How to Build a Fireplace

Fireplace Mantel

Cavan Images / Getty Images

Building a fireplace in your home is a sure way to add unique warmth and charm. Whether gas- or wood-burning, a fireplace provides supplemental heat in the cooler months and loads of character in the warmer months when it's not being used.

Despite the prevalence of artificial heat in modern homes, fireplaces are still popular. In fact, a report commissioned by the Census Bureau notes that over 40-percent of new home starts include a fireplace.

  Wood-Burning Gas-Burning
Fuel Dry, seasoned, and clean natural wood Natural gas
Pros Realism; heat production Cleanliness; quick on and off
Cons Messy; expensive Less realistic; requires gas line
Cost $6,000 to $16,000 and higher $2,500 to $10,000

Building a Wood-Burning vs. Gas Fireplace

Choosing whether to build a fireplace that burns wood or natural gas is a choice that impacts more than just the fuel that you use. You'll also have to consider cost, size, materials, cleanliness, and maintenance.  

Wood-Burning Fireplaces

Wood has been the most popular fuel in fireplaces for hundreds of years. It's readily available, inexpensive, and produces a ton of heat. Plus, it helps to use up wood from trees that need to be cleared away. Brick or stone wood-burning fireplaces are often valued for their own physical aspects, even when the homeowner doesn't intend to burn much, or any, wood.

Yet masonry wood-burning fireplaces, for all their beauty, are difficult and costly to build, messy, and sometimes a challenge to repair and to maintain. Clean air laws in some communities may restrict or even prohibit the burning of wood materials.

You may want to choose a wood-burning fireplace over a gas-burning fireplace if the style or the age of the home lends itself to this type of fireplace. If you live in the country and have an ample supply of firewood, a wood-burning fireplace is also a good choice.

Gas-Burning Fireplaces

Gas-burning fireplaces use natural gas from a municipal line as the fuel instead of wood. Though they appear to have burning wood in the firebox, this is actually an illusion created by ceramic or a refractory cement molded in the shape of wood logs.

Most gas-burning fireplaces easily ignite with the flip of a wall switch. Flames wrap around the logs in a convincing way. One of the best things about gas-burning fireplaces is that they are easy to clean.

Yet, if you savor the snap and crackle of burning wood, you won't get it with a gas fireplace. Smokeless and odorless, the flames of a gas-burning fireplace remain relatively tame.

You'll likely want to choose a gas-burning fireplace if you have a natural gas connection or if you live in a neighborhood or near other homes. If you value convenience over verisimilitude, a gas-burning fireplace will be a good choice for you.

Planning Guide: Building a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Because of the extensive nature of the work, masonry wood-burning fireplaces are usually built during new-construction work or during extensive home remodeling projects.

Cost

Costs to build a wood-burning masonry fireplace are steep. Expect to pay $6,000 to $16,000 for the fireplace. The separate project of building the chimney may cost another $100 to $150 per foot.

Time

A pair of masons can build a brick fireplace in one or two days. This estimate does not include the time to pour and cure the concrete slab (several days to a week) nor the addition of a chimney.

Who to Contact

Building a wood-burning masonry fireplace is typically not a do-it-yourself job. Call an individual mason or a masonry company for help with this fireplace. You can also call a general contractor, who can then contract out work to masons.

Planning Guide: Building a Gas-Burning Fireplace

Building a gas-burning fireplace is less invasive than building a masonry unit. In fact, brick fireplaces are routinely converted to gas-burning fireplaces by adding a gas insert.

Cost

Installation of a gas-burning fireplace can run from $2,500 to $10,000. The gas fireplace insert itself will cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

Time

Given that two distinct jobs—plumbing the gas lines and installing the insert—form the project as a whole, building this type of fireplace can take anywhere from days to weeks. Much of the timing is dependent on the availability of building inspectors.

Who to Contact

As with wood-burning fireplaces, installing a gas-burning fireplace is rarely, if ever, an ideal project for most do-it-yourselfers. Call a local fireplace speciality shop. You can purchase the gas insert there, as well as all accessories. These shops often have in-house crews that you can hire to install the fireplace. Or find a pro through the National Fireplace Institute, an industry group that trains and certifies fireplace professionals.