Common Fireplace Terms

wood burning fireplace

Many homeowners the Washington DC Metro area want to enjoy the increased value and comfort from having a fireplace installed.  Unfortunately, the wide selection of fireplace options available today, can make this a confusing process.  One of the sources of this confusion is understanding fireplace terms.   It is hard to make the right fireplace decision if you do not know understand the terms that are being used by your fireplace supplier and installer.

Local fireplace and chimney installation companies like ours will help you select the best products for your particular installation. This guide will help you find a quick definition to many of the terms that are frequently used by installers. This guide will give you a clear understanding of common fireplace terms but will not cover chimney repair terms that were covered in our previous article concerning chimney repair terms.

Fireplace Terms from A to Z

AFUE — Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, a measurement used for rating wall heaters and furnaces as an official heat source.

Ash Pan — A metal tray designed to catch and hold ashes falling from solid fuel fires for easier cleaning of the fireplace.

Air Vent — A small vent in the wall sometimes needed for gas fireplaces.

Agean Limestone — limestone from the Agean region of the Mediterranean, highly valued for its density and often used in fireplaces and surrounds.

Andiron/Bars/Dogs/Firedogs — decorative iron bars that hold logs or coal and help air flow to the  fire.

B Vent/Natural Draft Appliance — a system without a sealed combustion chamber that uses a single wall flue to vent.

Bellows — a device for blowing a controlled blast of air to stoke a fire.

Blue Flame Rectification — safety shut-off controlling and maintaining gas flow.

BTU — British Thermal Unit, used to measure heat.

Builders Opening — the precisely measured hole in the wall or chimney breast where the fireplace will go.

Burner — device containing orifice, mixing tube, and burner head where gas and air can safely combust.

Burner Ports — holes in a gas burner where gas/air comes out.

Carbon Dioxide — gas produced by complete combustion.

Catalytic Combuster — a device used to reduce the temperature at which smoke is ignited.

Casting/Cast Iron/Brass/Steel — the process where molten iron, brass, or steel is poured into a mold to produce solid pieces.

Chenet — one-piece unit to hold logs similar to an andiron, connected by a fender across the front, commonly just inside the firebox.

Clearview — fireplace with glass doors for viewing flames.

Combination Fireplace — unit with attached shelf needing no separate surround.

Carrara Marble — popular marble prized for its natural veining.

Carbon Monoxide — the poisonous gas product of incompletely burning fuels that should be safely vented in all installations by a certified professional.

Clearance — the measured space required by law to keep combustible surfaces a safe distance from fireplaces and other heat-producing units.

Ceramic Fiber Back — lightweight fireback used in tiled gas fireplaces to reflect heat into the room.

Decorative Gas Fire — appliance with living flame used for decorative purposes rather than heating.

Electric Insert — used where there is no chimney to simulate a heat-producing fire of coal or wood.

Electronic Ignition — installed electronic device for lighting a fire.

Emissions — by-products of combustion.

EPA Regulations — federal rules mandating emissions from wood burning appliances.

Fender — the low metal guard at the front of an open fireplace that keeps the burning logs or coal from falling into the room.

Fire Back/Fireback — the panel at the back of the fireplace designed to reflect heat into the room and protect the firebrick in the chimney.

Fireplace Insert — a unit designed to fit behind pre-built surround used with solid fuel, gas, or electric.

Fire Basket — a free standing device holding burning solid fuel.

Fire Box/Firebox — space where the fire actually burns.

Fire Stops — noncombustible devices sealing openings between floors to stop smoke & fire from spreading.

Fireguard/Firescreen — device preventing sparks from escaping fireplace and young children from reaching fire.

Fireplace Surround — decorative material (wood, brick, stone, tile, etc.) on the wall around the fireplace opening.

Free Standing Fireplace/Stove — compact appliance that sits away from the wall, normally on legs or a pedestal.  

Front-view Fireplace — traditional fireplace built into the wall.

Gas Cock Assembly/Valve Control — combination valve controlling supply of gas to the fireplace.

Gas Insert — a gas-burning unit installed into an existing fireplace. This is a popular option for gas fireplace installation

Gas Log — simulated logs and frame creating an open gas flame in a fireplace.

Glass Doors — a device used to close the opening of the hearth and keep heat from escaping through the chimney.

Grate — cast iron or steel frame holding the burning fuel.

Grate Polish/Black Lead/Zebo — traditional polish used on cast iron stoves and fireplaces.

Hearth — traditionally refers to the floor of the fireplace and non-combustible shelf in front of it but now also refers to all devices and equipment connected to the fireplace/stove industry.

Kindling — small pieces of dry wood that easily ignite to start a fire.

LP/LPG — Liquified Petroleum Gas, separated from wet natural gas, light crude oil, and oil-refinery gas into a colorless, odorless, non-toxic gas.

Manifold Pressure — amount of wc inches supported by various types of gas.

Mantel — Shelf above the fireplace or ornamental facing surrounding the opening.  Many people like to decorate their mantels

Multi-fuel — appliances designed to burn a variety of fuels.

Multi-view — fireplace offering multiple sides for viewing the fire.

NG/Natural Gas — colorless, highly flammable gas with high energy value.

Oxygen Depletion Sensors — safety devices detecting dangerous lack of oxygen, triggering shut off of appliance.

Pellets — man-made solid fuel designed for specific appliances.  Pellets are ofen used in pellet stoves.  

Piezo Starter — red button placing pressure on the crystal of a standing pilot system.

Pilot — small flame used to ignite gas at the burner.

Propane — a type of petroleum gas (LPG) in liquid form, also can be found in gas or vapor form.

PSI — pounds per square inch

Safety Pilot/Standing Pilot System — a safety device stopping the flow of gas to the appliance until needed and providing a small flame to ignite the main burner.

Seasoned Wood — fuel wood that has dried 6-12 months for optimum use.

Simulated Embers — a non-combustible decorative feature that looks like burning coals.

Solid Fuel — wood, coal, or pellet fuel that must be used in a unit designed for the particular fuel.

Spark Arrestor — a screen in front of the fireplace opening that keeps sparks inside, also the mesh placed on top of the chimney for the same purpose.

Spillage — dangerous backup of flue gasses into the building.

Spill Switch — a device used to detect spillage of flue gas.

Therm — a unit of heating value equal to 100,000 BTUs.

Thermo Sensor — automatic control of blower based on temperature.

Unvented/Vent Free — an appliance theoretically designed to burn so efficiently it needs no venting.

Wall Thermostat — electrical switch with sensors to maintain temperature by turning heat sources on or off.

WC/Water Column — unit of measurement of gas pressure: 28 wcs are in one pound of PSI..

When you are selecting a new fireplace for your home, be sure you understand what the salesman and installers are talking about. This list should help, but when in doubt, ask for an explanation of any term that is confusing. A professional in the fireplace industry should be able to answer all your questions before you decide which fireplace is best for you and your family. 




Gas Fireplace Installation Guide

gas fireplace installation guide

More and more homeowners in the Washington DC Metro Area are requesting our services to have a gas fireplace installed.  A gas fireplace is a great investment for your home. It brings immediate charm and utility to a room in the form of attractive flames and warmth. It doesn’t need the labor of wood burning because it can simply be turned on. No cutting and storing wood, no cleaning up after a wood fire. Gas fireplaces add to the resale value of the home if installed correctly.  Fortunately, you can gas fireplaces can even be installed in homes that do not have a chimney.

Gas fireplaces have many benefits.  Gas fireplaces are amazing, but it should never be approached as a DIY project. It takes an expert to know which models will be best for the location, how to get the fuel (natural gas or propane) safely to the appliance, and what to do about the combustion gas that those attractive flames produce.  Even though gas fireplaces should be installed by professionals, it is important for homeowners to understand what is involved in installing a gas fireplace. Here is all of the basic info a homeowner will need to make an educated decision about their gas fireplace installation. 

How Gas Fireplaces Are Installed

  • Once the location and model of the gas fireplace are decided, the mechanics of installation come into play:
  • Permits must be obtained & inspections planned for
  • Building codes & the appliance manual must be checked for clearance requirements
  • Gas supply lines must be laid properly
  • Electrical circuits must be run if necessary
  • Venting must be planned according to specific requirements

Key points to look for in venting requirements are found in your municipality’s building codes and the manufacturer’s installation manual. These points include things like:

  • Distance the vent’s cap must be kept from windows, doors, corners, etc. are required because the gas being exhausted shouldn’t drift back inside
  • Number of bends in the vent pipes and ratio of vertical/horizontal lengths affect the passage of combustion gas
  • Distance from combustibles like insulation or framing might require heat shielding for fire safety

Once the gas, venting, and any electrical lines are in place, most localities require an inspection before the installation can continue. After approval, the process continues:

  • Fireplace platform is built and put into place, making sure it is level
  • Venting is sealed to the outside of the house and capped if not done previously
  • Electric and gas lines are attached and checked for safety
  • Clearances are double-checked before building in the unit

The homeowner decides how the surround of the new gas fireplace will look. Some people like a traditional fireplace look with a mantel. Others like a sleek modern wall with no protruding shelf. There are many ways to finish off this project once the basic gas fireplace is professionally installed. Most installers will include this step in their process. Be sure to take a moment to read this article detailing a  gas fireplace installation that we recently completed. 

What To Look For In An Installer

It’s a good idea to do some research before picking someone to install your gas fireplace. If the provider of the unit also does installations, that is a good place to start. Look for these things:

  • Check their website and see what previous jobs look like
  • Look for credentials like BBB (Better Business Bureau) ratings and reviews from locals
  • Look for NFI and CSIA certifications
  • See if they offer a free consultation for the project
  • Ask for clear terms in the project proposal and make sure you understand everything

There are strict standards for both NFI and CSIA certifications. NFI is the National Fireplace Institute and indicates competence in these areas:

  • Compliance with code regulations and manufacturer instructions
  • Familiar with size, type, and features of various hearth appliances
  • Use of proper materials for heat protection of walls and floors
  • Aware of requirements for size, type, configuration, and height of venting system
  • Able to select proper fuel 
  • Familiar with the guidelines for operation and maintenance of the hearth system

Someone with NFI certification will have an ID card in their wallet and should be a knowledgeable professional able to answer your questions and make recommendations for a safe gas fireplace installed in your preferred location.

CSIA is the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Certification from CSIA indicates the professional is qualified to safely maintain chimneys. If your gas fireplace installation will be utilizing an existing chimney, make sure there is a CSIA certified professional involved.

You can find additional tips for hiring an installer here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gas Fireplace Installation

  • Will this gas fireplace work in a power outage? A standing pilot system is self-contained and will work even when there is no electricity. An electronic system will need to have dedicated wiring in place and will not work without electricity.
  • Can I just use my existing chimney? Maybe. Modern appliances need modernized chimneys or incomplete combustion and/or water condensation will cause corrosion problems. A CSIA-certified installer will be able to assess your chimney and tell you what will be needed to make it useable.  In many cases a gas fireplace insert can be installed in an existing fireplace opening. 
  • I don’t have a chimney, is this going to be a problem? No. There are many modern gas fireplaces that do not need a traditional chimney.  In fact, the flexibility of location means a gas fireplace can enhance almost any room in the house.
  • Does the need for a vent limit location of a gas fireplace? A qualified installer can be amazingly creative in designing venting options for a challenging location because the installer is familiar with the building codes and the safety factors in venting different models. Ask about the possibilities and ask for estimates on cost because simpler installations will take less time.
  • Can I go with a ventless gas fireplace? These fireplaces are designed to “safely” put combustion gasses and moisture back into the room where they are being used. They are illegal in many communities because of the potential safety hazards. If a licensed installer has deemed it impossible to use any other type of installation, make sure it is legal in your location and your home insurance company allows it. Be aware that it could affect the resale value of your home because potential buyers may be wary of ventless installations.
  • Will I like the location of my gas fireplace in real life? A good way to judge whether a gas fireplace will be where you want it is to make a cardboard box the same size as the potential fireplace and place it exactly where you are thinking it will go. This way you can move it around if you don’t like the original plan, but keep installation requirements like building codes, venting, and gas lines in mind.
  • How much will it cost to use a gas fireplace? National averages put the cost of a gas fireplace using 27,000 BTUs per hour will cost between 12-15 cents each hour but it’s a good idea to check the rates for your particular fireplace model and your area’s energy rates. Most homeowners report a reduction of fuel consumption and lower energy bills after installing a gas fireplace.
  • Can I control the heat output of a gas fireplace? Some styles will use fans to push heat into the room or the home’s heat circulation system if desired (but not in a power outage). If this is a feature you want in your gas fireplace, choose a model that has the ability to control how much heat comes into the room. Many have thermostats that can be set for temperature control.
  • Do I need a permit to install a gas fireplace? Probably. Since installing a gas fireplace involves things that affect safety, most municipalities insist on permits and installation by professionals. Most home insurance companies do, too. 
  • How much maintenance does a gas fireplace need? Most professional installers also offer maintenance because yearly inspections and cleanings are essential for continued safe operation. Follow the manual’s guidelines for your particular model and select an installer who will also provide this service.

A gas fireplace is a great addition to your home. There are many options to explore and the perfect gas fireplace is worth taking the time to find the best choice for your particular location and an installer you can trust.   Be sure to visit our gas fireplace installation services page to learn more about what we have to offer.

How to paint your fireplace surround

fireplace surround

Painting a fireplace has the potential to improve the esthetics of a room dramatically. During the hot, humid summers, homeowners in the Washington DC Metro Area tend not to use their fireplaces.  The lack of use makes the summer the ideal time to paint their fireplaces.  Painting has the affect of giving your fireplace a facelift.  Many of our Washington DC fireplace repair customers paint their fireplace surround after getting their fireplace fixed.  You can find additional ways to beautify your fireplace and hearth here. 

note:  These instructions are for painting the exterior fireplace surround.  You must follow a different process for painting inside the fireplace firebox.

Get the right paint supplies for your fireplace surround

There are some supplies that you will need to paint your fireplace. This includes some safety equipment such as gloves and safety goggles. You should also get such things as:

paint rollerPaint roller

Oil Based Primer

fireplace paint
Indoor Latex Paint

fireplace drop cloth
Drop Cloth

fireplace paint brush
Small Paint Brush

Painters Tape

Step 1: Check out the Surrounding Materials

You want to be sure you paint the right materials around your fireplace. Materials such as limestone, river rock, and sandstone can be painted, but it’s going to be harder to change the color once you go through with it.

It’s best if you have a brick surround.

Step 2: Prepare the Surface

The paint isn’t going to adhere to the surface very well if it’s dirty. This means you need to have some TSP (trisodium phosphate) that doesn’t create suds as well as a wire scrub brush to do some cleaning. Be sure you wear your safety goggles and gloves while you’re doing all of the cleaning.

Clean all of the brick with the wire brush and TSP and then wash with a heavy-duty cleaner. From there, let it all dry before you tape off the areas you want to keep unpainted.

Step 3: Prime Your Brick

It’s important to prime your brick so you don’t experience soot stains on the paint later on. An oil-based primer that is stain blocking should be applied to the entire surface. Follow the instructions on the can to ensure that you are adhering to manufacturer specifications.

You should also have a drop cloth down so that primer doesn’t damage your floors as you work.

Step 4: Start Painting

Allow plenty of time for the primer to dry before you start to paint. You can choose any kind of indoor latex paint – gloss, semigloss, or flat. This is a personal preference, though many people opt for a semigloss or flat. Just be sure that the paint is capable of withstanding temperatures of at least 200°F. If you decide to paint your mantle, you could always choose to go with a glossier version up there.

The roller you choose should be designed for textured surfaces. It will allow you to get into all of the nooks and crannies of the brick. You are only painting the outside of the fireplace. If you want to paint the interior of the firebox, you will need a special heat-resistant paint.

With the right supplies and some patience, you can have a great looking fireplace. Follow the instructions on all of the paints and primers you buy, too, so that there are no safety issues.  Many homeowners touch up the paint on the fireplace every year after their annual chimney sweep.

4 Significant reasons to install a gas fireplace

gas fireplace installation

We recently had a customer in Silver Spring, MD ask us about the benefits of installing a gas fireplace.   There are many benefits to installing a gas fireplace in your home.   If you don’t have a fireplace or a chimney, you may want to consider this option. Gas fireplaces do not require a chimney for installation, and instead, utilize direct-vent technology, meaning a pipe unit runs outdoors through the side of your house. This is a very common option for homes in needing fireplaces in Washington DC.  The lack of a chimney eliminates mortar related chimney repairs.   Those who currently have a masonry wood-burning fireplace may want to consider a gas fireplace.  As a professional company that installs fireplaces, we install gas and wood burning fireplaces.  However, wood-burning fireplaces can be converted to a gas fireplace insert, and they offer many advantages over the latter. 

Compared to wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces have many benefits:

  • Gas fireplaces provide a more efficient and consistent heat supply.
  • They eliminate the hassle of dealing with firewood and smoke.
  • They can reduce your fuel consumption and annual energy bills.
  • They can improve your home’s resale value. 

More Efficient and Consistent Heat Supply:

Gas fireplaces offer a much higher level of efficiency and consistency compared to wood-fueled masonry fireplaces. Since they are thermostatically controlled, you have total control over the degree of warmth they provide. You don’t have to deal with getting your fireplace started and adding logs when the flames are not producing enough heat. Instead, you can enjoy a steady and consistent heat supply. 

Gas Fireplaces are Less Hassle:

Convenience is another advantage to gas fireplaces. After a gas fireplace is installed, you don’t ever have to worry again about dealing with dirty firewood and smoke. There’s no more need to chop, store or haul firewood.   You can also safely maintain your gas fireplace with ease.  Read this article about gas fireplace safety. 

Reduce Fuel Consumption and Yearly Heating Bills:

In addition to involving less hassle, gas fireplaces can also reduce your fuel consumption and annual heating bills. The concept of “zone heating” is useful when it comes to talking about gas fireplaces. Whereas a central heating unit heats your whole home, with a gas fireplace, you can utilize zone heating, meaning you only heat the room when it’s occupied, in turn, reducing your total fuel consumption. 

Here is an example of how zone heating might look like in practice. Typically, once the homeowner has decreased the temperature on the central thermostat, he or she will use their gas fireplace to heat their living room or family room (the areas of the home they are spending a majority of the time). This has the benefit of keeping those rooms warm while decreasing the money devoted to heating other rooms. Also, gas fireplaces are good at heating your home during moderate weather, thus providing an excellent alternative to using central heat during this time, which would be more expensive. According to some studies, you could enjoy energy savings as high as 20 to 40% by heating individual rooms using a gas fireplace and turning off your central heating system. 

Gas Fireplaces Improve Your Home’s Resale Value:

Finally, it’s important to view a gas fireplace as an investment, which can improve the resale value of your home. Gas fireplaces typically pay for themselves, according to Marshall & Swift, which provides the appraisal industry with cost data on residential and commercial properties. According to their appraiser’s handbook, when selling a home, a homeowner can plan to recoup nearly 91% of what it cost to add their direct vent gas fireplace.

Gas fireplaces offer many advantages. This recent fireplace installation is a good example of how a fireplace can beautify your home. They can be installed in homes with or without chimneys.  It’s also possible to convert a wood-burning fireplace to a gas fireplace insert, something a professional fireplace installation company can easily do. For those currently considering a gas fireplace, it is important to remember their many benefits: a consistent heat supply, less hassle, reduction to your energy bills and, finally, an improvement in your home’s resale value. 

Feel free to visit our fireplace installation page to learn more about gas fireplace installation.  You can find info here.

Choosing between Fireplaces vs Fireplace Inserts

 gas fireplace insert

Imagine snuggling up to a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night or hanging stockings across the mantle during the holidays.  A fireplace can add a sense of contentment and style, not to mention warmth and comfort.  Many homes in the Washington DC Metro Area have beautiful fireplaces.  Many homeowners contract with companies like ours for fireplace installation.  Whether they are considering upgrading an existing fireplace or installing a new fireplace in a home that does not have one, many homeowners find themselves choosing between installing fireplaces and installing a fireplace insert.  There are a lot of things to consider when deciding between a fireplace and an insert. 

 Cost and Maintenance Are Important Factors

It is usually more costly to install a fireplace.  However, many people like the look and comfort offered by a traditional fireplace. Traditional fireplaces are usually made of brick or stone and contain a flue and chimney.  While they look beautiful, these open hearths can be costly to install and challenging to maintain. 
If your home does not already have a chimney, building a fireplace will require a major renovation. First, a cavity must be created, then the chimney built and proper ventilation installed. That doesn’t include the indoor structure and mantle, which itself can add thousands onto the project budget. 

The Classic Look of Traditional Fireplaces
traditional open fireplace







Traditional Fireplaces have a classic look that many people find irresistible.  Inserts are more efficient.  However, in some homes, the modern design of fireplace inserts can conflict with the furniture and décor of the home.  We see this often in homes in historic areas in Washington DC such as Georgetown.  A fireplace insert can look modern to the level that they look out of place in the room.

Fireplace Inserts Offer a Good Alternative

What if you already have a traditional fireplace that needs significant repairs, but cannot afford to rebuild it? Consider a fireplace insert. These beautifully designed metal boxes are an excellent way to salvage an already built fireplace, by allowing you to have a similar look and feel of a traditional fireplace with lower installation and maintenance costs.  They also tend to be significantly more energy efficient.

pellet stove insert
Pellet Stove Fireplace Insert

If you want a more traditional look and feel for your fireplace, a pellet insert may be the answer. This allows you to burn pellets in the hearth giving you the look of real flames and even the smell of burning wood.

gas fireplace insert
Gas Fireplace Insert

Those who want a low-maintenance option may want to consider a gas fireplace insert. This gives the look of a real fire without the inconvenience of collecting, storing and carrying wood.  It also eliminates messy cleanup.  Simply flick a switch and flames appear. Turn it off when you are done and walk away.  You can find an article that reviews the benefits of a gas fireplace in further detail here.  You may also want to look at this previously completed project. 

Avantages of Fireplace Inserts

* Low Cost: Costing only a few hundred dollars, inserts are a low-cost way to add style to any room.
* Faster Installation: Can be completed in half the time of rebuilding a fireplace. 
* Stylish:  Modern inserts offer a more trendy look than a traditional fireplace presents.
* Can Be Placed Almost Anywhere:  Inserts can also be installed in smaller spaces since they don’t need the same clearances as their wood-burning counterparts. 

Which fireplace option is best for you?

When considering adding a fireplace to your home ask yourself these important questions:

  • What kind of look am I after?
  • Does my home already have a chimney?
  • What’s the difference in the cost?
  • How much maintenance am I willing to handle?

Fireplaces add comfort and style to any room. Whether you choose an open-air hearth or an insert is simply a matter of taste and cost. Both look beautiful and can give you years of enjoyment.