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Fireplaces offer variety, utility for winter season

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There's nothing like being cozy on a lazy Saturday around the crackling fireplace, while the bitter cold sets in outside your window.

Burning Green
Great Balls of Fire
Name of the Flame

"A fireplace says family, it says gathering, it says romance," said Kandi Isenbart, owner of Bachle's Fireplace Furnishings & Outdoor Living, 9422 N. May, a third-generation, family-owned business. "It's about the ambience a fireplace brings to a room."

There really is something special about a fire. Not only does it look and feel nice in your home, it can assist with heat efficiency and even increase a home's resale value. According to a 2006 survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 59 percent of homeowners across the United States consider their fireplaces a major selling point. And the National Association of Home Builders reports that a fireplace is one of the top three items people look for when buying a new dwelling and is also one of the best investments you can make when remodeling your home.

Burning green
One of the great things about fireplaces today is that there are more options than you can probably imagine. It's no longer just about wood-burning versus gas. Although there are several different types of "fireplaces" (if one is not woodburning, it is commonly referred to as an "appliance" by the fireplace industry), the most popular today remains the traditional wood-burning kind.

"The most important thing to know before doing anything to your fireplace is to know what type you have," Isenbart said. "There are so many different things that can be referred to as a fireplace, and there are many questions that should be answered to know what it is we're working with."

Those questions include: Does it burn real wood? Is it self-contained? Is there a vent pipe? These are necessary to ask and answer. Seeking a professional's advice is your best bet for removing, installing or modifying a fireplace space in your home.

Unique designs, energy- and cost-efficiency methods, and modern accessories on the market help you get the most out of your fireplace space " both economically and aesthetically. You might be hearing the words "green" and "eco-friendly" quite a lot lately, and fireplaces are no exception to the nationwide trend.

Eco-friendly fireplaces, an innovation from Australia, have made a new home right here in the Midwest.

"EcoSmart Fire is an environmentally friendly, open fireplace that is fuel-less and does not require any installation or utility connection for fuel supply, making it ideal for just about any environment," said Laura Smolen, of SR Hughes, an interior design company in Tulsa. The freestanding, vent-less model, which can be fit to replace an existing fireplace, is fueled by a renewable energy called denatured ethanol, which burns clean.

If you're drawn to the conventional fireburning method, there are various things you can do to maximize efficiency and safety. One big tip is to check out your firewood.

"Look for wood that is dry, but not too dry, because it will burn too fast," said Harold Green, who loves the ambience of a fire and sells firewood as a hobby in the Oklahoma City area.

Fireplaces today come in more than simple wood-burning or gas.

"There's something magic about the way a fire takes the stress out of your body," he said. Firewood should be seasoned, he said, which means it has been dried out for about a year. New wood contains up to 50 percent of its mass in water, which obviously won't burn well. However, "in Oklahoma it dries so fast due to the warm summers, so you don't want to keep it around too long," Green said.

Of course, quality is key. Good wood burns a cleaner fire. The opposite is true for bad wood.
"I like to use oak or pecan," Green said. "They are both hardwoods and have a pleasant smell that is not overly heavy."

Great balls of fire
As a major focal point in your house, it is important that your fireplace make a distinct impression. With a few accessories and added decor, this homey, central fixture can turn a typical room into an intimate and peaceful gathering place.

To keep sparks from flying out of a true wood-burning fireplace, glass doors and screens act as great accent pieces, as well as provide safety. From iron, steel and brass to colored and tempered glass, it is simple to make your hearth beautiful and unique.

Bachle's offers high-quality doors in various materials, as well as custom- designed iron screens, which will upgrade the look of any style of fireplace.

To update gas fireplaces and add some unique flare, replace customary logs with items such as FireBalls or fire glass, which create a modern twist to the mundane.

"No matter what type of fireplace you have, it brings a sense of warmth to your home," Isenbart said.

Name of the flame

Wood Burning
Pro: Bringing in your favorite wood and lighting a fire creates an atmosphere that can't be matched by any other type of fireplace, no matter how realistic the gas logs might be. When using a wood-burning fireplace, there are several things you can do to ensure you get the most efficiency out of the wood.
Con: For safety reasons, the fireplace will need to be cleaned on a regular basis, which includes the chimney. Additionally, when burning real wood, rather than gas logs, you will need to provide close monitoring, especially when it comes time to retire for the night.

Stone

Pro: Stone fireplaces, with their clean lines, create a beautiful enhancement to a room and never go out of style.
Con: The price of stone will vary depending on the type of stone you choose. Limestone and granite are the most popular and generally cost quite a bit more.

Gas
Pro: Natural gas is inexpensive and burns much cleaner than that of a wood-burning fireplace.
Con: There is a chance for toxic combustion, but you can add a direct vent, which is actually a side vent, taking away the need for a chimney.

Electric
Pro: Very budget-friendly and no worries about fumes. Electric fireplaces give off a glow that resembles realistic burning wood. Unlike other fireplaces, electric are cool to the touch, reducing the chance of burns.
Con: The electric fireplace is a popular option, especially for small spaces, like apartments and condos, but you often lose the aesthetics associated with the actual burning of wood, including the sound and scent.
Source: Fireplaces.com "Valerie Kramer Davis

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