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A Look at the Key Differences Between Masonry & Factory-Built Fireplaces

For hundreds of years, masonry fireplaces have been the only option for those looking to keep their homes warm with a cozy fire. But not anymore. There are now so many great factory-built options, as well.

But many people still yearn for the classic look and feel of a traditional masonry fireplace without realizing everything that building and maintaining one entails.

So if you’re in the market for a fireplace—whether traditional or modern—consider the following differences between masonry and factory-built fireplaces to see which option is better for you and your home.


A masonry fireplace is built into the architecture of a home, usually when the home is built. But it can also be included during a remodel.

Masonry fireplaces are usually built on a concrete foundation. They have a chimney with a flue liner made of tile, steel, or ceramic. And the chimney and hearth are often made with natural stone, cement blocks, or brick and mortar.


Though aesthetically pleasing, masonry fireplaces come with some drawbacks, including:

Lack of Energy Efficiency

Masonry fireplaces are not energy efficient. These fireplaces lose most of their heat up the chimney, with only about 10% of the heat entering the home.

They also only tend to heat one room in a home, so they should not be depended on as a primary heating source in the winter.

Replacement Costs

Repair and replacement costs for masonry fireplaces and chimneys tend to be expensive. The labour and materials for replacing natural stone, blocks, bricks, and mortar can cost upwards of thousands of dollars depending on the extent of the repairs and replacement needed.

When flue liners crack, a new liner installation is required. Also, bricks and mortar may start to crumble over time, especially on chimneys due to their exposure to weather.

Takes Up a Lot of Space

Masonry fireplaces take up a lot of space. And since the chimney needs to vent the fireplace fumes outdoors, the placement of a masonry fireplace is limited in a home.

So you could end up with a fireplace taking up plenty of space and interrupting the flow of the only room it can be installed in practically.

Chimney Maintenance

Regular chimney maintenance is necessary to keep a masonry fireplace working safely. With regular use, smoke causes creosote to build up in chimneys. And if not cleaned, creosote becomes a fire hazard that can cause chimney fires while also emitting toxic carbon monoxide fumes.

Chimneys can also collect debris and become nesting spots for animals, such as squirrels. So chimneys need to be cleaned and inspected by a professional chimney sweep at least once a year to ensure it is safe to use.

Complex Installation

Since a masonry fireplace is part of the structure of the home, it is more labour-intensive, complex, and costly to build. And it must meet local building codes, such as having a flue lining in the chimney to prevent house fires.


Factory-built fireplaces—also known as prefab fireplaces—are made in a factory and arrive at your home ready for installation. These fireplaces are made with metal fireboxes, insulated walls, glass doors, air-cooled pipes, and blowers to push warm air into the home.

Most factory-built fireplaces require a ventilation system. But these systems are much easier to install compared to masonry chimneys.

Prefab fireplaces can be installed while building a home or after without the need for an extensive remodel.

Gas vs Wood vs Electric

Factory-built fireplaces are available in gas, wood, or electric models. So you can choose the right fireplace for your home and preferences.

  • Wood fireplaces require a supply of firewood but offer the traditional look, smell, and crackle of a wood-burning fireplace.
  • Gas fireplaces need a gas hookup but are convenient, energy-efficient, and low maintenance.
  • Electric fireplaces don’t have a real flame but are versatile and easy to use, and also provide excellent zone heating.


While not the same as a traditional masonry fireplace, factory-built fireplaces have many advantages, including:

More Options

Factory-built fireplaces come in a wide variety of design options, shapes, and sizes, so there are models to suit any home décor. These fireplaces can also be installed with a hearth to look like a traditional masonry fireplace.


When professionally-installed and well-maintained, factory-built fireplaces are safe to operate almost anywhere in the home. The insulating air pocket between the firebox and walls protects the walls from the heat. And unlike with masonry fireplaces, they don’t have the risk of chimney fires.

Energy Efficiency

Factory-built fireplaces have high energy efficiency ratings due to their closed combustion system. They burn less fuel while producing more heat than traditional masonry fireplaces. And they don’t lose nearly as much heat either.

High Heat Output

Since factory-built fireplaces have a closed combustion system, they are designed to burn hot and radiate 70% to 80% of the heat they produce—compared to only 10% for masonry fireplaces.

These fireplaces have an increased intensity of heat that results in a cleaner burn. And their fans push heated air into the home, providing excellent zone heating.


Factory-built fireplaces are cost-effective overall in terms of the purchase price, installation, and repairs. They also help save money with the energy savings from using an energy-efficient fireplace as a supplemental home heating source

Easier Maintenance

Repairing and maintaining factory-built fireplaces is much easier and less expensive than with masonry fireplaces. Replacement parts are easy to come by and more affordable than replacing masonry.


Though masonry fireplaces have been around for ages, they are not the only type of fireplace option available anymore. Factory-built fireplaces are now some of the best options out there for homeowners who want to enjoy the warm glow of a fireplace.

So when deciding between masonry or factory-built fireplaces, consider the key differences along with your budget, home architecture, heating needs, project timeline, and preferences. You can also contact the experts in fireplace installation for help choosing the right model for your home.