Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May-December Relationship

Or, in the case of our fireplace insert, make that a December-May relationship.

Early in December, Steve and I signed a contract (and a whopping big cheque) for a fireplace makeover. Specifically an insert that would turn our drafty, non-functional fireplace into a high-efficiency decorative furnace.

The least expensive option would have been to seal it off and merely make it an ornamental focal point. Next up would have been to convert it to gas, but I have secret pyromaniac tendencies, and I love to play with fire. (Ironic, really, since I am so susceptible to heat!) I like the smell of real wood smoke. I am mesmerized by the dance of flames and the sounds of crackling wood. Gas fireplaces just don't do that for me.

It probably appeals to something primeval in me. I probably subconsciously think food is on the way and that predators are kept at bay or something.

In any case, we decided to keep the wood-burning fireplace but invest in making it efficient.

In that vein, a free-standing wood-burning stove would have been another option, but, frankly, I think they're kind of ugly and take up a lot of space.

Fireplace inserts, as they are called, are a compromise between an open fireplace and a wood stove. But, boy, do they burn through the pocketbook!

Ordinarily, the process is fairy straightforward:
  1. Measure your fireplace opening. Precisely.
  2. Order an insert that fits the opening. (As well as your budget and your taste.)
  3. Wait a few weeks.
  4. Install the insert and chimney liner.
Our first hitch occurred at step two. We chose a beautiful insert that juuuuuust barely fit our opening.

A week or so later, we got a call from the salesperson telling us that the shop owner didn't think the insert would fit after all, because there was not enough leeway for the installers' hands to reach in and connect the various parts.

Wha'? Wasn't that the whole point of the manufacturer's specifications for opening size?

We pushed back, partly because we really didn't like the styles of their other options.

Eventually the installation supervisor came to the house and took a fresh look at the situation. He was a grizzled, tough fellow who would look very uncomfortable in a suit and tie, but looked just right in his dust-encrusted jeans.

He measured and poked, looking for solutions rather than problems. And he found them. They were expensive, but they got us where we wanted to go.

In February, we were excited to receive an e-mail asking to schedule our installation. Yay!

Alas, they came, partly installed the chimney liner, removed the firebricks and poured some concrete, and then left.
This is the mantel we chose. It is a manufactured stone.
Click the picture to enlarge it
so you can really see the texture.

There were more hitches and delays. The salesman never learned to call me at the office rather than leaving messages with the young adults at home. (That practice is also known as the Black Hole Message Service.)

He seemed to completely lose track of our file a couple of times.

The shop owner pushed back against our choice of mantel and hearth. It was from a new supplier and was a material he hadn't worked with before, but it was much nicer than his other standard options.

But finally, at last, today they came to finish the installation. (Never mind that they showed up two days early, unexpected. I was still pressing the snooze button.)
Half way through the installation today.

And now for the before-and-after glamour shots!
August 2010, about a month
after we moved in. (And before
I had scrubbed the stones with TSP.)
May 15, 2012
(The colours in this one are more true.)
There's still some finishing for us to do (we have to put a non-flammable extension beyond the hearth and patch the bookcases where they were damaged by removal of the old mantel), but I already love the new mantel and hearth. (The old hearth was just ceramic tiles with a metal trim.) I think the whole thing looks a lot more finished and grounded. I am very, very happy with the end result.

Now. About that furniture . . .


  1. Beautiful! Worth the persistance and patience.

  2. I am SO with you on the real fire bit. In fact, one of my sleep helps is an hour of soft rain and crackling fire playing on the ipad. No, not anywhere near as good as an actual fire but it helps.


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