplaces can be efficient radiant heaters, but a com-
mon variation on this is the Rumford style fireplace: taller and shallower than its traditional
counterpart, the side walls of the brick firebox are set between 45 and 60 degrees for optimal
radiant heating; this is a design many find as aesthetically pleasing as it is efficient.
For a less traditional approach, multi-faced fireplaces offer a number of options. From the
“see through” two-faced fireplace with two opposite sides open, to a projected corner wherein
(photo: Lawrence Anderson | Architect: Warner Group)
(photo: Mary E. Nichols | Architect: Warner Group)
(photo: Eric Figge | Architect: Warner Group)