The biggest difference between a factory-built fireplace and a masonry built fireplace is one is built in a factory and the other is constructed on site by brick masons. The factory built fireplace is made with UL-listed components and installed on-site. The masonry built will also have components that are approved and meet the current local fire and building codes in your area.
Factory built chimney’s have a metal flue pipe system that provides a way to vent smoke out of the house. Typically, factory-built fireplaces are smaller and while some have blowers built in them many do not. The factory-built chimney is typically enclosed in a wooden chase that is covered by a metal cap to prevent water and provided with termination cap on top.
A traditional masonry chimney is built on site using brick, mortar and clay flue tiles for liners though some homeowners are going to a stainless steel flue because they have a lifetime guarantee. A masonry chimney is normally more expensive to build and to maintain and most do not come with chimney caps installed. We highly recommend that homeowners go ahead and install a chimney cap when building a masonry chimney to keep water, leaves and animals from getting inside the appliance or your home.
Most of the time, a factory built fireplace can be removed if damaged and replaced with new unit for less cost than a masonry system. However, if built and maintained properly following best practices, most of the time a masonry will outlast a factory built chimney.
While it has been said that a factory built fireplace is safer than a masonry fireplace, there is little to no evidence to back this up. So the truth is that factory-built fireplaces are not any safer than masonry fireplaces; they’re just different. Both types of fireplaces will work in most situations and can provide years of warmth and enjoyment for any family.
Diagrams courtesy and copyright of C.S.I.A.