Friday, December 14, 2007

Blurring the Line Between a Fake Fireplace and a Real Fire

I've complained about the crappy old fake "fireplace" in my house before. It's old. It's fake. In general, it sucks large quantities of ass.

I now know it's also a fire hazard and was installed by a previous owner who should NEVER have been allowed near anything electrical.

Yesterday I smelled what I assumed was a hair burning on the heating element of the "fireplace". It stunk, so I turned the fireplace off. This piece-o-crap is (was), unfortunately, a major source of heat for the family room, so I knew I'd have to finish burning whatever was stinking sooner or later.

Today was the day. It's in the low 20's outside, so this room is too cool for my comfort - about 65 degrees when the rest of the house is 70-71.

I get back from work and crank the thermostat up, wanting to make the stink before the kids get home so I could blame it on the dog. Don't judge me.

About 30 seconds into the burn I hear a fizzle (cue Snoop Dog) and see copious amounts of smoke coming from what is normally a fake fire. Not a good sign.

Until this time, I didn't know if this smoking pile of crap "fireplace" was hard-wired or plugged in. Deciding that having my house burn down would not be the best way to start the weekend, I grabbed the plastic "logs" and turned the whole cheap-ass "fire" sideways and notice that there is no fire, but plenty of smoke coming from the heating coil.

That calms me down a little, as "smoke without fire" is better than "fire with urine soaked pants".

I find that the base the "logs" are sitting on is hinged, so I remove the "logs" and find that there is a 220 volt plug underneath. The "logs" were then unplugged and the whole assembly was removed so I can let it cool down before throwing it into the garbage.

With the crappy fake "fire" (and real smoke) removed I noticed a few things. First, the flooring in this room was crappy brown tile - probably asbestos. Crappy brown carpet over the top of crappy brown tile is actually a step up in a couple of ways. I've also noticed at least part of the reason this room has been so cold. This "fireplace" has been constructed directly over the top of one of the heating vents, meaning that this vent was blocked and useless. Useless like a book showing proper electrical work in the hands of the previous owner, but I digress.

Here we have what should be outlawed in all 50 states plus Canada (Mexico, you're on your own). This rolling drum simulates fire in the same way a Yugo simulates a luxury car. The smoke was coming from years of gunk built up on the electronics caged in on the left.

Wiring done to code? Not for me, thanks. Buried deep inside the base of this crap-tastic "fireplace" is a 220 volt outlet to power this garbage. At least I assume it's 220 volt. It's a 220 volt plug and 220 volt receptacle, but I've learned not to trust that things in this house were done correctly. I will not be surprised at all to find out that it's actually wired as 110 volt. Notice how the receptacle is cocked to the side? It's just laying there, not firmly attached to anything. Nice job, previous owner.

With all of the crap out of the way for only 30 minutes, this heating vent has already raised the temp in the room by a few degrees. I had been planning to add some baseboard heat, but now may not have to. If I need to, I've at least got the wiring already in place. Assuming it's actually 220 volt. Gee, what are the odds...

This cage is what was used "back in the day" to hold smoke in. Over time, smoke gets smarter and unless you're careful, it finds a way to get out. In the wild, smoke is allowed to run free. I prefer free-range smoke, but I'm all about conservation of the species.

Instead of using a baseboard heater, we are also considering installing a fireplace which uses real fire to heat the room and part of the house. A pellet heater would be nice, but I need to look into it to see if they look authentic enough. Last thing I want to do is remove old crap only to replace it with new crap.


Anonymous said...

Hello I found your site thru house I have a strange feeling that someone thought by putting the fake fireplace on top of the heat vent, when the heat was on it would push past the fake flames and add extra heat to the room. Am I making sense.

Muskego Jeff said...

Maybe, but it's probably more because it's the only convenient wall in the room for a fireplace. No door or window in the way, just a heat vent.

The fake fireplace had a couple of fans to push the heat out, and the main base for the logs effectively blocked all heat or air conditioning. Essentially it was the same as just closing the damper on a vent, shutting off the airflow.

Without enough insulation in the ceiling (yet) and with two exterior walls plus one wall shared with an unheated garage, this room can't be kept warm without that vent.

With the fake fireplace working, it actually did a good job in heating the room, if you didn't mind the extra noise of the fans running.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I needed a good laugh and your story and pictures of the fake fireplace made me laugh out loud!! Thanks!!