A City Dweller’s Guide to Buying a Fireplace

As people across post-pandemic America spend more and more time at home, they’re finding increasingly creative ways to spruce up the interiors of their homes. This is especially true here in Chicago, where homeowners have prioritized home remodeling and renovations that add beauty, comfort and value to their townhomes, condos, and luxury high-rise apartments.

Few amenities can completely transform the ambiance of a living space quite like a fireplace. But what many downtown Chicago homeowners don’t realize is how easy it is to install a fireplace in their multifamily homes. That’s why we put together this brief fireplace buyer’s guide just for city dwellers. Let’s get started!

Municipal Guidelines For Fireplaces in Chicago
The City of Chicago has clearly defined municipal codes that lay out detailed fireplace safety and construction specifications. For the sake of brevity, we’ve summarized the main points of the code below:

  • All factory-built fireplaces, gas log sets, and inserts must be installed in accordance with the manufacturers’ installation instructions.
  • The vast majority of hearth systems and their various components must have an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing. The UL is a 3rd-party product safety consultancy that tests and sets standards for over 22 billion products annually.
  • Generally speaking, hearth and fireplace systems can be installed in most habitable rooms (living rooms, family rooms, etc.).

Also, as a general rule of thumb, your first step should always involve consulting with your Homeowners or Condo Association before making any fireplace-related purchases.

Condos, Townhomes & High-rises: Key Considerations
The majority of Chicago residents live in some sort of multi-family housing – condominiums, townhomes, two-to-four-flats, and high-rises. Most of these properties, especially high-rises, do not come equipped with pre-existing traditional chimney structures. That means wood-burning and masonry fireplaces are essentially a no-go for Chicagoans who live in buildings with multiple units. In lieu of traditional wood-burning hearths, most city dwellers choose one of the following alternatives:

  • Vent-Free Fireplaces – If there is a pre-existing gas line, vent-free fireplaces are ideal for multi-unit buildings. They’re significantly more energy-efficient compared to their wood-burning counterparts. It should be noted that if there is not a pre-existing gas line in your unit, there will be costs associated with installing a natural gas line (if your HOA or COA will allow it). Additionally, a permanent in-wall unit installation will require some framing and drywall work.
  • Electric Fireplaces – Especially popular among millennial buyers, electric fireplaces are perfect for condos, townhomes, and high-rises due to their affordability and low maintenance requirements. Electric fireplaces imitate real flames using LED lights, and many models come with different lighting and color options. Like vent-free fireplaces, permanent in-wall electric unit installations will require some framing and drywall work.
  • Wall-Hung Fireplaces – Many electric fireplace models can be hung on the wall like a piece of art. This is perfect for multi-family buildings because there is not any major construction required for installation. Wall-hung units are also portable by nature, which means they can be transported for use in your next home if you choose to move.

Vent-Free or Electric?
So, which type of fireplace should you select? Generally speaking, you should choose a vent-free gas fireplace if you appreciate the look of a natural flame and already have a pre-existing gas line. Conversely, you should choose an electric fireplace if do not have a pre-existing gas line and want the safest and most affordable option.

Final Takeaways
If you decide to install a fireplace in your condo or apartment, keep the following in mind before and after your purchase.

  • Check, double check, and triple check with your building’s management and your HOA before making any purchases or installations – especially if your project will involve installing a natural gas line or doing any remodeling.
  • Consistently follow the manufacturer’s maintenance procedures. Doing so will ensure the safety of both you and your neighbors, and keep the fireplace fully functional for an extended period of time.
  • Be respectful of your neighbors. Shop for fireplaces that have low smoke and odor emissions.

If you live downtown and want to beautify your condo, townhome, or high-rise with the ambiance of gorgeous dancing fireplace flames, give us a call today at 312.471.0808 or schedule an appointment.

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