Are All Fireplaces Created Equal?

A fireplace is a fireplace is a fireplace, right? Wrong!  So what’s the difference between a masonry fireplace and a prefabricated manufactured fireplace?  Let’s look at Are All Fireplaces Created Equal IMG-Spartanburg SC- Blue Sky Chimney Sweepsthe characteristics of each.

Masonry

  • Site built from brick, block, stone or some combination thereof.
  • Brick, stone, slate, marble or tile facing around fireplace opening.  No metal parts to the facing.
  • May have glass doors with metal frames (add on feature; not an integral part of the structure).
  • Firebox (where the fire is built) constructed of firebrick (usually a buff or beige color).  Some older fireplaces may have the same brick inside the firebox that is used on the facing.
  • Most modern fireplaces will have a rectangular shaped, metal damper at the top of the firebox.
    • There will be a handle just under the damper positioned either in the middle or on the right side.
    • Occasionally these dampers have a handle mechanism that comes through the face brick just above the fireplace opening.  This type damper is operated by turning a handle on the face side of the fireplace.
    • If the damper and/or frame have rusted away, it may have been replaced with a top sealing damper.
    • Some older fireplaces may have no damper.
  • The exterior of the chimney structure will be of some sort of masonry. It can be brick, block, stone or stucco.
  • Usually there are terra cotta flue tile liners which may or may not be visible at the top of the chimney.
  • It may or may not have some kind of metal cap, It might have a concrete slab cover.
  • Masonry chimneys are site built and not subject to manufacturer’s specifications or UL listing requirements. Most any kind of repair can be made using readily available materials as long as repairs conform to local building codes and industry standards.

Manufactured

  • Factory-made system that consists mainly of sheet metal.
  • The facing around the fireplace can be any of the same materials as those used for masonry fireplaces, however near the fireplace opening there will usually be some amount of metal facing.  May have louvers in this metal facing, either over the opening or below the opening or both.
  • The firebox will usually have masonry or refractory panels
    • approximately an inch thick, on the back and side walls and the bottom
    • usually have a brick pattern stamped on them, but are not actual brick
    • usually are gray in color
  • Some older units
    • have sheet metal side panels instead of masonry panels in the firebox.
    • have sheet metal sides and a back wall with masonry panel with no brick pattern.
  • Are All Fireplaces Created Equal IMG2-Spartanburg SC- Blue Sky Chimney SweepsThe damper is usually round butterfly design with a handle inside the fireplace, but occasionally may be square and have a handle of some sort on the face of the fireplace.
  • On the exterior,
    • the chimney can simply be a round metal pipe with a round metal cap
    • the chimney (metal pipe) may be enclosed in a chase (wooden box).
      • The chase can have
        • siding to match the house, or brick, stone or stucco.
        • a metal pan to close the top and a metal, round or square cap extending above this.
        • a decorative shroud.  Most decorative shrouds are box like in structure but other designs are sometimes seen
      • Repairs and the use of replacement parts on a manufactured fireplace and chimney are manufacturer specific and THEIR RULES ARE LAW. Parts are rarely interchangeable and modifications and/or installation of unapproved parts is absolutely unacceptable.

There are exceptions when it comes to what is classified as “masonry” and what is classified as “manufactured”. 

  • Some masonry fireplaces/chimneys could be considered hybrid.  These are sometimes referred to as circulators.  The inside of the fireplace is not constructed of fire brick.  It is all steel.  It is a factory made unit with double wall construction.  Air between the layers of steel, is heated and blown into the room through vents that are usually on the face or side of the fireplace.
  • There are also some factory-made masonry fireplaces.  They are made of precast components and assembled on site.  They may have a metal chimney like factory made metal fireplaces or a masonry chimney made of the same type of precast components as the fireplace.  The chimney may or may not be enclosed in a chase.

Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps|Bless Your Hearth can help you figure out just what you have and what you can do with it in regard to maintenance and/or repairs.