The desire to heat oneself in front of an open flame goes back to the primal origins of man. Last winter there were many new, standalone fireplaces on the market that provided a more believable, yet synthetic fireplace experience. It seemed like every bookcase and entertainment center in stores boasted one of these efficient, glowing space heaters. None actually contained fire, but the realistic effect sparked an interest in revamping our tired old hearth.
We had burnt very little wood in our 1970's fireplace. Like most open-hearth designs, it proved to be terribly inefficient and actually made the living room colder by drafting all of the heat out of the room. The brick monolith did have a strong presence in the space and we felt it would be nice to animate this feature.
At first, I tried a Duraflame unit with a heater, but it smelled really bad as it produced heat. This also presented another big problem, the fact that the log set was inside of the firebox, it kept shutting off the internal thermostat. It did not look very convincing either, so with all of these flaws, it did not justify the expense.
Another approach was needed, so I ordered a rather inexpensive electric log set. Providing heat was not as important to us as the illusion of a real fire. The Pleasant Heart Crackling Log set was perfect because it was simple and actually made out of wood. Hard to beat the real material when comparing to other plastic sets. By adding a few cut branches from my yard I was able to make it look even more realistic. The trick to making the additional wood match the rest of the charred set involved flat black spray paint and white acrylic paint. I lightly sprayed the wood with a quick, thin layer of black and let dry. Then lightly drybrushed the white on top, which created faux ash.
To complete the project, my finishing touch was providing power to the inside of the fireplace. Nothing ruins the effect more than having a power cord coming from the fire. I knew there was power nearby in the heatilator and since I had no intent of using this fireplace to burn wood, it provided the necessary components to start. I knocked out a couple bricks and was able to replace the blower motor with a junction box and an outlet. As a bonus the heatilator system ran on an existing wall switch, so it allowed us to turn on the fire like a gas insert.
On a side note, this project was also an important milestone for me, it was the last project on my to do list at the old house. A nice, warm way to cap off a four year long renovation.