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Small Spaces: Time to Think About a Fireplace

Christine Brun on

A slight hint of coolness was in the air in my area yesterday, and it provided a promise of relief from a sizzling summer. While it's far too early to be thinking of wearing a coat, it is the perfect time to turn to home improvement chores. So let's talk fireplaces.

Many who live in high-rise condominium buildings are stuck with whatever brand of electric fireplace the developer decided to include in the building package. I am often stunned to find cheap-looking zero-clearance units in million-dollar homes and even more expensive units. When purchasing a home, you might be able to replace the fireplace once you are the owner, but there is a liability component to be considered, so be sure to verify with the homeowners association before spending money.

Zero-clearance fireplaces are pre-manufactured heating appliances that are safe to place directly against or within a couple of inches of combustible materials, such as a sheetrock wall, wood or paneling. The fact that a buffer zone is unnecessary means that these fireplaces fit and can be safely used in tight spaces and are favored in high-rises. These appliances can be used to burn wood, gas and pellets; they never get so hot on the outside that they burn nearby materials.

People who live in older homes may be blessed with a wood-burning fireplace. In colonial-era structures, it's common for every bedroom to be warmed by a fireplace. But many of these fireplaces are boarded over throughout the years, so do your homework on restoration and repair. Maintenance depends greatly on how much wood the fireplace burns and the amount of buildup inside the chimney, but most safety guidelines indicate a yearly inspection. Consider a spark arrestor, or chimney cap, at the top of your outdoor chimney that will prevent debris from falling into it and keep embers from escaping. The part is not expensive, but with labor it can cost between $100 and $250.

If you live in a rental or a small home without a fireplace, consider one of the many wall-mounted choices available today. Some are electric, and some burn bio-ethanol. The Dimplex Redway has caught my attention because it incorporates water as the burning device and eliminates changing a canister. While it is not the least expensive, at around $500 or $600, it offers a unique Opti-myst technology, a patented 3-D flame effect that creates the illusion of fire and smoke with an easy-to-fill water tank. The tank offers 14 to 17 hours of continuous operation before refilling is required. There is an option to turn off the heat, but 400 square feet can be warmed when you need it. This unit is 29 3/4 inches wide by 27 1/4 inches tall by 7 1/4 inches deep. It weighs a respectable 68.2 pounds, so be certain to get at least one of the mounting screws into a stud. If you cannot install this or any other wall-mounted fireplace on your own, contact a handyman or a professional art installer. They have the proper tools to ensure a safe mounting.

Of course, realism is in the eye of the beholder, but none of these manufactured fireplaces are the real deal. You have to decide what is visually appealing to you and whether a representation of a fireplace is enough. A rendition of the traditional hearth is included in many expensive examples of new urban construction. Search the Hayneedle, Wayfair and Overstock websites for a variety of choices and prices.

Photo Credit: Dimplex

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Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at christinebrun@sbcglobal.net. To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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