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Fireplace 101: Masonry vs. Prefabricated

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Usually you can tell at a glance whether a fireplace is masonry or prefab. While traditionalists prefer the aged look of a masonry fireplace, not every house is blessed with one. That’s when a prefabricated fireplace may be the best solution. Both can add that wonderful fire element to your home, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.


First, let’s make sure we understand the definition of each. Masonry fireplaces and chimneys are part of the house’s original plan, built on-site by masons, usually when the house is constructed. The interior of the fireplace is made of brick or stone, and the chimney is also brick. Generally, masonry fireplaces are found in older homes. Doors can be either an inside mount or overlap mount.

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A Masonry Fireplace


Prefab fireplaces are made in a factory and are most common in newer homes. They first became popular in the 1960s. The inside of a factory-built fireplace is usually made from solid sheets of metal. They can also have refractory panels inside, which look like bricks, and serves to prevent the fire’s heat from penetrating and damaging the firebox.

Factory-built fireplaces have chimneys extending through the roof. Sometimes these are encased by a housing of siding or simulated brick. A chase cover, which resembles a shoe box lid, may perch atop the chimney.

Prefab fireplaces are extensively factory-tested for safety. However, they must be installed correctly to be safe in your home. You must be sure that replacement parts are made for your specific fireplace, or risk a house fire.

Some prefab fireplaces burn wood, some gas, some both. Be sure to only burn the correct fuel in your prefab fireplace box.

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Factory-built fireplace


A beautiful fireplace built by skilled masons is not inexpensive. Having a masonry fireplace designed and custom-fitted to your home is a worthy investment that will last for years before needing maintenance and can really add value to your home.

Prefabricated fireplaces are more affordable but don’t come with near as much flexibility in regards to customization of size and design.

Durability and Maintenance

Masonry fireplaces are built to last a lifetime. Prefabricated fireplaces are appliances. Parts eventually wear out. Sometimes an exact replacement part can’t be found, rendering the fireplace obsolete. Expect your prefab fireplace to last for up to 15 years.

Brick mason-built fireplaces stand up to more intense heat than factory-built models, which can warp if the fire is too intense.

However, prefab fireplaces have metal flues, which are often simpler to clean than brick chimneys. Also, a metal flue is less likely to acquire a dangerous creosote buildup. Stainless steel chimney liners usually come with a lifetime warranty.

The old bricks and mortar of masonry chimneys need to be regularly coated with water repellent to avoid crumbling. Properly cared for, they last and last.

Insulation and Efficiency

For heating a room, factory-built fireplaces are usually more efficient. Prefab units have better insulation than masonry fireplaces. In fact, factory-built fireplaces are so well insulated that usually they can be installed very close to combustible materials. Their combination of insulated walls, metal, blowers, glass doors and air-cooled pipes efficiently move the fire’s heat into the room.


If you have a masonry fireplace, you can preserve the aesthetics but up your efficiency by adding a fireplace insert. You can’t do this with factory-built units, unless the manufacturer specifically designed an insert to be compatible with a prefab model.

Still have questions about masonry versus prefab? At Old World Stoneworks, there’s nothing we’d rather talk about than fireplaces and mantels. Call us today and we’ll discuss your unique fireplace situation.

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