Fire­place facelift

Re­vamp­ing fire­place costly so you bet­ter do it right

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - HOMES - By Samantha Pynn

QUES­TION: Our gas fire­place is mu­cho ugly. Saw on TV that you com­pletely re­vamped a beast. Can you give me the op­tions and costs?

AN­SWER: The “mu­cho ugly” fire­place I ren­o­vated for my clients was orig­i­nally 15 feet wide with two oc­tag­o­nal col­umns and floor-to­ceil­ing brick. We re­duced the size to nine feet wide. You can see the full space in the De­cem­ber 2013 is­sue of Chate­laine (chate­laine.ca).

We could have just painted the brick and in­stalled a gas insert, but when you’re in­vest­ing thou­sands of dol­lars in a fire­place reno, you want to do it once and do it right. You also want to take your time and shop around. The amount of choice on the mar­ket is dizzy­ing.

The one we chose (as shown in the photo) is the di­rect-vent, zero-clear­ance Town & Coun­try fire­place from Fire­place Con­cepts in Toronto. Zero clear­ance means com­bustible ma­te­rial can be placed right up against the unit’s top, back, bot­tom and sides.

“Di­rect-vent, zero-clear­ance fire­places are pre­fab­ri­cated boxes you can place di­rectly onto a wood floor and frame with two-by-four-inch studs,” says Peter Haats of Fire­place Con­cepts, whereas a stan­dard “gas insert, also a pre­fab­ri­cated box, must fit into the con­fines of an ex­ist­ing ma­sonry, wood-burn­ing fire­place cav­ity.”

It’s hard to find a large gas insert be­cause they’re de­signed to fit stan­dard fire­place open­ings of 36 inches wide and 24 inches high; these fit homes built be­tween the 1950s and 1980s. In our case, be­cause the fam­ily room is a gi­ant 25-foot square with 14-foot ceil­ings, we made the open­ing larger. A stan­dard gas insert would have looked like we in­stalled (as Haats de­scribes it) a mini-microwave with a pile of metal trim around it.

The Town & Coun­try fire­place has a clean, un­clut­tered de­sign — void of me­dieval doors, knobs and unattrac­tive grills — and is avail­able in the large sizes. An­other fea­ture is that it pro­duces a large and highly cov­eted rip-roar­ing flame with­out pro­duc­ing too much heat.

Yes, it’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that the higher the BTU (Bri­tish ther­mal unit), the bet­ter. Too much heat in a home that al­ready has a pri­mary gas or ra­di­a­tor heat source can make your home feel like a sauna. (Good, if you want to clear out guests early in the evening.)

The cost of a 32-inch-wide Town & Coun­try model is ap­prox­i­mately $7,500 for a zero-clear­ance model in­clud­ing in­stal­la­tion (though we used one that was 42-by-42-inches). Gas in­serts cost be­tween $3,000 and $5,000 for a 32-inch model in­clud­ing in­stal­la­tion.

Most fire­place man­u­fac­tur­ers re­quire an au­tho­rized dealer to in­stall and vent your gas insert or zero-clear­ance unit or the war­ranty is void.

If you’re start­ing from scratch, you will need draw­ings. Again, when you’re mak­ing a big in­vest­ment, you don’t want to just wing it. I went through hun­dreds of pho­tos and three sets of draw­ings be­fore I was happy.

Even while work­ing in the early stages of con­struc­tion with Janos Nagy, a de­sign­savvy and pa­tient con­trac­tor, we tweaked the width of the pan­elling on site — a few times. In other words, when deal­ing with mill­work or ma­sonry, be there in the early stages. Or, hire a de­signer to be there for you. Do not trust just any­one to do the job.

Last, about cost, I don’t have a straight an­swer. The price de­pends on lo­ca­tion, ma­te­ri­als and de­sign de­tails. Ve­neer stone that goes up like tile will cost less than “a four-inch stone be­cause of in­creased labour costs, and will re­quire a foun­da­tion to bear the weight,” says Haats.

I sur­veyed four con­trac­tors and one stone­ma­son for com­par­a­tive quotes on an eight-by-eight-foot fire­place floor-to-ceil­ing re­vamp. For stone ma­sonry, the cost ranged from $4,000 to $9,000 for labour only. For “sim­ple” floor-to-ceil­ing mill­work, the cost ranged from $5,000 to $11,000 for labour only.

The fire­place here cost $28,000 in­clud­ing de­mo­li­tion, draw­ings, ma­te­ri­als, labour and de­sign fees.

Happy fire­place re­vamp­ing!

The Town & Coun­try fire­place, right, has a clean, un­clut­tered de­sign, void of me­dieval

doors, knobs and unattrac­tive grills.

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