Since the 1960s, prefabricated fireplaces have become a popular alternative to masonry chimney fireplaces. The fireplace is built in a factory to engineered specifications and then installed into the new (or existing) home, usually by a professional fireplace installer or licensed contractor with some CSIA training.
The ease and simplicity of installing prefab fireplaces has overtaken the art and science of building masonry ones over the years. However, a prefab fireplace is a home appliance, like a washer, furnace or dishwasher, and will eventually need replacing. Water penetration and high heat exaggerate the shortened lifetime expectancy of the appliance. When you over fire this appliance, it shortens its life. Many components are made of sheet metal, rust and sheet metal don’t work well together.
A prefabricated fireplace was built and safety tested with a specific chimney. If the wrong chimney is installed with the fireplace or if the fireplace is not used as the manufacturer suggests, the fireplace is compromised as is your home and family’s safety.
If you are a new homeowner, we recommend getting your chimney inspected and cleaned before you light your first fire. Valley Chimney Sweep & Restoration can provide you some history and information about your fireplace, chimney, and venting. This is turn gives you peace of mind to light your fireplace and cozy up for the winter.
As with any fireplace, they are built to be used appropriately. Not using your fireplace correctly can jeopardize your home and family’s safety. Whether you have a gas fireplace or wood-burning fireplace, you need to use it as such, unless you hire a professional to convert it. Don’t burn wrapping paper or green wood. A fireplace is for warming your home and if you burn inappropriate materials in it, the extra heat can melt some of the prefabricated pieces.
Unlike a masonry fireplace, your prefabricated fireplace is like a home appliance. Although they may have told you it would last 15-20 years as a recreational heat source, the manufactured may not have considered more than average use, leaks, extreme outdoor weather, or home humidity. Chances are you will require fireplace repairs and at some point, and you might decide that replacing it is a better option than continuing the repairs. Then you can replace your aging system with the latest model with all the bells and whistles. Treating your fireplace to an annual chimney sweep and chimney inspection is a preventative service that can minimize wear and tear and prolong the life of your chimney.
I compare this to whether or not you repair or replace your car. It all comes down to dollars and cents. What is the cost of the repair versus a replacement? Another factor to consider is how often you use your fireplace. If you like home fires all winter and you live in a northern climate like us in the far west Chicago suburbs, a functional safe fireplace is important to you. Some repairs that we discuss with you during your inspection are:
Consider all your options and make sure you ask lots of questions so you understand your chimney sweeps advice. And most importantly, be sure to use a Certified Chimney Sweep® because s/he has been trained on the safety and installation process to keep you and your family safe and sound while enjoying that fire.