Fireplace Romance

  |  May 21, 2015

Few Hudson Valley home elements stir the imagination like a covered porch, a winding driveway, or a fireplace. Add a little privacy to a home not too far from town, and you have yourself a viable little piece of real estate.

As a builder, our relationship with the fireplace is complex. We love them, of course. We also know they reek of heating inefficiency, allowing more heat to escape than they typically generate. Most of our ‘more mature’ clients who have owned a home or two are more amenable to a fire-breathing wood stove that carries 10x it’s weight in heat generation.

Also, fireplaces aren’t easy to operate, so they quickly become a warranty issue for us. New homeowners go straight for the fireplace the night they buy a home if the season allows, filling it with tiny twigs, uncured overpriced wood they find at the local convenience store, maybe an easy start log and some charcoal fluid. Typical results vary from a fire that never gets going, to a house filled with smoke, to a visit from the neighborhood fire company, which inevitably leads to complaints about my driveways and their sexy curvatures so inconducive to fire trucks at 3am to unfamiliar volunteers.


Our response to the Monday morning email about how the ‘fireplace doesn’t work’ revolves around inquiring about where the firewood was purchased, when it was purchased, whether both flues were open, etc… Typically, it’s the fire building process that is the ultimate suspect.

I didn’t realize this at first, and then when I accepted the cold hard truth of it, my fire building skills advanced quickly. You don’t buy firewood in September or later. Smart fireplace owners buy their wood in late Spring. Only newbies and amateurs call for firewood in the fall, when all the good stuff is gone, and the wood for sale literally was felled the week before.

Just like good parenting is about setting a good example, good fires are about dry wood. Any shortcuts to this truism surely results in more work and poorer results.

About Catskill Farms

Charles Petersheim founded design/build firm Catskill Farms in 2002 in Sullivan County. Continually inspired wholly by regional architecture, his over 275 new old homes dot the Hudson Valley, including Sullivan, Ulster, and Dutchess counties. His 20 years of Catskills building have given him broad perspective on how to succeed Upstate, be it with farming, building, small business, or just relaxing on the front porch.

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