How to Avoid Fireplace Failures

Inside any fireplace is a firebox—the location where the actual fire blazes. A firebox must be able to withstand high temperatures, which is why most prefabricated fireplaces come with metal firebox inserts. For clients who want a more custom and high-end look, however, other materials are available.

Unfortunately, when the wrong material is used or when fireboxes are designed and installed improperly, failure can occur. By having a better understanding of which materials are best suited for custom fireplaces and how clients should be instructed to use their fireplaces responsibly, it is possible to avoid firebox failure altogether.

Start with the Right Material

While metal is a practical firebox material, it can stick out like a sore thumb—especially on an otherwise beautiful natural stone fireplace. Fortunately, there are some other possibilities that may be worth exploring.

Traditional Fire Brick

Fire brick is a popular choice for fireboxes due to its ability to withstand high temperatures; it is certainly one of the most cost-effective firebox materials available. Traditional firebrick colors are either yellow or red. While readily available, some clients may prefer to go another route, especially if they’re trying to achieve a specific look and feel with a custom fireplace.

Vermont Soapstone

Vermont Soapstone is a popular firebox material that is extremely heat-resistant. This metamorphic rock can be installed in brick format or as a solid slab to achieve a sleek and modern look that a traditional metal or even brick firebox cannot. The important thing to remember with Vermont Soapstone, however, is that it should be installed with a thickness of about 2.5″ in order to be effective in a firebox. Because traditional Vermont Soapstone slabs are usually less than 2″ thick, this is something mason contractors and builders need to be aware of to avoid firebox failure.

What About Natural Stone?

Natural stone can be used as a firebox material, but only under the guidance and expertise of an experienced team of professionals. This includes not just a mason, but the builder and architect as well. Also, Some natural stone can only be used on a firebox when the fireplace construction is being done from scratch; it’s not something that can be done retroactively to “spruce up” an existing fireplace with a different type of firebox.

While a natural stone firebox can achieve a truly beautiful and seamless look on a custom fireplace, there is no overstating the importance of having a team of professionals determine the proper thickness, sizing, and construction of a stone firebox. In nearly every instance of natural stone firebox failure, improper design and/or construction is the culprit.

Build Fires Responsibly

No matter what type of material is used in a firebox, clients should always be urged to use their fireplaces responsibly to cut down on the risk of firebox failure. Both wood-burning and gas fireplaces can be susceptible to failure when clients neglect to build fires slowly and gradually.

This is especially true here in New England, where temperatures can be downright frigid during the winter. When firebox materials (including natural stone) go from extremely cold temperatures to scalding ones, even the hardest and most durable of materials can be susceptible to cracking and failure. As such, clients should be instructed to build fires gradually, allowing the fireplace materials to warm up slowly rather than rapidly.

With the right materials and construction, as well as a little common-sense precaution when building a fire, it is possible to avoid firebox failure and enjoy that beautiful fireplace for years to come.

For more information on building a custom fireplace, contact the team at Connecticut Stone today. We’re here to help you create the interior or exterior fireplace of your dreams.

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