Dancing flames, crackling logs, and a warm glow throughout the room; the ancient pleasure of the fireplace is unmistakeably romantic. Not only do they provide the function of warming your cottage, they provide an ambience that is de rigeur in cottage country. With their symbolic meaning, fireplaces are such a cherished detail in Muskoka that the value of a cottage will be diminished without one.
Image: A Muskoka stone fireplace
There are a wide variety of both form and function decisions that must be made when considering a flame source for your cottage. You can have a stove or fireplace, and it can be fired by wood, pelletts, propane, gas, or electricity. If you choose a wood burning fireplace, it can be a tradititional masonry design or an engineered fireplace.
Modern stoves are highly efficient, take up a smaller space, and provide a wide range of beautifully crafted choices that use wood, propane, pellets or electricity as their flame source. Stoves are a significantly less expensive choice than a fireplace to install. It is important to have a stove professionally installed by someone with WETT qualification so that you have a certificate for insurance purposes. (This is not the case with electrical units which can plug in anywhere and can be a fun choice in a bathroom close to a tub or Jacuzzi.) The walls behind the stove must be properly protected commensurate with the accompanying instructions, and there usually has to be a suitably large fireproof hearth in front of the unit, especially if it is wood burning.
Fireplaces can burn wood, propane, gas or electricity.
The traditional Muskoka wood burning masonry fireplaces are massive structures of brick and mortor which can weigh six or seven tons. They are expensive to build, but long lasting. With proper maintenance a masonry fireplace can last more than a lifetime. Part of what makes them so expensive is that they require a huge footing which will support their weight to ensure that no settling or cracking occurs.
A masonry fireplace is built on site, brick by brick, and the quality of the final product is entirely dependent on the skill of the person constructing it. It is important to use quality materials and to have a effective chimney cover to keep the crown in good repair and to be a source of waterproofing.
A masonry fireplace is a huge source of heat loss in the winter months as the chimney is a funnel which draws heat from the room. This heat loss occurs whether the fireplace is burning or not. Convection takes the smoke straight up the chimney and most of the heat with it. As the fire burns down, the heat in the room that is produced by your furnace also disappears up the chimney.
Engineered fireplaces look similar to masonry fireplaces except that they are prefabricated in a factory to rigid standards and have a high efficiency closer to that of a wood stove. They are made of metal and are very lightweight, making them able to be installed with only minor beefing up of —- under the spot where they are desired. The firebox is lined with ceramic panels that resemble firebrick, increasing its similarity in appearance to a masonry fireplace. Because they are prefabricated, the quality of each unit is identical and there is less chance of getting a finished product that does not function well.
Engineered fireplaces consist of a fireplace and chimney which are engineered to go together and therefore must be installed together, along with the specified flashing, raincap, and other mandated components. The installation must be made by a professional within the recommended clearances and setbacks. Some engineered fireplaces are called zero clearance which means they can be set close to combustible materials. This means they can go almost anywhere you would like a fireplace in your cottage. Some engineered fireplaces can be joined to your ductwork so that excess heat created by the fireplace can be distributed throughout the entire cottage with a built in fan, rather than making one room too hot through the high efficiency.
The lifetime of an engineered fireplace is shorter than that of a well built masonry fireplace. These prefabricated units will eventually wear out and will have to be replaced with a new unit. The cost of doing this will include dismantling and rebuilding some stonework or whatever material your surround is constructed from. However during their lifetime they will not rob your cottage of heat as a masonry fireplace will and will be an excellent alternative heat source during power failures.
Functionally it is important to have a fireplace that draws well. The height of the chimney is the main culprit of a chimney that does not draw well. When a chimney does not draw well lighting a fire is not easy and puffs of smoke are sucked into the room when you open the door to put another log on the fire. Having your installer put another extension on the chimney could solve the problem.
Image: A riverstone fireplace
There are many different ways in which you can construct the fireplace surround. Stone is likely the most common choice of material used in Muskoka. There are many kinds colours and designs of stonework to choose from. Muskoka granite is popular, as is river stone. A combination of stone with wood is another common choice.
Be aware when choosing a fireplace surround for an engineered fireplace what effect the design of the engineered unit will have on the look of your final product. For instance the Opal engineered fireplace has a spot above the door and below the vent where stone can be applied, giving it a less vertical appearance than other styles of prefabricated units.
If you plan on having a hearth on which you can sit, remember that this will raise the level at which your mantel will need to be installed. If you have standard eight foot six inch ceilings, there will not be enough room left over the mantel for you to hang a picture. If you do not have some level of hearth, the fire box will be close to the floor and more difficult for you to see from a seated position. Finding the best height for the hearth is a factor you should consider and measure out carefully. If you plan on having a hearth high enough to use as seating, you may want to consider putting warm floor heating coils in it so that is not cold to sit on.
If you plan on hanging a television over the fireplace, make sure you check out all the factors regarding setbacks from the heat source recommended for the television you are purchasing.
The television and the fireplace fight for the centre of interest in the room. Give careful consideration to the placement of both of these important features so that the final result is one that suits your lifestyle.
The gallery of fireplace pictures is to give you ideas and a starting point in the design of your fireplace.