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.
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:
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.