As the days grow shorter, and temperatures drop, friends and family will once again gather around the warmth of a cozy fire. Backyard fire pits and indoor hearths are more than cozy luxuries; they harken to the culture of our ancestors. A shared fire is one of the oldest family traditions. Anthropologists believe that communities that gathered around the fire, to tell stories and maintain ties, were the foundation of human colonization of our planet. According to anthropologist Polly Weissner1, fireside conversations were the original social media. She’s concerned that fewer people are celebrating these fire traditions today, choosing to bring their work home. The invention of artificial light and heating turned the home fire and social time into potential work time. As autumn leaves change their colours, it’s time to close the laptop, put work aside for a few hours, and enjoy an evening around the fire with family and friends.
Is your fireplace ready?
With a little fall cleaning, your fireplace(s) can again become a focal feature for socializing and entertaining over the next 5 to 6 months. If there are any ashes remaining, make sure they are cool before shovelling and sweeping. It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when using cleaners to remove any soot and creosote. Avoid the use of flammable cleaners; residue in the stone or brick can flare the next time a fire is lit.
Harsh cleaners can fade both natural and manufactured brick or stone. Consult the website of the manufacturer or supplier of your product for a recommended cleaner. If the home wasn’t new when it was purchased, that may be challenging. Mild all purpose cleaners, diluted with water, will usually be best, but be sure to do a test in a small area that’s not very visible. Avoid using any flammable cleaners, as residue could become a fire hazard.
A yearly inspection of fireplaces and chimneys is recommended. A certified chimney sweep can check your flue lining, clear out any soot and creosote buildup, inspect the firebox and smoke chamber, and look for moisture in the chimney that could result in structural damage.
Repairing, upgrading or rebuilding your fireplace
After years of wear and tear, the stone or brickwork of your fireplace may require some repairs, or a facelift. Stone, brick and mortar are durable, but in time exposure to heat, soot and grime can take their toll. If the rest of the home has seen a renovation, the fireplace might also look dated and out of place. A new mantel and updated surround can give your fireplace a dramatic contemporary appearance.
There may be holes developing in the firebox, requiring repairs or even a rebuild. A chimney sweep can also check to see if you require any chimney repairs. Water and moisture are the enemies of your fireplace. Prolonged contact with rain and moisture can cause deterioration to brick, stone, and mortar, and it can corrode steel and cast iron. Another consideration; your fireplace may be inefficient by today’s standards, sucking heat up and out of your home.
Let’s start with the firebox. This is the area in your fireplace where the wood burns. The refractory mortar and firebricks used must be able to withstand temperatures of 426° C (800° F). Hundreds or even thousands of heating and cooling cycles may have produced some cracks, or caused mortar to fall out. Metal fireboxes also deteriorate. Holes and gaps can allow hot gases or burning embers to escape into the surrounding walls or living space. That creates a dangerous fire hazard. Replacing crumbling mortar with high temperature cement, by a process known as tuckpointing, may be an option for extending the life of the current firebox.
If more than a firebox repair is required, some homeowners choose to install a high-efficiency stove in the old firebox. To ensure safety with these inserts, proper venting and flue liners are crucial. Gas and wood pellet stoves are popular options, and some stoves burn conventional wood, in the reduced space, viewed through a relatively small glass window.
For those who prefer the full traditional fire experience, with crackling logs and cozy flames that fill the firebox, a fireplace rebuild may be the way to go. In some cases, the walls of the firebox can be covered with new Firebricks, and the floor coated with a fireclay mortar that seals small cracks and openings. Fire Brick is not prone to expansion and contraction which helps to minimize cracking under extreme heat conditions. With the addition of fresh cladding on the exterior, the fireplace can look and function like new again.
For a more involved fireplace rebuild, you might consider an Isokern® modular fireplace. Unlike typical metal box fireplaces or concrete systems, they are designed to last forever. They install within a day, are less expensive than traditional masonry fireplaces, extremely lightweight, and more efficient.
Adding a fireplace
If you don’t already have a fireplace, or you’ve been thinking of putting one outside, it’s a great time to make the addition. Modern stone cladding options, ready-to-use accents and modular fireplace units make things easier than ever before, and the investment more affordable. Isokern® fireplaces are available in both wood burning and gas, vented and vent free and are available for both indoor and outdoor fireplace installations.
Cladding options include manufactured and natural stone veneers. Cultured Stone® is the world’s leading brand of manufactured stone veneer, available in a wide range tone of textures and diverse colour palettes. From rugged Fieldstone to sleek Easy Fit Savannah Ledge, ProStone® is a realistic engineered veneer that offers a sophisticated look you can feel good about from every angle. Pangaea® natural stone brings you an exclusive line of natural stone thin veneers from quarry to construction. Much of our natural stone thin veneers feature GripSet™ technology, which creates a non-slip surface for ease of adhesion. ThinCut™ offers a comprehensive collection of colours and styles, with depths that average one inch in thickness, weigh approximately 13 pounds per square foot, and are available in both flats and corners.
It’s the finishing details that will make your fireplace the focal point of your gathering around the hearth. Pair either a StoneTransitions® fireplace trim kit or lintels with our hearthstones to achieve a captivating fireplace for your home. StoneTransitions® has also released a selection of exciting new corbels and mantles to make your fireplace design pop. Or consider architectural accessories from Pangaea® can add the finishing touches to your natural stone-clad fireplace, with trimstones and keystones, slabs and hearthstones.
In today’s fast paced lifestyle, it’s easy for one year to roll right into the next, without taking the time to reconnect with those we care about. As we enter the autumn season, make sure you’re ready for some memorable times in front of the hearth.
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