We finished 2016 off right with the installation of a gas fireplace, and celebrated by blazing our great wall of fire on max heat right into the New Year; considering how much time we actually spend in our living room playing and working from home, I feel pretty foolish for not having had this installed 3 years ago. A functional fireplace is something that we’ve been desiring every winter, but we spent a lot of time overthinking whether or not we would repair the chimney so that it could be wood burning, or make the conversion and go with a gas insert.
I grew up in a home with a wood burning fireplace, and my parents still use it all of the time, but while I’m trying to simplify my life and lessen the chore load, dealing with ashes seems like an unnecessary pain in the ass. Plus, the idea of a live fire near young kids is terrifying, so the cost and benefits of upgrading to the gas insert that could flip on and off with the push of a childproof button was fairly worthwhile for us. I also considered that the wood burning fireplace is a nice option in cool weather, but during cold weather (freezing and sub-zero, a.k.a. December – March) open wood burning fireplaces are less efficient, like an open window letting the warm air out and cold air in. We want to make this little house as efficient as humanly possible, so gas won fair and square, and we can use it every day of the winter without question. It’s here! It’s here!
After 8 years of owning homes with non-functioning fireplaces, it was pretty amazing to see the installers light our new insert for the first time. I didn’t realize exactly how much warmth and life would be brought to that end of the living room, and how quickly I couldn’t imagine the living room without it.
A few years ago I removed the brass encasement that surrounded the old wood burning fireplace and that made a big difference visually (it’s super easy to do, and if you’re living with an ugly fireplace surround I suggest you relieve yourself of it pronto). I staged the empty cavernous fireplace with some pieces of cut white birch sourced from our own yard, and left it as-is in a pile on the iron grate to collect dust for a few more years. It was fine enough but paled in comparison to the movement and warmth of the flames within the gas insert.
There were lots of different models and finishes at Fireplace Fashions, the fireplace store we were referred to in Rochester, NY. We went into the purchasing process not having done any research or planning on the options available, knowing only that we wanted a few things – matte gray or black, and as with a face as clean-lined as possible.
The discovery process presented lots of options that were clean-lined for sure, designs that were considered modern and contemporary but were still not the right fit for our home (read: rainbow LEDs and flames shooting from a nest of crushed glass). We landed happily upon a product by Heat & Glo that included logs and embers that looked incredibly authentic compared to most of the options we perused in the showroom (if you’re shopping, I’m talking about the Escape Gas Firebrick Insert). Had I taken a moment to do more research, I’d have seen that there was a $100 coupon available on the manufacturer’s website; be aware, people!
The heat put off by the fireplace is simply awesome, whether or not the fan is on. We reworked our heating zones a few years ago and actually now find that we can keep the thermostats much cooler, and instead enjoy the warmth of the fireplace throughout the adjacent living and dining rooms.
If you’re shopping around, check back soon. I’m preparing a guide for DIY Network on how to shop for and select a gas fireplace, so I’ll be sure to link to it here when it’s live.
We moved the girls into a bedroom together a few months ago to make space for the new baby; they’re busy reveling in their new bunk bed, pretzel linens, rad useless throw pillows, soaking it all up. I’ve been working hard to make the room their space, and as excited as I am at our ability to have made a room suitable for both a toddler and a 10-year old, I’m putting on the breaks before oversharing it here; I think those days are over.
What I am thrilled to overshare is this little project I did for them, a marquee-style lightbox that offers them creativity, and a sweet little decorative glow that’s fun during the day and rocks as a nightlight at bedtime.
Truth be told, you can purchase a light box from the Heidi Swapp collection, and they’re not too pricy either. For $30-40 you can find them at Michael’s stores, and on Amazon too (that’s an affiliate link guys – and if you click it I promise I’ll use the pennies received towards more Heidi Swapp letters).
If and when you don’t want to buy one, here’s what I used to make mine:
First, remove any matting and line the inside of the glass with a piece of white paper, cut to size. That’s going to obscure the light produced by the bulbs. You might think that a matte contact paper would do the trick – I did – but it turns out I don’t have the patience for contact paper, and even though I did a pretty good job, there were lots of micro-air bubbles that made the end result look imperfect. Ordinary printer paper is unwaveringly simple.
Now it’s time to install the LED light strand. I used icicle lights because in general the strands are shorter, and the light bulbs are a bit more compacted.Less wire, more light, am I making that up? Maybe. Anyways, white wire promises to show less than black wire, and the little lights produce less heat than ordinary strand lights. Use some strong tape (I used white crafty duct tape) to attach the strands inside the back of the shadowbox frame. Use a hole saw (if you have one) or an utility blade to cut an opening in the back panel of the frame. It needs to be large enough for the plug to emerge.
I purchased and used this pack of letters for my project; be prepared to purchase 2 if you want to be able to spell anything that’s beyond the annoyingly motivational “dream love laugh.” To the developer who comes up with an app that helps you make phrases out of limited 50 letters, there’s your million dollar opportunity.
Depending on the size of your frame, you may be able to stack 3-4 rows of text. You should also know that the letters are super easy to trim, say, if you need to take 1/8″ off either end. Don’t expect that the Heidi Swapp letters designed for the coordinating light box will fit perfectly in your DIY model.
I chose and used a thin piece of balsa wood for the next part of the project, putting division barriers in place so that the letters had grooves in which to sit. Balsa wood is super easy to work with – I used a straight edge and an utility knife to cut 3 little strips.
I painted the strips white, allowed it to dry, and then measured out the spacing. Determining where the wooden strips need to fit is pretty simple. The height of the glass divided by 3 or 4, depending on how many rows you’re vying to create. I applied a piece of clear tape up and down the left and right sides of the frame, and then used a marker atop the tape to mark my spacing. For goodness sake, do a dry run to make sure the fit and measurements are right on with your letters.
Hot glue is an easy way to adhere the strips to the glass, although in complete honesty I might recommend you try a bead of clear silicone, which doesn’t harden quite as fast as hot glue. Slow down and do it right. You’ll need the piece of balsa to sit at least a millimeter off of the glass because the letters need to “wedge” behind them to remain upright and in position, and either hot glue or silicone would remain a bit thick, as opposed to falling flat under the pressures of gravity.
Once it’s assembled, it’s as easy as positioning your phrase and plugging it in. (This phrase, I should note, was scribed by my cousin on a sticky note and taped to the back of Julia’s door a few years ago. We left it there, a little reminder of her happiness and positivity. Thanks Becky!)
Plug it in, and get creative with those messages, kiddos.