This is the second part of our interview with fireplace professional Jake Cromwell of Top Hat Chimney and Roofing. He’ll continue his discussion about high efficiency direct vent gas fireplaces, which he recommends for those of us who want the heat and beauty of a fireplace, but don’t want a lot of maintenance. He’ll also tell us what we need to look for if we want to mount our TV above our fireplace and where we can find certified fireplaces professionals.
Michelle: If you choose a direct vent, you can’t roast marshmallows in the fireplace because the firebox is always sealed behind glass. And the decorative media (crushed glass, log set or cannon balls) that you choose can’t be changed, is that correct?
Jake: Direct vent fireplaces are sealed with a glass front, but if the fireplace has options for decorative media, if they have 4 options, for example, you can change from one to the other. If those media options are tested and listed for that fireplace, you can change them. The glass front comes off and you can change out the media. You may get moisture build up behind the glass over time and that glass needs to be cleaned. The firebox is accessible, but it’s recommended that you let a professional access it.
Michelle: What I also didn’t realize was with a direct vent, you not only have glass covering the firebox, but also a screen that’s adjacent to the glass.
Jake: A few years back a child got injured by touching that hot glass and because of that direct vent fireplaces require a screen by code.
Michelle: What are some common mistakes that homeowners and builders make when selecting and installing fireplaces.
Jake: They don’t have their fireplaces inspected by a professional. Unfortunately a defect in a factory built fireplace usually requires a complete change out. If you are going to modify or switch out a fireplace, always involve a certified professional.
Michelle: How often should we have our fireplaces inspected?
Jake: Go by manufacturers' recommendations found in the manual. But generally, they need to be inspected annually. The second big mistake that's made is for homeowners to think they will get significant heat from the fireplace. Most fireplaces will not deliver significant heat, with the exception for free standing wood stoves and wood stove inserts, and high efficiency direct vent fireplaces. Most fireplaces will give you net negative heat because they exhaust heated air from the house.
Michelle: Let’s talk about some the options we will have to choose when selecting fireplaces. I think there are some options now that allow you to put TVs pretty close to fireplace.
Jake: Fireplaces will give you a clearance to combustibles (plastic, wood, paper, etc). But they will not tell you specifically how close to the fireplace you can mount your TV because they don’t want to be liable for damage to the TV.
Michelle: But what do we do if want a TV above a fireplace?
Jake: Consult a certified hearth design professional. Or certified chimney guy or installer and then the manufactures manual.
Michelle: And we should look for minimal distances to combustibles, correct? Look for a fireplace that can have combustibles close to the fireplace--say 24 inches away from the fireplace instead of 4 feet from combustibles, for example. Any other options that you think are cool that we should consider?
Jake: I would really like to see the installation and value of masonry fireplaces. They are slowly disappearing in North America. They can be built to a number of different designs. They can be a centerpiece to the entire home. Factory built fireplaces will need to be changed out in about 25 years. They are going to wear out/rust out. Masonry fireplaces won't wear out in the same way. And they provide something fundamental to the human experience— a fire. It’s so primitive and built into who we are as animals. To have an open fire in your home, it provides a connection with nature and intimacy with your family and friends. If it’s built properly, a masonry fireplace is a 100 year product.
Jake: If I get one message to consumers it’s this: I love DIY and want people to be able to operate a fireplace in their home, but there are some things you need a professional for and one of them is putting a fire in the middle of your wooden structure. Make sure you develop a relationship with a chimney guy who’s going to take care of you year after year. And all its going to cost you is a couple hundred dollars to have them let you know how you should be treating that appliance that is really high risk and really high reward. Don’t do it all yourself.
Michelle: When we want to find a professional in our area, what do we Google?
Jake: It’s an unregulated trade. But to find fireplace and chimney professionals, check with the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Or go to National Fireplace Institute. The best way to contact me is through Top Hat Chimney and Roofing
Special thanks goes to Jake Cromwell at Top Hat Chimney and Roofing for helping us better understand fireplaces and fireplace safety. If you want to check out the Chimney Safety Institute of America go to csia.org. [Click here to search for certified chimney sweeps in your area]. To find out more about the National Fireplace Institute go to nficertified.org.
What I’ve learned recently is that you don’t just have to rely on hearth or fireplaces showrooms in your area to purchase fireplaces. Instead, you can reach out to certified fireplace professionals and chimney sweeps to see if you can order fireplaces from them. Many of them have access to the many of the fireplace brands that you find at hearth showrooms. Plus certified fireplace professionals can install your fireplaces with the utmost safety in mind. Well, thank you joining me this week. I hope you learned as much as I did and I hope you'll come back.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.