The Basics: Kitchen and Bath Fireplaces
New options in gas and electric fireplaces are offering homeowners the freedom to install these cherished fixtures in every room of the house even kitchens and baths.
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For the better part of the last half-century, fireplaces were reserved for a home's living room or family room. The need for a masonry footing, stone hearth and roof-clearing brick chimney all but guaranteed it. But thanks to the arrival of new gas fireplaces, some requiring little or no ventilation, homeowners now have the freedom to install these heart-warming fixtures in any room of the house, including the kitchen and bath.
Adding a fireplace to your home can increase its value, provide warmth and ambiance and, in the case of some kitchen models, provide an additional cooking source. But selecting the right fireplace for each application requires some research. We spoke with fireplace experts, a kitchen designer and a celebrity chef to discuss what's hot in fireplaces.
Determine Your Needs
"The first question you need to ask is, 'Where is the fireplace going and for what purpose do I want it?" says Bruce Carlson of Consolidated Kitchens and Fireplaces in Omaha, Neb., a hearth industry expert with 30 years of experience. Do you want your fireplace to provide warmth or just look pretty? And if you want it to provide warmth, how big (or small) is the room it will be installed in? "You want a fireplace that produces an appropriate amount of heat for the size of the room without overheating it," Bruce explains.
For most kitchen and bath applications, Bruce recommends direct-vent gas fireplaces. These self-contained units require no foundation: They're vented horizontally out the nearest sidewall, requiring no chimney; and they're sealed units, so there's little risk of carbon monoxide entering the room. Two- and three-sided models allow multiple rooms to take advantage of the same unit, making them ideal for kitchens that open into a family room or bathrooms that open into a bedroom.
Vent-free gas fireplaces, as the name implies, require no venting whatsoever, making them less expensive to install. These fireplaces produce a very hot flame that minimizes the production of dangerous carbon monoxide. But Bruce warns that these units aren't ideal for every application. "These fireplaces emit a tremendous amount of heat, making them inappropriate for small kitchens and baths," he says. And because they don't vent outdoors, they tend to introduce a lot of moisture, a byproduct of combustion, into the room.
Of course, both direct-vent and vent-free gas fireplaces require a natural gas or propane supply to work. If you have neither but still want the look and feel of flames, electric fireplaces may be the next best thing. "These units simply plug into a wall," says Bruce. "A bank of lightbulbs and a reflective panel give the illusion of flames." He adds that today's electric fireplaces offer a much more realistic experience than earlier models and, while the bulbs provide little heat, there are some models with built-in space heaters.