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Click here to see a descriptive illustration of several designs of European true masonry fireplaces.
Dear Jim: I would like to add one of the huge decorative masonry fireplaces to my living room. I saw several of them on a recent trip to Europe. Are they available here and do they burn firewood efficiently? - Kathy E.
A: The large decorative masonry fireplaces are manufactured by many companies and individual masons in the United States. They are often referred to as "European" fireplaces because they are so common overseas. The popularity of these fireplace designs is increasing in the U.S.
Most of them are truly beautiful works of art with decorative tile, stone or contemporary smooth flowing stucco contours. Some have built-in benches, boot warmer racks, shelves, and tiny ovens for baking breads. An interesting design is one built into a stairway to the second floor. A massive Russian design often works well as a decorative room divider.
These types of masonry fireplaces are very convenient to use, safe, energy efficient, and create very little air pollution. Instead of trying to keep a fire burning all day long as in a typical fireplace, a European masonry fireplace requires only a couple short fires per day to heat your home.
The keys to the efficiency of these fireplaces are their huge size and the long smoke path inside the fireplace. In the morning, a very intense fire is burned for 30 minutes or less. As the hot smoke flows through the long passages inside the fireplace to
the chimney, most of its heat content is absorbed by the masonry mass.
For the next eight to ten hours, the fireplace slowly radiates this heat out into your house. Other than the firebox door during the short burn period, the fireplace exterior never gets dangerously hot. This makes it safer with children around it than other types of standard fireplaces.
Another advantage of this design is the very intense short fire burns the firewood very efficiently and completely. You won't see sooty black smoke exiting the chimney as is common with airtight wood stoves. Also, you never have to go to bed at night with a fire still burning in the fireplace to have heat all night long.
Some of the masonry fireplace companies make the interior masonry sections in basically kit form which stacks together. You may be able to build this yourself, but it would be best to have an experienced mason do it. A mason will definitely be required to construct and finish a decorative exterior.
Various countries in Europe are known for different internal designs. A German design often uses long horizontal smoke chambers inside so it is not very tall. A Finnish fireplace uses a vertical counterflow smoke path. This makes the fireplace taller, but it requires less floor space.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 961 - buyer's guide of 13 manufacturers and builders of true masonry and soapstone heaters, detailed descriptions of the interior structures, design types (many styles pictured), heating instructions with illustrations and explanations, a firewood selector guide, firewood tips and a hardwood fuel values chart.
Dear Jim: Our house is about ten years old and I am starting to see quite a few nail pops in the ceiling. It looks really bad, especially when the lights are on. What is the best way to permanently fix this? - Janet R.
A: Nail pops can be unsightly, but they are common with drywall. Over time, from the changes in temperature and humidity levels in a home, the lumber grows and shrinks and the nails work their way out.
Don't just try to drive them back in and cover them with spackling. The hole is already loose and they will back out again. Replace the nails with drywall screws and cover them with drywall compound.