How To Modernize your Old Fireplace


How to Modernize your Old Fireplace

Fireplaces hold a nostalgic charm in our hearts. They evoke childhood memories of winter holidays. Or romantic conversations curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine.

They are also an architectural element in most homes. The concept of fireplaces has remained unchanged for thousands of years. And in essence, we no longer need them to warm our houses. In fact, residential wood smoke contributes to indoor and outdoor air pollution. There are plenty of decisions to consider when upgrading your fireplace. Some are for function and some are for aesthetics.


How to modernize your old fireplace is one of the most asked for design element that my clients need help with. They are weary of the old brick. The clunky cast iron insert with heavy doors tried to conjure a bygone era, but sadly failed. And the soot stains are always so unsightly.

Here are few considerations I look for before updating my client’s fireplaces.

Your First Considerations When You Want to Modernize Your Old Fireplace


1. How is the firebox constructed? There are two main categories: masonry (built from the ground up) and prefab (a self-contained insert). If you have a chimney, then your fireplace is generally masonry.

2. Is there proper ventilation? Many of my clients tell me they cannot use the fireplace because it smokes up the house. This is because the flue is too small or too big. Proper ventilation ensures the fireplace gets enough make up air. Make-up air replenishes the air drawn out of the flue. If this is the problem, it is because the old fireplace was built more for looks than for function.


3. Does it compile with safety codes? There are many regional safety regulations. For new builds in California, wood burning fireplaces are not allowed. For existing wood burning fireplaces there are very few “burn days.” These are the days allowed for wood burning. And if you can’t burn wood, why have a wood burning fireplace?

If you won’t be using your fireplace that often one with the gas-powered insert is advisable. Although a wood-burning stove is a happy medium for those who want an old-fashioned look and feel.

The Pros and Cons of Each Type of Fireplace


1. Wood Burning:

Pros- Perfect for those who want that classic crackling flames and firewood scent but won’t be using their fireplace too often.

Cons – Wood burning fireplaces requires a lot of manual work. First you must get the firewood, tend to the fire, and clean the firebox. If you have allergies or compromised lungs, smoke, and ash from burning wood is unhealthy. Especially for children and the elderly.

2. Gas:

Pro – With the flick of a switch you get a mostly authentic fireplace feel and warmth. In certain states, like California look for rebates. These are available when converting your wood burning fireplace to gas burning.

Cons – EPA warns of indoor air quality concerns when using non-vented fireplaces.

3. Electric:

Pros- For a modern aesthetic you cannot beat an electric fireplace. They are the easiest to convert as you only need a nearby electrical outlet. For the environmental conscious individual, electric fireplaces are powered by renewable resources. Hence, they have the least impact. It is smart option for people with underlying health conditions such as asthma or COPD.

Cons – You won’t get any real flames.

Choosing the Fireplace Surround to Modernize Your Old Fireplace


Brick – This timeless choice also happens to be a budget-friendly option. It is also the safest option since its non-combustible. If your fireplace came with red brick and you hate it, consider painting it and adding a wood mantel.


Tile – If you want to add color and movement at an affordable price point consider tile. To change the style and look of your red brick fireplace cover it with large format tiles. This the easiest way to go from traditional and outdated too contemporary.

Stone – The options are endless with stone. It can be refined, or it can be rustic. Replacing your outdated red brick with a split-face stone is a popular option.

Slab – For a more upscale look, use a quartz slap. But consider, if you go the wood burning route, a light-colored slab may stain from the smoke and soot.

A good-looking fireplace can add a lot of charm to any house. Whether you’re remodeling or looking to only modernize your old fireplace, it is worth the time and effort. The experts at KTJ Design Co can help.

Until Next Time,



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