Hearth and soul: the kitchen fireplace

Gina Pogol

Consider including a historic component in your next kitchen remodel -- the fireplace. Hearth cooking's meditative pace delivers rich flavors, heavenly aromas and aesthetic appeal.

Burning questions

Before choosing a kitchen fireplace, pin down your reason(s) for wanting one. Whether it's to restore authenticity to a historic old house, channel Grandma with actual slow-food-movement cooking, or add a stunning focal point and cozy crackle to your dining area, you might be craving a wood-burning fireplace. That requires a substantial commitment -- wood-burning fireplaces take up more space, and you'll have to store wood and perhaps cut it as well. If you just want a cheery glow while you eat your breakfast, a direct-vent or vent-free gas fireplace could meet your needs easily and inexpensively.

The direct-vented reproduction fireplace

Unless you're charging people to tour your home, absolute slavery to authenticity is probably silly. Colonial homes in America were quite small and their kitchen fireplaces were often huge and inefficient, as you can see from the kitchen in George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.

Mt. Vernon kitchen fireplace

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, [LC-D4-500545]

Hearths were over-sized to allow room for the turnspit dogs that American colonists needed to run on a conveyor and keep their meat turning over the flames.

You can achieve a nice cozy (canine-free!) effect with little fuss by installing a direct-vented fireplace. They're self-contained, and require no foundation. These modern reproduction fireplaces vent horizontally out the nearest sidewall. No chimney is needed, and they're sealed to prevent carbon monoxide leakage.

Two- and three-sided fireplaces are ideal for folks who want to simultaneously enhance their kitchen and dining room or family room. For purely decorative purposes, electric units are appropriate; if you want heat, you'll need gas or propane.

The vent-free reproduction fireplace

Vent-free fireplaces are even easier and less expensive to install, Again, gas and propane fireplaces throw heat, and electric ones don't. With no venting at all, these units discharge minimal carbon monoxide.

Plan carefully -- a gas installation may be great for a large dining room, but the heat-free electric variety could be more appropriate for your cooking area. Remember the saying, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen?" The first person to say that may have had a vent-free, gas fireplace!

The wood-burning kitchen fireplace

If you plan to do serious cooking over a wood fire, install a kitchen fireplace with a raised firebox -- unless you like cooking on your hands and knees -- and a relatively generous hearth. Or abandon the fireplace idea in favor of a "new-fangled" wood-burning kitchen stove.

Wood-burning kitchen fireplaces require adequate space, ventilation, fireproofing and a lot of planning. Find out your local height requirement for chimneys -- how many feet above the roof-line it must be. If your kitchen's on the ground floor of a multi-story home, you'll need a taller, heavier (and more expensive) chimney. Your new fireplace will probably require its own foundation if you go with traditional masonry. If you don't mind a modern solution, newer alternatives like volcanic rock are light, can incorporate metal chimneys and don't require new foundations.

Finding a kitchen fireplace installer

Find a contractor online or through your local fireplace/stove retailer. Wood-burning fireplaces are definitely not DIY projects. In addition, many local governments prohibit or restrict the use of wood for heating or cooking; for example, you may be allowed a wood-burning stove or insert, but not a full-fledged fireplace. An expert kitchen remodeling contractor in your area should know what you can and cannot do.

About the Author
Gina Pogol loves writing about personal finance, career and lifestyle topics. She has a BS in Financial Management from the University of Nevada.

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