A warm hearth in a log home is one of those classic combinations in comfort, ranking right up there with hugs and kisses, and pillows and blankets.But choosing a hearth that can make a cold day cozy and serve as the focal point for family gatherings can be challenging. There are just so many options and potential uses. To narrow your search, start by thinking about your area’s climate, your log home’s design and your lifestyle.

Motivations & Locations
Do you want a fire for its aesthetic appearance or for its warmth? Some hearth products are designed to be mostly decorative, whereas others are built to heat—either an entire home or one or two rooms.

In a log home, the great room is a natural location for a hearth. But with today’s venting (or vent-free) options, hearths can be installed almost anywhere. Consider such nontraditional areas as the kitchen, home office, master bedroom or bath.

Site or Factory Built?
Do you want a traditional fireplace built onsite by a mason or would you prefer a factory-built unit?

The majority of residential fireplaces installed today—about 75 percent, or more than 500,000 units annually—are no longer traditional brick and mortar; they are engineered and built in factories and then shipped to the construction site. These energy-efficient units consist of a firebox enclosed within a steel cabinet, which keeps the outer shell cool and allows it to be installed next to wood framing—hence the term “zero-clearance fireplace.”

Fuel Choices & Products
The types of fuel that are accessible to you will shape your hearth product selection. There are essentially seven types to choose from: firewood, natural gas, propane, coal, oil, electricity and wood pellets, which are made of compressed sawdust.

You can burn these fuels in fireplaces, stoves, masonry heaters or inserts (for retrofitting existing fireplaces). With the exception of units powered by electricity, one benefit of most of these hearth products is that they can operate during power outages, when you usually need the heat the most.

Venting Options
Depending on the fuel burned, hearths are vented in three ways: natural draft (vented through the roof, such as a chimney), direct-vent and vent-free.

A traditional masonry fireplace uses a natural-draft chimney to expel the wood-burning byproducts. Direct-vent units vent directly through the wall, so installation costs for materials and labor are lower than having to vent it through the roof. Vent-free refers to gas-fired hearths that burn so efficiently that it eliminates the need for venting. In certain regions of the country, building codes limit the use of vent-free products.

Product Costs & Accessories
Masonry prices for traditional fireplaces will vary greatly, depending on region, chimney size and the type of rock or brick you choose.

Costs for factory-produced units, in contrast, are remarkably similar, regardless of product or the fuel. Prices range from less than $1,000 to more than $3,000 (not including installation), depending on unit size and heating capacity. Venting costs can double the price. Costs for accessories, such as mantels, facings, screens, tool sets and rugs can climb into the upper-thousands, depending on the type of look you want to achieve.