What to Know Before Building or Updating Your Fireplace

Fireplaces make fantastic focal points and additions to homes, and for good reason. Their presence adds an inviting warmth and an all-around cozy ambiance during the chilly seasons. They can even add more value to your home. Whether you're looking to install a fireplace as a primary heat source, as supplemental heat, or even just as an aesthetic, it's important to invest time in doing research. Here are a few factors to consider before committing to that big splurge, and so that you know what you can expect during the planning process.


Researching, Understanding, and Adhering to State Regulations and Local Building Codes

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While you may already envision the perfect setting for your home and may be eager to dive right into picking out the right fireplace for your living space, there’s a bit more involved during the preliminary stages. Fireplaces generate heat, and due to the potential dangers of gas and wood fuels, they're subject to safety testing and installation requirements. Building and state codes differ from one region to another, so it is important to understand what safety standards are required—or prohibited—in your local area.

Let’s take vent-free fireplaces, for example. Vent-free fireplaces, also known as unvented fireplaces, don’t require any ventilation as they draw oxygen in and back out from the same room. Compared to their vented counterparts which lose some of their heat outside the home through the venting process, the heat that vent-free products generate goes directly back into the home. Despite being 99% energy efficient, the state of California deems vent-free fireplaces as unsafe because of the potential safety risk they pose from carbon monoxide exposure. How does this affect you? Failure to adhere to and comply with your state or local building codes can result in a hefty fine as well as a potential incorrect installation. If you’re unsure whether you’re code compliant with your state or local building codes, you can look up the codes for your state here or contact your city’s municipal for more up-to-date information on what is or isn’t permitted in your area.


Budgeting Out Expenses

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Whether you plan on upgrading an existing hearth or plan on installing a completely new fireplace, it’s important to consider any fuel and venting requirements, labor costs, and installation requirements as these factors can influence pricing. To get a more general idea of what pricing can look like, and so that you aren‘t surprised by how much expenses can quickly add up, our Is Installing a Fireplace Expensive? article goes over a general ballpark figure of a fireplace installation.


Determining the Ambiance and Selecting the Appliance Type for Your Home

While gas fireplaces don't have the same aromatic charm of as their traditional woodburning counterparts, they offer more freedom when it comes to customizing your fireplace with your choice of ignition system, logs, fire glass, and accessories.

What are your goals for building or upgrading your fireplace, and what are your needs and desires for such usage? While planning for your installation, understand that fuel type, venting obstructions, electrical outlets, room size, and traffic patterns can determine the appliance choice and its placement.

Fireplaces are offered in a variety of fuel sources including gas, wood, electric, and ethanol so it’s important to lay out the pros and cons of each. Here are just a few major pros and cons to consider for the different fuel types offered on the market.

When it comes to the warm sensation and the crackling sound and aroma of freshly burned firewood, wood burning fireplaces offer the ultimate homey charm. That’s what makes them such a timeless classic. But there are some drawbacks such as the ember and ash cleanup that comes afterwards. Depending on how frequently you plan on using your fireplace, you’ll have to consider that you’ll need to replenish and stock up on your firewood during and maybe even months ahead of the chilly winter months. If you experience especially freezing fall and winter seasons, manual labor can be physically strenuous, and the cost of purchasing fuel can quickly add up and become a downside for some.

If you want the classic wood burning ambiance but without the cons of the traditional wood burning fireplace, you may want to consider gas. Gas fireplace logs and burners makes great alternatives as you can still achieve the same timeless look of a wood burning fireplace but with the convenience of not having the messy cleanup of ash and embers. Though you won’t get the same crackling appeal or aromatic scent of burning firewood, gas fireplaces don’t require you to replenish your fuel source. They also have a low cost to run compared to burning wood. Though their price point is higher in comparison to their wood burning counterparts, having the freedom to customize your fireplace with your choice of ignition system, logs, fire glass, accessories to suit your needs and match perfectly with your surrounding decor can make your home that much cozier.

Perhaps you live in an area where it’s relatively warm year-round but you still want to relish in the perks of having a fireplace setting. Although some electric fireplaces offer a heating element, they’re intended as secondary or ambient heat. These types of fireplaces don’t require professional installation—just simple plug and play. Plus, electricity is more affordable than gas.

Similar to electric fireplaces, fireplaces utilizing ethanol products are another great option for those that experience warmer climates year-round. Ethanol is an eco-friendly and clean-burning renewable source of energy that is generated from plant byproducts. Just like wood burning fireplaces, you can experience a real burning flame but you’ll have to keep in mind of the costs that comes with refilling on this fuel—depending on how often you plan on using your fireplace, of course. Because these types of fireplaces don’t generate much heat, they are recommended for smaller spaces. They’re especially ideal for anyone who is environmentally conscious and friendly as they don’t emit smoke, sparks, or fumes like natural wood burning solids when burned. Instead, ethanol releases heat, steam, and carbon dioxide.

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to research your state’s regulations and local building codes before committing to any purchases as some fireplace selections may not be permitted in your area. But this may be of benefit to you when it comes to narrowing down your choices and ensuring it is the right option for your living space. For a more in-depth comparison of fireplace types, read our Finding the Right Fireplace for Your Living Space article.


Hiring an NFI Certified Professional

Hiring a professional NFI Certified installer for your fireplace project ensures a smooth, enjoyable experience and safe install.

When it comes to home improvements and renovations involving fire, safety is paramount. Hiring a NFI certified professional for your fireplace project is crucial for a successful and safe installation. Because fire is a dangerous element, having a professional who is knowledgeable about how to safely install a fireplace means a smooth, enjoyable experience.

The National Fireplace Institute offers four different NFI certifications for professionals; one for sales teams and three for installers. The Hearth Design Specialist, the certification for sales teams, specializes in the technical and safety knowledge of wood, gas, and pellet hearth systems. They are trained to guide customers in finding the right product for their living space. Here at Starfire Direct, we’re extremely proud to provide you with our very own professional support of NFI certified Hearth Design Specialists to ensure you feel guided during your planning process.

NFI Certifications for installers include the Woodburning Specialist, Gas Specialist, and Pellet Specialist—each of which are experts in the professional installation of their corresponding fuel types they are titled with. Though we currently do not offer installation services, our team stands behind hiring a professional NFI Certified installer for your fireplace project. Never sacrifice your safety or the safety of loved ones for a cheaper route. To get a more in-depth understanding of the importance of hiring a professional installer for your fireplace project, read our Why NFI Certification Should Matter to You article.

Along the same lines of hiring a NFI Certified professional for installation, they should also be hired in some additional situations. When an update or conversion is to be performed on an existing masonry fireplace or chimney, for instance, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 211) requires a masonry chimney inspection be performed to ensure your masonry fireplace or chimney is in good working condition. Inspecting the chimney for damage and creosote buildup prior to any installation can prevent dangerous house fires. Though maintenance costs can quickly add up as one of the many expenses, it is better to be safe in the long run than deal with the negative consequences of liability and damages to property and life.

Some other considerations to keep in mind, especially if you have a masonry fireplace or chimney, is conducting a house pressure test to ensure there’s adequate draft for combustion. A house pressure test is used to identify air leaks in the home and to assess if there are any sources competing for air supply. You’d be surprised at how competing sources can negatively affect your fireplace’s performance and efficiency. With a professional taking on your project, you can feel confident your fireplace will be installed safety and correctly.


Planning a fireplace installation can be tricky and downright complex, but it doesn’t have to be. From researching and adhering to your state and local building codes, to contacting and hiring a NFI Certified professional to oversee your fireplace project, following this fireplace buyer’s guide can help you understand what to expect during the planning process. To get you started on your project, give us a call at (866) 578-8538, fill out a Contact Us form, or message us on our Live Chat feature on our website.

Main image: Chilly weather calls for a cup of hot cocoa and a fireplace. Find the perfect fireplace accessory for your living space here.


Stephany Phimmasouk

An avid rock climber, Stephany is one of the Ecommerce team members responsible for the addition and maintenance of product listings on the website.