Is your chimney looking old and tired? Would you like to transform your wood-burning fireplace into a gas-burning one or vice-versa? Did you move into a house with no chimney and fireplace but are now wishing that you had them?
There are several reasons that homeowners may find themselves in the market for a completely new fireplace and chimney combo. And in these cases, metal prefabricated (prefab) chimneys and fireplaces are often a much more practical choice than their masonry “cousins.” Instead of being built directly into the structure of a home, prefabs are built off-site and then assembled and installed into an existing space.
Prefabs can be a great way to save time and money, but they’re not the best solution in every situation. Before you throw yourself into the task of shopping for an entirely new fireplace and chimney, here are three things to think about:
Prefabs Don’t Last Forever
First things first: if you want a chimney that will last a lifetime, then prefabricated chimneys are not for you. Metal prefabs just don’t have the staying power of old-fashioned masonry chimneys. Even with regular maintenance, these structures will frequently only function for 10 and 20 years before needing to be swapped out completely.
Granted, for many homeowners, a household appliance working for 10 to 20 years is completely acceptable. It’s becoming less and less common for people to live in the same house for decades on end, anyway, so if those numbers don’t seem disappointing to you, then a finite lifespan shouldn’t necessarily deter you from going for a prefab.
More than anything else, it’s important to walk into the experience of buying a prefab chimney with this knowledge so that you don’t get scammed. If, at any point, a salesperson or representative from a chimney construction firm claims that they can deliver a prefab chimney that will last up to 50 years (or some other unreasonably high number), consider that exchange to be a major red flag.
An Insert Might be Better
As their name implies, a fireplace insert is more or less a self-contained firebox that can be installed inside of an existing fireplace to give the space a simple (but powerful) upgrade. Inserts come in both wood-burning and gas-powered varieties, and they can often be made to fit seamlessly into a designated space. With their potential for customization and lower price point, it’s no wonder that fireplace inserts have recently enjoyed an increase in popularity!
But to be fair, inserts aren’t without their issues. Though they can usually be installed fairly easily into masonry fireplaces, folks who currently have prefab fireplaces may have a tough time finding an insert that’s compatible with their current hardware—and they might not be able to find one that’s compatible at all. Also, the venting system used by the insert (vent-free, direct-vent, or natural-vent) will likely be limited by the kind of space you have for the fireplace in your home and any local laws pertaining to the usage of vent-free systems.
Prefabs Should Be Professionally Installed
Like many other major home improvement projects, it is technically possible for a layperson to install a metal prefabricated chimney and fireplace all on their own. And a lot of people choose to do so. However, at the risk of offending all of you DIY enthusiasts out there, we strongly recommend that you leave this project up to the pros.
Installing your new chimney and fireplace will require you to do things such as cut a hole in the roof of your house, install metal plates and flashing, and assemble multiple pieces of piping. If your new chimney is a gas one, you’ll have to install gas lines, as well. And if any of these tasks are done incorrectly, it’s very easy to cause serious structural damage to your home and property. You may also put yourself and your family at risk for house fires, explosions, and poisoning from inhaling toxic fumes. To top it all off, your homeowner’s insurance policy may actually include a clause stipulating that, for liability reasons, all modifications or projects involving the chimney or fireplace must be performed by a professional.
When you need a new chimney or fireplace installed, plan to get an expert involved.
Prefabs can be an excellent choice for people who love the look and ambiance of chimneys and fireplaces but don’t love the cost and complications associated with building traditional masonry structures. A high-quality prefab will be nearly indistinguishable from brick-and-mortar, and it will serve your purposes well for years to come.
That said, prefabs aren’t the right choice for every home. Our best advice is to consult with a reputable chimney firm before throwing yourself into the wide world of prefabs. An expert will be able to help you figure out the best options for your unique situation.