(Above) A condo unit complete with fireplace in Silver Springs, Maryland. Photo obtained from RST Development.
Fireplaces are not just for single family homes. Many high-rise condominiums and rental properties have them, too, though they are vent-free. They provide heat now and higher resale value later. Don DeBat has tussled with them for decades and has some advice.
25-Mar-16 It may be the first week of spring in Chicago, but theres still a bone-chilling wind blowing off Lake Michigan. As a result, at this writers house we cant ignore our addiction to the warm glow of the family room fireplace.
At the end of every day, theres the quiet conversation over a glass of wine while sitting in front of the hearth. Our fireplace was set up as a traditional wood-burning unit, but being carefree urban dwellers we opted for gas logs and the luxury of a remote starter system.
As extravagant as it may sound, we also have a vent-less gas-log fireplace in the living room of this newer North Side home, but we only light it via remote during the holidays or when the temperature falls below 20 degrees.
Hearth purists likely would say a wood-burning fireplace with its ambiance, crackle, and scent is a more romantic option. Most Realtors would agree a fireplace is a coveted and valued feature in todays homes.
According to a 2012 survey, buyers rank fireplaces as one of the three amenities theyd most like in their house. Sixty percent of new homes come with a fireplace, compared with only 36 percent in the 1970s.
Although fireplaces generally are not accounted for specifically in home appraisals, a National Association of Realtors survey reported that 46 percent of home buyers would pay more for a home with at least one fireplace.
||If you own a high-end residence, buyers expect a fireplace and often are willing to pay more for a home with one, said Chicago Realtor Sara Benson (left), president of Benson Stanley Realty. She estimates each working fireplace adds $5,000 to $6,000 to the value of an average home. Thats $10,000 to $12,000 in additional resale value in a dual-fireplace house.
Wood-burning fireplace can be costly headache for novice homeowners
Readers of The Home Front may recall the 2014 column reviewing this writers adventures with hearth and home. In the 1970s, there was a stucco bungalow built in 1911 in the landmarked Irving Park Villa neighborhood. It had a smoky fireplace with a shallow hearth and a broken damper.
That was followed by an English Tudor home built in the 1920s in the Sauganash neighborhood. The home sported a massive stone fireplace in the living room that belched smoke. It needed a new flue liner, damper, and removal of a squirrels nest from the chimney.
Later, a mid-1980s rehab created a skylight-filled loft living space in the attic and installed an energy-efficient, wood-burning fireplace with glass doors and a blower to provide supplemental heating for the house. However, lugging heavy logs up two flights of stairs and hauling ashes down was not fun.
Next was the hearth love affair with the 12-room Italianate Victorian in the Old Town Historic District. Built in 1872, the home featured four amazing fireplaces with glazed ceramic tile. But the old fireplaces couldnt pull a puff of smoke up the chimneys. They needed flue liners, dampers, chimney rebuilding, and logs with modern starters.
|A wood-burning fireplace is expensive, an energy waster, and just plain too much work for the average homeowner, observed Steve Alleyne (right) of FireFixer, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in vent-free service and repair.
First, youve got to buy the logs, which can cost $225 to $300 per cord [1 cord = 4 x 4 x 8 feet] for mixed hardwood or pure hardwood, said Alleyne. Plus, there likely will be delivery and stacking charges.
Once you get the fireplace logs burning, 90 percent of the heat goes up the chimney, said Alleyne, a Chicago firefighter who has worked as a fireplace fixer and installer for two decades.
If the fireplace doesnt have an ash dump, you are left with a mess to clean up, and youll need a professional chimney cleaning every other year to keep combustible creosote at bay, he warned.
Many of these chores can be removed by converting a wood-burning fireplace to a natural gas burner and installing gas logs. A deluxe set of gas logs costs from $750 to $1,500. For push-button lighting, you also can add a variable-thermostatic remote for about $200.
||Another choice is installing a direct-vent fireplace insert, or relining an existing old flue and installing a new damper for chimney venting.
Vent-less most energy-efficient option
The vent-less gas fireplace is the best choice if you want to keep the most heat in the room, Alleyne advised. A vent-less fireplace is 98 percent efficient and can save up to 40 percent on your gas bill.
Vent-less fireplaces are an affordable heat source because the burner is small and it is less expensive than running the furnace full blast during chilly months, FireFixer noted.
Vent-free fireplaces are very popular in high-rise condominiums and rental apartments because no flue or chimney is necessary and these units are much more affordable, said Alleyne.
However, even vent-free fireplaces need an annual cleaning and maintenance check to reduce carbon monoxide emissions, and a professional safety inspection each autumn before the harsh winter months.
Annual cleaning and service is needed to remove dust from the logs and prevent the burner pilot from getting clogged, which could lead to carbon monoxide buildup that sets off your carbon monoxide detector, Alleyne noted.
FireFixer does the job for an inexpensive $145 service call, which includes replacing batteries for remote starters, fresh embers, lava rock, and a seasonal warranty.
Many homeowners have a vent-less fireplace but do not regularly use it because of lack of knowledge. If there is an issue with vent-free gas-log combustion odor, Alleyne recommends burning the gas logs for one hour with a window open at the beginning of the season.