What Kind Of Fireplace Do I Have?


With over 20 years in the hearth industry, we get one question more than any other—“What have I got?” or “Is this a factory-built fireplace or a wood stove insert?” or “Is this a gas log set or a gas fireplace” or “It looks like a wood burning fireplace, is it?” No one in our industry intentionally set out to create a set of descriptions that lack clarity and uniformity, but that’s how it ended up. We’re here to help!

Masonry vs. Factory-built Fireplaces

This is the interior of a masonry fireplace during the installation of a wood burning insert.
This is the interior of a masonry fireplace during the installation of a wood burning insert.

Determining whether you have a masonry fireplace or a factory-built unit can be confusing. Both types can have steel fireboxes and both can have fire bricks lining the inside of the firebox; however, there are a few ways to tell what you have. If you see an orange or gray ceramic flue tile at the top of your chimney, then you have a masonry fireplace. Most masonry fireplaces in Colorado have a steel damper that pivots forward and back via a lever inside the firebox. If you find a round steel pipe sticking up at the top, then you probably have a factory built fireplace.

This newly installed factory-built fireplace is a great example of a wood burner installation.
This newly installed factory-built fireplace is a great example of a wood burner installation.

Fireplace vs. Insert

To be an insert, a hearth appliance must be designed for installation inside a firebox that was built to burn cordwood.

This may be the toughest one for a homeowner to distinguish. While we do “insert” a factory built fireplace into the wall during installation, these appliances are different from “inserts.” An insert fits into an existing firebox that previously burned cordwood. A built-in fireplace commonly has a region of black metal around the firebox – and so does a wood stove insert. If you find that the black panel around the fireplace can move, then you probably have an insert.

Gas Fireplace vs. Gas Logs

Much like factory-built wood burners, hearth appliance installers frame gas fireplaces into the wall. This is distinguished from a gas log set, which we install in a wood burning fireplace. This choice is even more confusing when you add in the difference between natural vent gas fireplaces and direct vent gas fireplaces. A couple of key tell-tale signs: if your appliance terminates horizontally, it can only be a direct vent gas appliance, not gas logs. If there is sand under the logs and you have to reach into the firebox to turn the burner on, then it’s a gas log set.

Our certified technicians installed this beautiful Mendota FV46 Gas fireplace in Fairplay, CO.
Our certified technicians installed this beautiful Mendota FV46 gas fireplace in Fairplay, CO.

Lined or Unlined Wood Stove Insert

Since 1984, the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 has required wood stove inserts installations to have a pipe running at least up into the bottom of the chimney and it has recommended that a steel chimney liner (a pipe inside the chimney) run continuously from the stove exhaust up to the top of the chimney. If you have a liner that runs all the way up, it’s correct. If your chimney isn’t lined, we will remove the insert from the firebox during sweeping operations to remove the soot and creosote from the flue.

Chimney vs. Vents

Wood burning chimney systems meet a higher standard and degree of protection than vents. Gas and pellet venting cannot properly vent a wood burning fireplace, stove or insert. However, nearly all chimneys are adaptable for venting a gas or pellet appliance.

For more fireplace & chimney help, call us!

With this information, you should be better able to determine what kind of hearth appliance you have. If you still have questions, feel free to reach out or to schedule a chimney sweeping and inspection. For all of your fireplace and chimney safety needs, schedule with us via our website, call us today at (303) 679-1601, or email us at Office@MtnHP.com. Semper Fi!

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