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    Credit: Patrick P. Martin

    A student at the Sierra Conservation Center Adult School in Jamestown, Calif., completed this fullmasonry fireplace. It includes a firebox, smoke shelf, and throat with flue liners and an ash dump.

What is it about fire that draws people toward the flame? Is it the heat? Most definitely, but why fight the bugs and elements standing around a campfire when the camper heater will keep you plenty warm? And when someone says "hearth," what comes to mind? If you are anything like me, you envision warmth, family, and friendship.

There is something magical about fire and the way it dances in the air. It hisses, whispers, and talks to you as it performs, warming as it beckons you to, "come sit, relax and enjoy." What better place to gather with friends and family than in the glow of a warm fire? The fine, soothing radiant fire heat will warm the hearts and souls of those who dare venture near. Fireplaces and masonry heaters are superb avenues in which to capture fire and allow it to perform
its voodoo in an enclosed space.

Fireplaces and masonry heaters are focal points for gatherings, and are often the starting point for a home's design. When was the last time Christmas stockings were hung from the refrigerator with care? Masonryheaters work best when they are in the center core of the home, and fireplaces are typically built in the family or living room.

Warming up to masonry
It is sad to say, but fireplaces have almost become a thing of the past because of their vast inefficiencies. Masonry heaters, on the flip side, are becoming more popular because they are a very green, effi cient, cost-effective means of alternative heat and they are beautiful. Masonry heaters burn any solid fuel with the resulting heat being captured as the flu gasses pass through a labyrinth of channels on its way to the chimney. This stored heat radiates into the room for the next 12 to 24 hours.

Masonry heaters have an old world charm with new world technology. They have been built in Europe for centuries, but have only become popular in North America in the last few decades. With new testing techniques, masonry heaters have been redesigned and engineered to be much more efficient and clean burning. Testing has shown that a well-designed and -built heater can outperform and burn with fewer pollutants than most EPA-certified wood stoves.

So, if we are going to be drawn to the flame, then why not burn cleanly and efficiently? Residential masons' market share has been dwindling for years. Maybe installing masonry heaters is a way to keep our craft from becoming extinct.

Jim Frisch is president of the Residential Masonry Contractors Association and is also the president/owner of Western Masonry in Woodinville, Wash.

Visit www.residentialmasonrycontractors.com for more information.