New Year, new fireplace? Sarah Cunninghamand I would love to help you create a more hygge home that also delivers better energy efficiency.

Old fireplaces can be charming and often add value to your home. However, if you’re looking to make your residence more energy efficient, a remodel may be in order.

Depending on whether you want to make updates like modernizing the aesthetics of your mantle and tile or stone surround, or you are looking for ways to increase the energy efficiency of your heating source, the cost of a fireplace remodeling project can range widely. 

A standalone electric 3D fireplace can be purchased for as little as a few hundred dollars and if the right electrical receptacle is in place, it won’t require specialized skills to install. On the other end of the spectrum, at Ethos Design + Build | Remodel, we’ve designed custom fireplaces that cost $50,000 and require masons for stonework, highly skilled finish carpentry work, and expert tile setters. 

On average, basic fireplace finishes cost about $16,000, including a masonry chimney. It’s not possible to DIY a project like this because you could — quite literally — burn your house down if something isn’t installed properly. Plus, fireplace changes require inspections to ensure that the required offset dimensions for combustible surfaces are met for fireplace mantle pieces. If you accidentally install a decorative surround incorrectly and have to tear it out due to inspection failure, you’re in for a big and expensive mess. 

Remodeling projects involving fireplaces must plan on a large perimeter of non-combustible materials around your fireplace unit. This perimeter could be made of stone or tile, but always make sure to refer to the manufacturer’s specifications before finalizing designs. Fireplace inspectors are very detail-oriented by necessity, and they typically read the manufacturer installation instructions for the particular fireplace prior to inspecting a unit. If one item is not installed properly, they will red tag your project and request the mistake be addressed immediately. 

Many remodeling clients are interested in a fireplace update in order to lower energy bills. Optimizing a wood-burning fireplace by adding a catalytic combustion chamber (a honeycomb structure coated with metals that react with smoke) in the exhaust pipe can help the fire burn cleaner and at a lower temperature. Older gas and wood fireplaces often don’t have the proper fans to distribute heat efficiently. When you upgrade, you’re likely to enjoy more heat and light from your fireplace, which can reduce bills and save energy.

A remodel should take into account how a client uses the fireplace and what they love about it. If it’s mostly about having something “hygge” to look at on cold winter evenings, you can’t beat the convenience of a gas fireplace with an on/off switch trimmed with glass rocks, a beautiful tile surround, a hearth, and a custom wooden mantel.

For others, the desire for a source of back-up power or the joy of cooking on wood-burning stoves mean that a stand-alone or insert wood burning fireplace with a glass front is the best fit. A favorite of ours is the Blaze King Princess model with a glass front that boasts an HVV efficiency rating of over 75%. 

Another option is pellet stoves. Many find them less attractive than wood-burning stoves, but they are more cost-efficient fuel for heating homes than wood. Pellet stoves boast excellent performance with low emissions and do not require a traditional chimney.  

 Three-dimensional fireplaces can also add character and efficiency to a home. Erin recently stayed in a historic AirbnB in Potlatch, Idaho, that was originally built as a manager’s home for the Potlatch Lumber Company. It was originally heated by wood and beautiful old radiators which were still located in the home, but weren’t really functional for the wonderful elderly woman who operates the space. She converted the wood stove to a pellet one on the main floor, and in the rooms upstairs, she installed electric 3D fireplaces to heat each cozy suite. Erin’s 12-year-old son in particular was completely amazed with the realistic flames, and they had a cozy family night all snuggled up in adorable beds with a fireplace that tricked everyone’s brain into thinking it was really a wood fireplace. Even better, no one left smelling like they’d been camping!

As the Treasure Valley’s only eco-friendly design + build and remodeling firm, we believe that the best fireplaces burn efficiently and don’t compromise indoor and outdoor air quality. Look for a 70-80% efficiency rating for your new fireplace. If you plan on installing a fireplace as a heat source in your home, you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of insulation in your attic and seal up any air leaks in your home. No sense in heating the outdoors if you plan on schlepping wood around for a source of heat. 

If you’re on the wood-burning train, don’t burn trash or paper, including magazines and recycling, which can give off toxic fumes in an indoor environment. For the best fires, stack wood like a Jenga game (for better airflow) and use a simple torch to light kindling (tiny pieces of wood). 

Knowing where electricity comes from in your region can help guide your decision on a fireplace remodel. Is it from fossil fuel power plants? Even gas is not as renewable as sustainably forested wood. Wood ashes can even be used to fertilize your garden because they consist of 50-70% calcium or lime and 6-8% potassium. That means 25 pounds of fireplace ash from wood per 1000 square feet of lawn or garden can help achieve potassium levels and maintain neutral PH in soils that lean towards being acidic. 

At Ethos Design + Build | Remodel, we’re always excited to share options that are healthier for your home environment, and the natural environment. If you’re interested in exploring your fireplace remodel options, email erin@ethosdesignremodel.com.