Nothing warms up a room like a fireplace. Historically, fireplaces were a necessity and had a dual purpose of cooking and heating. As time and modern conveniences progressed, the hearth was used to heat the room. But the fireplace also served as a place where people could gather for a sense of community and sharing – it continues to be an area to come together.

Today, the fireplace provides a focal point in the room and is used mostly to create a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere. However, while most modern fireplaces are electric or gas, the masonry look of a fireplace made of brick or stone is still frequently designed as part of the home.


While many love the idea of a crackling wood fire and existing wood-burning fireplaces are great, current California code makes it extremely difficult to put new wood-burning fireplaces inside residential homes. Wood smoke contains chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin, and also irritant gases that can scar lungs. As a pollutant, cities and counties restrict wood burning when local air quality is poor.

Pfau Starr Residence Architect: Pfau Long Architecture Location: San Anselmo, California

In the homes we have designed, it’s not uncommon that we start out with a wood-burning fireplace, but end up with gas after reviewing with the clients all of the extra needs such as wood storage and chopping wood. It’s easier to push a button and have a bustling fire immediately.


We’ve designed gas fireplaces with monumental surrounds in stone or concrete as a way to anchor the space and create the feeling of warmth and coziness you would associate with a more traditional hearth.


Wood-burning fireplaces and fire pits are allowed in the exterior of the home. In some cases, the convenience factor has driven an increase in gas fire pits as well. In others, exterior fireplaces and fire pits allow the client to have that wood-burning experience.

If you have put in fireplace or fire pit, did you go with gas or wood-burning? What influenced your decision?

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