To the average homeowner or business owner, it often seems like a chimney would simply be a chimney. Well, there was a time when this would have mostly been true, but in the modern world, there are a number of types of chimneys, and you’ve seen more of the diversity than you may think. The tall smoke or steam stacks of industrial installations are chimneys. The vent systems for gas heaters, which speckle the roofs of some homes and businesses, are technically an elaborate form of chimney as well.
Of course, when you’re thinking of chimneys, you most likely think of something closer to home, no pun intended. The common chimney types can be divided into three basic categories – masonry chimneys, wood burning stove chimneys (which can look like masonry chimneys), and prefabricated chimneys, which can also disguise themselves as masonry chimneys in modern times.
Today, we’re going to take a little closer look at these three categories, and discuss the distinguishing features of each, as well as any strengths or weaknesses they may have. With one exception, there is no single “best chimney”, it all comes down to what you need, your budget, and how you want the chimney to look.
This is what most people picture, at the mention of the word “chimney”. This is a tall brick column rising either at an end of a house or sometimes in the center. On the other end, there is often a masonry fireplace, though some oil burning and gas burning furnaces also can be connected to one, which happens often in older homes.
Masonry chimneys, in some opinions, encapsulate a number of materials, such as the traditional brick, stone, or stone block varieties, which are, in general, assembled with the same principals, and largely share most of the same benefits.
In all reality, brick is the best of these materials for masonry chimneys, as it absorbs heat faster and more efficiently, and the outer structure can radiate that heat. Brick can be costly unless it’s applied as a façade, which we’ll discuss more down the line. It is not green, costing a lot of energy to fire brick. Stone varies.
Masonry fireplaces are costly, due to the skilled labor and expensive materials involved.
Prefabricated chimneys are a modern approach, creating a recurring design off of an assembly line, as well as matching prefabricated fireplaces compatible with them. These are actually easy to install, though best handled by professionals.
Innovative materials and engineering allow for double-walled (for better insulation), air-insulated, which traps air as a thermal cushion, and various combinations of these technologies.
These allow for a lot of extensibility in aesthetic, with brick, stone, wood, or alternative exterior façade panels, indistinguishable from masonry. This is the most common design in modern homes, even if the home is of classic architecture.
Prefabricated chimneys vary widely in price, as does the façade you’re putting into it. However, on average, they tend to be more affordable than an authentic masonry fireplace.
Wood Burning Stove
Most wood-burning stoves are metal and get very hot, as the heat is concentrated and condensed, compared to a fireplace. This results in a much more intensely hot and energized kind of smoke to release.
These are generally metal structures designed to retain as little heat as possible, but provide the bandwidth to let the smoke out. These often have facades, at least on the roof, in many homes. This is handled similarly to how it’s done for prefabricated chimneys, albeit with less proprietary stuff going on in panels and compatibility.
These vary in price, but smart design and wise application for façade make this rarely that expensive, which is part of these stoves’ appeal – affordable to install.