Hometown Lawrence: Fireplace can warm a home in more ways than one

A fireplace can add ambiance to the living area of a home.

Few things take the chill off a winter evening than the warmth and ambiance of a crackling fire. If you have a working wood-burning fireplace, there are steps you need to take to ensure it will continue to provide warmth to your home.

First, have it inspected and cleaned by a professional at least once a year. Also, make sure your chimney cap is in good shape so it can keep rain and small animals from getting inside. Then, when picking wood to burn, choose hardwoods like maple, oak, ash and birch, which burn both hot and long with less creosote buildup.

Perhaps the most important step is to keep an eye on the inside of your chimney for creosote and soot buildup. Creosote is the dark matter that is a fire hazard and needs to be cleaned up with a creosote remover or by a professional. Soot is also flammable and should be cleaned out regularly.

If your home doesn’t have a fireplace, or it has one that is no-longer safe to use, there are alternatives. Vented and vent-free gas fireplaces, as well as electric versions, can give a room the wood-burning ambiance of a standard fireplace where one doesn’t exist. The benefits to an alternative fireplace include no need to haul wood and no messy clean-up of ashes, soot, and creosote. Also, unlike a wood-burning fireplace that must be watched until it cools down, these fireplaces are turned off with a switch. Just close the doors and go to bed.

Vented gas fireplaces, also called direct vent, are the most popular. They can be inserted into an existing fireplace or in a factory-built fireplace box. They look the most natural and cost the least to install, with the vent going up an existing chimney or piped out of the side of the building.

Vent-free fireplaces are designed to heat a room. No vent is required because they have a hot flame that burns almost all of the fuel, which results in less carbon monoxide and soot. These gas logs can be installed inside an existing fireplace or in a special firebox made to look like one. It’s a good idea to keep a window slightly opened when in use to allow fresh air inside, never leave the unit burning unattended, and make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order.

Electric fireplaces can go anywhere. They are designed more for ambiance than for producing heat, though some units can heat the immediate surrounding area. Some are designed to be installed inside an existing fireplace, while others come inside a cabinet built to look like a fireplace, complete with a mantel.

Hometown Lawrence

Hometown Lawrence is the Lawrence Journal-World’s real estate resource section and website. For more information on area real estate listings, go to HometownLawrence.com.