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Looking to install a stone fireplace in your home? Chances are you’ve come across the terms ‘masonry’ or ‘zero-clearance’ fireplaces, but what do they actually mean and how do you decide what fireplace is right for you?

Choosing a Masonry vs Zero-clearance Fireplaces?

Masonry and Zero-clearance fireplaces can be equally as pleasing to the eye however, there are some fundamental differences when it comes to their design and performance.

The most obvious difference between masonry fireplaces and factory-built fireplaces is their construction.

A masonry fireplace is an architectural element that is structurally integrated into your house, whereas factory-built fireplaces are not a part of your home’s structure but are constructed offsite and installed later.

In this guide, we explain the difference between masonry vs zero-clearance fireplaces to help you decide what heat source is right for you.

Jindera Dry Stone pictured in a residential fireplace design
Jindera Dry Stone pictured in a residential fireplace design

Masonry Fireplace

Masonry fireplaces have been used in architecture for centuries in both traditional and contemporary homes.

They are integrated into the architecture and, as such, they form part of a home’s structural design. This means there is broad scope for customisation when it comes to the fireplace size and overall design aesthetic.

Some of the key characteristics of masonry fireplaces include:

  • Structurally integrated into a home
  • Made of brick and mortar or stone
  • Concrete foundation
  • Durable

Since a masonry fireplace is a part of a home’s structure, they tend to be much more expensive to build and to repair.

Though relatively costly to install, a masonry fireplace should have a long lifespan.

If properly installed and maintained, A masonry fireplace should last upwards of 100 years

A masonry fireplace must vent its smoke and other toxic combustion gases through a flue or chimney. Chimneys are designed to capture and carry smoke and hot gases up and out of the interior. Because of their nature, there are certain building requirements relating to masonry fireplaces and they need to be inspected to ensure they are up to specified standards.

One of the negatives of masonry fireplaces tends to be related to performance. When it comes to generating heat, masonry fireplaces often absorb a significant portion of the fire’s heat. Instead of radiating it into your home, heat is lost up the chimney. Depending on the space you’re trying to heat, a masonry fireplace may not be the most economical option.

Contemporary drystone zero clearance fireplace
Contemporary zero-clearance fireplace with Eco Outdoor Alpine Dry Stone

Zero-Clearance Fireplace

One of the greatest advantages of zero-clearance or factory-built fireplaces is that they can be installed after a home is constructed without the need for an extensive remodel.

Some of the key characteristics of factory-built fireplaces include:

  • Independent of the house’s structure
  • Made of metal, glass, air-cooled pipes & insulated walls
  • Energy efficient
  • Cheaper to install
  • Shorter lifespan

Zero-clearance fireplaces are more affordable to install compared to masonry, even when you include the cost of a professional installation by a certified technician. They are also regulated and must be constructed according to applicable engineering codes, so you can have peace of mind they’re safe for your family. It is still recommended zero-clearance fireplaces be installed by a qualified and experienced professional.

Zero-clearance fireplaces are factory built to code so you can be ensured they’re safe for your family.

There are several fuel source options to choose from when selecting a zero-clearance fireplace. Some are designed to burn wood, some use gas and others use a combination of both. It’s essential that you only burn the correct fuel in your factory-built fireplace box as recommended by the manufacturer.

Tips on choosing which fireplace to install

There are pros and cons associated with both masonry and zero-clearance fireplaces, so deciding on which one to install in your home does come down to the space you’re wishing to heat, your needs and your personal preference.

When building a new home, the decision about where a fireplace will be located should be considered as early as possible. This is particularly important if you want a masonry fireplace as it needs to be started when the foundation is poured. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when choosing which fireplace to install:

  • How big is the space I need to heat?
  • Can I build a structural fireplace?
  • What fuel source do I prefer?
  • Is the fireplace easy to maintain?
  • Do I have the right ventilation?
  • Will the style compliment my interior?

Whether you choose a masonry vs zero-clearance fireplace, we suggest you consider how it relates to the aesthetics of the rest of your interior. As a masonry fireplace is customised to suit your individual space, you have endless options and can design it in relation to your interior. There are also ample design choices when it comes to factory-built fireplaces from modern to traditional, so finding one that compliments your interior and meets your personal tastes shouldn’t be a struggle.

When it comes to materiality, rather than looking at your fireplace in isolation, we suggest that you consider what materials and colours have already been used around the home. Picking up on common materials or colour palette used throughout the interior will help you reinforce the fireplace design and integrate it into the space seamlessly.

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