What kind of cover do you have on your fireplace?

If you didn’t immediately know the answer to that question, it’s okay. While we often pay attention to the hearth, the chimney, and the fuel source for our fireplaces, we don’t really give much thought to the protective coverings that keep up safe from the open flames. But these little structures really are important, so let’s take a moment to look over the kinds of covers you’ll find on both wood-burning and gas-powered fireplaces:

Wonderful for Wood

One of the most common kinds of fireplace coverings you’ll see are curtains made of wire-mesh. Wire-mesh curtains (or chain curtains, as they’re sometimes called) are usually hung from a curtain rod inside the fireplace and have knobs at the front so that they can be pulled open or closed. The curtains are designed to catch any embers or sparks that may be spat-out by burning wood when the fireplace is in use. Otherwise, the cinders could easily burn a bystander, damage your property, or start a house fire. Fireplace curtains tend to be tough, but they do get dirty after a while—necessitating either a thorough cleaning or a full replacement.

wire mesh firescreen

In addition to curtains, some wood-burning fireplaces also have moveable glass doors. We’re not talking about the solid glass panes that are present in so many gas fireplaces (but we will discuss those in just a moment); we mean doors made of glass that open and shut like the doors on a pantry or slide into rectangular folds. Some even have magnetic fasteners to help them stay closed. If your wood-burning fireplace is equipped with these kinds of doors, then it’s very important that you remember to keep them open while the fireplace is in use. Glass doors on wood-burning fireplaces aren’t meant to withstand the brunt of a fire’s heat, and they can become damaged or shatter if they’re kept closed inappropriately. Instead, glass doors are for keeping warm air from escaping up and out your chimney when the fireplace is empty. They can also beautify the hearth, making it look a bit “tidier.”

So, to review: if there is something burning in the fireplace, the mesh curtain should be closed, and the glass doors should be open. If there is not something burning in the fireplace, the mesh curtains should be opened, and the glass doors should be closed. Try not to mix these directions up!

Great for Gas

First things first: if your pre-fab gas fireplace came with a fixed glass panel covering access to the gas logs, DO NOT REMOVE THE PANEL YOURSELF! Fireplaces that have these covers were designed to work with the glass in place; it is there as a safety measure its removal can create a serious fire hazard. It is possible to remove the glass without breaking it, and a technician will probably do so during your annual chimney/fireplace inspection. However, “technician” is the operative word, here. Removing, cleaning, and replacing the glass are all best left up to a professional.

(Not all gas fireplaces come pre-installed with glass coverings; some are simply equipped with the same wire-mesh curtains that are often found in wood-burning fireplaces. If that’s the case in your home, our warning in the preceding paragraph doesn’t apply to your fireplace—don’t feel like you have to get a glass screen installed later on!)

Now, despite the fact that gas fireplaces don’t spit out embers the way wood-burning fireplaces do, some gas-burners are equipped with a glass screen AND mesh curtains. There are actually two good reasons for this, and neither of them are “to make the fireplace look more natural.” When gas fireplaces burn, their glass coverings get dangerously hot. The mesh is actually designed to prevent folks (especially young children and animals) from touching the glass and getting burned. Plus, if some freak accident occurs and the fireplace glass shatters due to the fire’s heat, the curtains will help contain the mess.

If you have a gas fireplace with a glass cover but no protective screen, we strongly recommend that you remedy the situation as soon as possible. Either have mesh curtains installed by a professional or simply pick up a free-standing, tri-fold cover the next time you see one at your local home improvement warehouse or furniture store.

When it comes to fireplaces, metal curtains and glass screens aren’t really an “either-or” kind of thing. Whether your fireplace is a gas-burner or a wood-burner, both kinds of covers can work together in harmony to keep your home, property, and family safe from potential fire damage. They just have to be installed (and maintained) correctly in order to do their jobs!

If you have questions about the best cover to use for your hearth, or you suspect that a pane is damaged and in need of replacement, please don’t hesitate to consult with one of our representatives. We’re always happy to point homeowners in the right direction!


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons