The days of storing firewood for the winter are becoming a distant memory. There are still diehards who refuse to consider any of the alternatives to wood-burning fireplaces. Those are your friends who, with a flourish, stoke the fire, poke it and talk about it in reverential tones.
I must concede, there is nothing more dramatic than a roaring fire in a huge firebox -- one that draws you near like the proverbial moth to the flame. Like having a festive dinner party and looking at the mess left after the revelry, cleaning out a sooty fireplace -- cold and full of dead ashes -- is a chore.
However, there are now options to the “real” fireplace, some of which replicate not only the look but the crackling sound of resin that seeps from wood and is the source of that real fireplace smell.
If we can surround ourselves with evergreen mist simply by spritzing our houses, a clever inventor should come up with an atomizer for replicating burning pine or oak wafting through the house.
MINIMIZE THE CLEANING
There are reasons, other than maintenance, for investigating carefree fireplaces. The smoke generated by burning wood can aggravate nasal allergies. No matter how well ventilated your fireplace, there is a fine residue that lands on every surface in your house and, with many of the new fireplaces, a chimney is not necessary.
Pine makes great fat lighter or starter for your fire, but pine and all woods leave sticky soot in your chimney, a situation that had the chimney sweep business thriving for years. Still not convinced? When you give your house a good spring cleaning next year, clean the book cases and all the art work with vinegar -- you’ll be dismayed by the dirt left behind by the fire you pampered all winter.
FUNCTION FOLLOWS FORM
In the showroom at American Specialties on Columbus Road, you can find lighting, decorative hardware, custom wood products and a lot of fireplaces. Donnie Davidson will happily light every single one and give you a tutorial on size, style, type of logs, fireplace accessories and numerous custom designed mantles.
The company has served the architectural, design and construction industries in Macon for more than 25 years and has stayed abreast of the advances in efficient fireplaces.
Although a fireplace is an asset as a focal point for a room or house, the traditional built-in model with chimney and flue is not the most practical way to heat -- but it looks so Norman Rockwell in those holiday photographs.
You can select a vented fireplace, one that takes advantage of an existing chimney to allow fumes to escape and to adjust the amount of heat generated by the fire. This style, like the vent-free fireplace, operates on natural gas, or propane, if your property does not have access to the former.
Jennifer Bell, who works in sales for the company, says she prefers the vented fireplace because she likes the ambience, not necessarily a lot of heat. Therefore, the vented fireplace is best used to heat a single room. The artificial logs, manufactured from a durable composite, are fireproof but absorb heat and are made to look like hardwood.
The arrangements of logs are available in a variety of configurations to fit any size opening. When the logs are installed, on a raised grate, “embers” are scattered under the logs and, when burned, look like the real thing. If you live in a house that has no chimney, the vent-free fireplace is the solution to that cozy feeling you can get only from a fire on a chilly night. The vent free fireplace is the most efficient, for it has no chimney, no flue and all of the heat is contained in the room.
Davidson has clients who heat their houses only with vent-free fireplaces. Like the vented, the vent-free’s heat output can be adjusted, but you do not lose any of the heat.
Good vented fireplaces generally function at 80 percent efficiency; vent-free fireplaces let no heat escape, but there are drawbacks for the purist.
The vented fireplace has a more realistic and colorful flame; the vent-free flame is usually white and does not dance like the flames in the vented model. The vent-free log sets cannot be rearranged but, in the vented fire, the logs often can be moved for a more natural look.
If you are planning on abandoning the tradition of building a fire, consult an expert in the field for maximum effect and operational proficiency.
WRAP THE FIREPLACE
If you don’t have a fireplace, you don’t have a mantle or fireplace surround to complete the picture. In Macon’s historic districts there are many houses where the fireplaces have been closed due to crumbling brick and mortar or because many of those fireplaces burned coal.
Since vented or vent-free operates without a chimney, and in the latter the flue is closed, you may be able to open the firebox and restore perceived and real warmth to a room.
American Specialties can build mantles for any architectural style, or you can refurbish an old mantle and have the fireplace designed to fit the size of the opening. On the showroom floor there are stone, simulated stone and wood mantles for cottages or manors.
For the contemporary or barrier-free house, there is a free standing fireplace with glass doors, or counter size fireplaces that can be mounted in small spaces like elegant baths.
In an idyllic setting on the outskirts of Macon, the Padgett residence sits among the trees overlooking a creek, a contemporary salt box design, stained to complement the surrounding hardwoods.
Because the house sits in a shady setting, Linda Padgett eschewed the use of a living room mantle, instead covering the wall around the fireplace in mirror, which reflects the natural light from the decks and the changing seasons throughout the year.
She is a painter and a potter whose collection of ceramics and other natural and man-made art objects are the focal point of the room. The clean surround of the fireplace is a subtle but effectual back drop for displaying them.
Using mirror on the wall with the wood-burning fireplace would have been an exercise in frustration -- for the fine residue from the ash would have collected on the surface. The original wood-burning fireplace was converted to a vent-free model by American Specialties.
Sitting on a raised hearth, there is no longer any danger of the carpet being burned by stray embers. Instead of taking coffee to the deck each morning, the wintry landscape can be enjoyed from the comfort of the sofa in front of the fireplace.
As the trees lose their leaves this time of year and create a silvery landscape, the fire beckons at the end of the day.
Katherine Walden is an interior designer and freelance writer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.