A fireplace is an architectural element consisting of a space designed to contain a fire, generally for heating but sometimes also for cooking. The space where the fire is contained is called a firebox or firepit; a chimney or other flue allows gas and particulate exhaust to escape the building. While most fireplaces are constructed in building interiors, sometimes outdoor fireplaces are created for evening warmth, outdoor cooking or decorative purposes.


In colder climates throughout the world, the fireplace or hearth has traditionally been a central feature of the household, as it gives warmth to aid survival through an extended winter. The sensation of direct heat, and the mesmerizing leaps and flickers of a wood fire, make its use enjoyable in cold conditions even today.

As a result, people gather around a fireplace for conversation and family bonding. After the workday, it is often the place where a family meets at night before retiring to sleep. One famous use of this tradition in the United States during the Great Depression was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "fireside chats", weekly radio addresses in which he made use of the family gathering time to state his views on issues of national importance.

Fireplace mantels are the focus of custom interior decoration. A mantel traditionally offers a unique opportunity for the architect/designer to create a personal statement unique to the room they are creating. Historically the mantel defines the architectural style of the interior decor.

Types of fireplace

In many places, coal, wood or peat burning fires are being replaced by cleaner and often safer natural gas fueled fireplaces and electric fireplaces. Some governmental agencies have placed a partial ban on solid fuel burning fireplaces based upon air pollution concerns. In recent years, Ventless Fireplaces have received more attention. They are a free standing fireplace requiring no chimney and no hearth, but they add fireplace ambiance to any room and they produce a considerable amount of heat.

Many new homes are no longer equipped with an open fireplace, its (inefficient) heating function long since taken over by central heating and its social function by the home entertainment center. Some fireplaces have been closed off not allowing them to be used; either the top of the chimney has a concrete slab installed over it or the bottom has had a board nailed to it. Prefabricated fireplaces have become popular because of their lower construction cost and safer and more reliable operation. Brick or stone fireplaces can be designed to meet exact specifications for opening size, depth, and facing material. They also cost significantly more to construct and require much more maintainence.

A fireplace may consist of some or all of the following elements: foundation, hearth, firebox, fireplace mantel, ashdump door, chimney crane, cleanout door, grate or iron bars, lintel, lintel bar, overmantel, breast, damper, smoke chamber, throat, flue, chimney chase, crown, cap or shroud, and spark arrestor.

Types of fireplace include:

  • Masonry (brick or stone fireplaces and chimneys) with or without tile lined flue. unreinforced masonry chimneys do not stand up to earthquakes well.
  • Reinforced concrete chimneys. . Fundamental flaws (the difference in thermal expansion rates between steel rebar and concrete which caused the chimney flues to crack when heated) bankrupted the US manufacturers and obsoleted the technique. This type of chimney often shows vertical cracks on the exterior of the chimney which worsen as the internal rebar rusts.
  • Manufactured or 'Prefab' fireplace with sheet metal fire box and double or triple walled metal pipe running up inside a wood framed chase with a chase cover and cap/spark arrestor at the top to keep birds out and sparks in. Otherwise it is competitive to the masonry chimney.


Ancient fire pits were built into the ground in the center of a hut or dwelling. The smoke escaped through holes in the roof. Thousands of years later, with the development of two story buildings, the fireplace was moved to outside of the structure. At this time, fireplaces were still vented horizontally and often smoke would be blown outside or even back into the room. The chimney presented a fix for this problem and vented the smoke outside of the dwelling.

In 1578 Prince Ruppert, the nephew of Charles I, raised the grate of the fireplace which improved the airflow and venting system. The 1700s saw two important developments in the history of fireplaces. Ben Franklin developed a convection chamber for the fireplace that greatly improved the efficiency of fireplaces and wood stoves. He also improved the airflow by pulling air from a basement and venting out a longer area at the top. In the later 1700s, Count Rumford designed a fireplace with a tall, shallow firebox that was much better at drawing the smoke up and out of the building. Rumford's design is the foundation for modern fireplaces.


There are a range of accessories used with fireplaces. For the interior firepit, the most common are grates, fireguards, logboxes, andirons pellet baskets, and fire dogs, all of which are used to cradle the fuel and accelerate burning. For the exterior adornment and fireplace tending function, there are fireplace tools including poker, bellows, tongs, shovel, brush and toolstand.

Current versions of all mentioned accessories are available, but there are extant accessories manufactured in Europe which date at least as early as 1450 AD.

See also

Further reading

Search another word or see fireplaceon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature