Bob & Ellen's Excellent Adventure

Black Sheep Tower House

A Warm Fireplace

January 8, 2022 It is winter out, and thoughts of a toasty fireplace are teasing us here in the rather cold apartment at the Black Sheep Tower….. Bob and I have had a wood burning stove at the house in Maryland since 2003, and you know what? That is almost 20 years of carrying in firewood, loading the stove, managing the flue (and smoke) and carrying out the ashes. Nevermind the splitting and stacking… our lot is heavily wooded and we almost always had dead, cut or fallen trees to provide our own firewood. It is hard work, even with a serious wood splitter (which we have), and I can tell you that our kids did not appreciate being called to the task, and to be fair, neither did we. (However, the kids sure enjoyed hanging out in front of that warm fire!) 🙂

I digress. This is our retirement home, and the closest reasonable place to keep firewood is on the basement level. Which means carrying wood inside and then UP the stairs. The kids are long gone (even if they ever were willing to carry wood, haha) and……. No. Just no. We are not going do it anymore, and it’s probably a sell out and all that, but we are going with a fireplace that you can start with a remote, by golly! No maintenance, no worries!

We originally planned on a “see-through” gas fireplace in the wall between the living room and the “media room” aka TV room. The problem turned out to be that having a TV on one side meant the fireplace would be too low on the other side… Back to the drawing board! Bob (who is awesome at searching the internet, but terrible at Pinterest) discovered 3- sided fireplaces, and that’s what we had to have.

So here we are – a suitably cold, snowy day and the guys are building us a 3-sided fireplace surround. Did we have plans for this? No. Did that stop them? Um, no. Did we know what brand fireplace we wanted? Well, we had a few choices….. and it turns out there is a LOT to picking out the right unit for your particular needs… and that matters for installation purposes. There are specific tolerances for distances from the sides, the top, the bottom, the combustable materials, locating the flue pipe, and a whole book full of rules, augmented by appendices on the website, and so on. Good grief.

These images are from the Ortal website. Now, this is a modern design 3-sided fireplace and we get that, but we are not about being “boring” and these look just a little blah… and secondly, we do not want a TV over our fireplace, which seems to be the thing to do, but it just seems wrong to us. One or the other, please.

Here (on the left) is the simple wall as seen from the “media room” looking toward the main room. Some reinforcement is needed to support the new fireplace surround.

Joists (big ones) are being “sistered” up to the existing joists in the media room to extend into the main room, the purpose being to support the weight of the new enclosure being created on the main room side. Not only will this free-standing wooden structure need support but we have to consider the weight of whatever material is applied to its surface – wood, stone, tile? Or something else? Todd is also building the base “box” that will support the 600 lb. (!) gas fireplace. You can see the frame start to take shape.

The wooden framework is being built, and Todd and Jason are devising a plan for hanging some of the weight from the ceiling joists via steel rods, in addition to the horizontal support joists into the media room ceiling. At the moment, the structure looks like it is too high above the planned fireplace (cardboard mock up) but that is because there will be a metal section added soon to accommodate the non-combustible distance requirements.

The metal “cage” is added by Jason – I love this side shot that shows how the whole fireplace is being created from scratch. The close up shows the attachment of the steel support rod.

And up it goes! And, wow, it is HUGE! 🙂 Go big, or go home.

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