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? Free-range? It seems that as time goes on, the possibilities in all fields of life grow exponentially. Well, there are different types of fireplaces and chimneys as well. But thankfully, not as many as there are egg options at the local grocery.

Here are the different types of fireplaces and chimneys:

  • Prefabricated or Factory-Built Fireplaces & Chimneys
  • Traditional or Masonry Fireplaces & 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

Prefabricated Fireplaces & Chimney Systems

Prefabricated 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’s 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. Above that there may be a metal “shoe box lid” covering the chimney top — this is known as a chase cover — and a round or square chimney cap above that.

Factory Built Fireplace Chimney

Prefabricated Fireplaces

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

Masonry Fireplaces & Chimney Systems

Masonry fireplaces and chimneys are constructed on site from stone or brick and mortar, and are part of the home’s 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, your system will add warmth, enjoyment, and value to your home well into the future.

Masonry Fireplace Chimney

Masonry Fireplaces

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.

Prefabricated Fireplace

Prefabricated Fireplace

Prefabricated Fireplace

Prefabricated Fireplace

Masonry Fireplace

Masonry Fireplace

Masonry Fireplace

Masonry Fireplace

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

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. Instead, they bring cold air in through the chimney and remove the byproducts of combustion in the same manner. Direct-vent gas fireplaces will continue to work even when the power is off. They are often behind a sealed glass door, which can be removed for maintenance and cleaning.

Direct Vent Gas Fireplace

Direct-Vent Gas Fireplace

Direct Vent Fireplace Exhaust

Direct-Vent Fireplace Exhaust

Gas Log Fireplaces are a convenient way of converting your existing wood-burning fireplace and retrofitting 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.

Gas Log Fireplace

Gas Log Fireplace

Before Wood Stove Insert Installation

Before Wood Stove Insert Installation

Fireplace with Woodstove Insert

After Wood Stove Insert Installation

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 pellets, and are installed professionally into the existing fireplace firebox opening.

No matter what type of home heating appliance you have  gas log fireplace, direct vent gas fireplace, or fireplace insert — they all need to be installed properly as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Additionally, regular yearly maintenance and cleaning needs to be scheduled to ensure the safety and efficiency of the appliance. Whatever type of fireplace you have, whatever you need, Clean Sweep of Ann Arundel County can help. Call or request an appointment online today. Looking to change or upgrade your fireplace system? Changing fireplace fuel types can be a big undertaking. Here are some tips on 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.