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What to know about indoor and outdoor fireplaces

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | January 13, 2016

fireplace optionsNothing adds ambiance to your home like a fireplace. There are also plenty of options in almost every price range, so don't be fooled into thinking you can't afford that gorgeous home accent -- just enter the search with an open mind. Here's what you might be able to do in your home.

Indoor fireplace options

Indoor fireplaces can run the gamut from a tiny electric fireplace that you install yourself to a massive fireplace made of concrete, stone, or brick, complete with a chimney that towers over the roofline. Here's a brief rundown of the most common styles, and what you might expect to pay for each.

  1. The simple electric fireplace. These look like the real thing, but they certainly aren't. Expect to pay $250 for a small one, and upwards of a few thousand for one that has a nice mantel and surround. You can also go with an electric insert to make the most of your current fireplace.
  2. A new gas fireplace. This fireplace requires piping and a venting system, but doesn't require the tall chimney you might find with a classic fireplace. A simple direct-vent unit might run between $1,200 and $3,200, but adding a nice surround can lead to prices of $5,000 or more.
  3. The converted gas fireplace. If you already have a big fireplace but don't want to use wood, converting it to gas is usually an easy job. Simple piping and a gas insert can run you between $500 and $5,500, depending upon the size and extent of the work.
  4. The pellet stove. This fireplace might not require a chimney, but still gives you plenty of ambiance, as well as great heat. Expect to pay between $1,700 and $3,000 for a nice pellet stove, and add a bit to the price tag if you want to include a surround that makes the stove a focal point of the room.
  5. The wood-burning fireplace. This fireplace is often made of concrete, stone, or brick, and features the classic chimney you might expect from such a grand home edition. The most standard of fireplaces will start at $1,500 and go up to $3,000, but any 'extras' will drive the price up a bit more.

Keep in mind that the size of the fireplace, as well as the material used, can make a big difference in the final cost. Many fireplaces are created with ready-made surrounds that cut down on the cost, and some are prefab models that simply need to be placed and hooked to the proper piping or ventilation. But some options can soar into the tens of thousands -- for instance, that massive fireplace and chimney made of natural stone that must be installed carefully by a stonemason.

Outdoor fireplace options

When it comes to outdoor fireplaces, the same holds true: The bigger the fireplace and the more elaborate the construction, the higher the price tag goes. As with indoor fireplaces, there are several potential types and styles to choose from.

  1. Chiminea or fire pit. These options are small, allow for plenty of flexibility and do not require venting of any kind. This makes them perfect for those who want to enjoy a fire but don't want to commit a great deal of money to the venture. Expect to pay somewhere between $150 and $500 for a chiminea, and anywhere from $200 to several thousand for a fire pit.
  2. Simple prefab fireplace. These outdoor units are usually one large piece, quickly installed and designed to take natural gas or propane. They are an excellent alternative to paying for the more elaborate models that take a good amount of time to build. Expect to pay between $1,500 and $9,000 for one of these beauties.
  3. Custom fireplace. These are built to your exact specifications. They might burn propane, wood, pellets, or natural gas. They are built in place by a stonemason, and can be designed with little extras, which make them an excellent addition to the outdoor kitchen. But expect to pay between $8,000 and $20,000 and up for seeing your vision become reality.

Another option is to build a two-sided fireplace, with one side used in the house and the other used outside. These are the ultimate in custom fireplaces, and can run well over $20,000, depending upon the size, how much of the wall has to be rebuilt, materials, and more.

Choosing the best indoor and outdoor fireplace options depends on your budget, vision, and space. It also depends on what you ultimately want from your fireplace: Are you looking for a great space to entertain? Do you want warmth, or are you all about the ambiance? Are you looking to convert to something easier to use than what you already have?

Determine what you want out of your new addition or upgrade, and then get in touch with at least three contractors to get estimates.

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.