What Kind of Fireplace Do I Have?

It seems that these days, we are never without options. Just take a look at the egg selection at your local grocery store.

Should you buy organic or non-organic? Farm-fresh? Local? Extra large? Brown or white? Vegetarian? Soy free?

It seems that as time goes on, the possibilities in all fields of life grow exponentially. Although you may not be aware, there are different types of fireplaces and chimneys:

  • Prefabricated or Factory Built Fireplaces and Chimneys
  • Traditional or Masonry Fireplaces and Chimneys

While both fireplace and chimney systems provide warmth and enjoyment, there are some distinct differences. If you are not sure what kind of fireplace and chimney system you have, read on!

chimney diagram

Pre-fabricated Fireplaces and Chimney Systems

Pre-fabricated fireplaces and chimneys are designed in the factory as a cohesive unit.

These systems and their parts are extensively tested for safety and efficiency. They are regulated and must be built and installed per the manufacturer’s instructions. Manufacturers plainly list which chimney systems are safe to use with each specific fireplace, and if you do not heed their recommendation, you are putting your family at high risk for a fire.

Think of it like a car. You would not mix and match different manufacturer parts.

As shown in the diagram, these systems have a metal firebox with precast refractory panels. 

If you look up past the damper, you will see a round metal chimney, which extends through the roof and is sometimes surrounded by a housing composed of simulated brick or siding. You may also see a metal “shoe box lid” covering the chimney top — this is known as a “chase cover” — and a round or square chimney cap.

Prefabricated fireplaces/factory-built fireplaces and chimney are appliances and with all appliances they do not last forever. Life expectancy for these types is approximately 10 -15 years as long as there are no damages (due to a chimney fire, lightning strike, water penetration or other occurrence). Over time, parts can wear out, warp, rust and ultimately need to be replaced.

chimney diagram

Masonry Fireplaces and Chimney Systems

Masonry fireplaces and chimneys are constructed on-site from stone or brick and mortar and are part of the homes structural design. Typically, these fireplaces and chimneys are built as the house is built.

As shown in the diagram, these systems have a firebox built of individual (generally yellowish) firebrick, a brick chimney above the roof, and if you look up past the damper, you will see an upside down funnel also built of brick.

One of the biggest differences between a masonry and a factory-built fireplace /prefabricated fireplace and chimney is that a masonry fireplace and chimney system will typically last longer than a prefabricated fireplace.

When properly designed, constructed, and maintained, masonry fireplaces and chimneys can withstand decades of heat and fire abuse.

The bricks and mortar may begin to crumble over the span of many years, but as long as you have regular maintenance and a professional water repellent coating applied to your masonry system, it will add warmth, enjoyment, and value to your home well into the future.

Another difference between masonry and factory-built fireplaces is that you can install a fireplace insert in a masonry fireplace, but that is not the case with a prefabricated fireplace unit.

Below are some real life examples of prefabricated and masonry chimneys and fireplaces.

chimney diagram
Prefabricated Fireplace with green chair next to it

Prefabricated Fireplace

Prefabricated Chimney

Prefabricated Chimney

Masonry Fireplace

Masonry Fireplace

Masonry Fireplace Chimney

Masonry Chimney

Now that you know the differences you should be able to tell what kind of system you have, prefabricated or masonry. Contact us today with any questions you still have – we’ll be glad to talk you through the differences.

Types Of Common Fireplace Appliances

Now that we’ve discussed the different chimney and fireplace systems, we will explain the different types of common fireplace appliances found in many homes today.

  • Direct vent fireplaces
  • Gas logs
  • Fireplace inserts

Direct Vent Fireplaces have become popular in newer homes. They have a simple and elegant look and do not use air from inside the home in the combustion process. By bringing cold air in through the chimney and removing the byproducts of combustion in the same manner. Direct vent gas fireplaces will continue to work even when the power is off. They often are behind a sealed glass cover which can be removed for maintenance and cleaning.

interior of direct vent gas fireplace
exterior of direct vent fireplace chimney
gas log fireplace image

Gas Log Fireplace are convenient way to convert your existing wood burning fireplace and retrofit with gas logs. Many homeowners do this because they are tired of buying and hauling wood. The gas logs are installed into the firebox and resemble the look of a wood burning fire but with the ease of a gas appliance.

Fireplace Inserts are a self-contained system designed to burn more efficiently than traditional open hearth fireplaces. These inserts are fueled by a variety of fuel sources such as wood, gas or pellet and are installed professionally into the existing fireplace firebox opening.

before picture of renovated wood stove
fireplace with woodstove insert

No matter what type of home heating appliance you have, gas log fireplace, direct vent gas fireplace or fireplace inserts they all need to be installed properly as per the manufacturer’s instructions and regular yearly maintenance and cleaning to ensure the safety and efficiency of the appliance.

Looking to change or upgrade your fireplace system? Changing fireplace fuel types can be a big undertaking here’s our tips for when we recommend changing fireplaces.


A wood stove insert could be the perfect chimney installation or replacement service to add more efficiency to your fireplace experience.