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Lake Lanier Home from drone

What are Thermal Breaks?

Metal frame windows and doors – whether that metal is steel, aluminum, bronze, etc. – sometimes get a bad rap for not being energy efficient. This is because metal is an excellent thermal conductor, meaning the temperature on the outside frame of the window or door is brought inside the house.

Luckily, there’s a solution to this problem: thermal breaks. Adding a thermal break to a window or door prevents both heat and cold from transferring through the frames altogether, alleviating issues that might be caused by extreme environments. By controlling this transfer, thermally broken windows and doors improve energy efficiency.

Obviously, energy efficiency is a large driving factor behind purchasing a thermally broken window or door. However, there are other factors that come into play, including:

Before you decide if you need a to add thermal breaks to your windows and doors, let’s learn a little bit more about what thermal breaks do and how they function in different climates (including how that translates to code compliance).

What are thermal breaks and what do they do?

Thermal Break Diagram

The main job of a thermal break is to isolate the outside frame of a window or door from the inside frame, so that outdoor conditions do not impact the indoor temperature. This is most often accomplished by placing a polymer isolator (such as resin, polyamide, or polyurethane) that has a low thermal conductivity between the two halves of the metal frame.

By separating the interior and exterior halves of the frame, the thermal conductivity of the unit as a whole is lessened, thus slowing down the transfer of both cold and heat from the outside. For this reason, thermally broken units are typically recommended for the exterior of the home only, except in instances where extreme temperature shifts are experienced, i.e. the bathroom or a wine cellar.

Why use thermal breaks?

The choice between a thermally broken unit or a non-thermally broken unit is purely functional and comes down to one factor: climate. Mild climates typically don’t get hot or cold enough for a thermal break to be necessary. However, in extremely cold or extremely hot climates, thermally broken units are highly recommended.

In places that get extremely cold, like New England or the Upper Midwest, there are a couple different reasons (of varying degrees of severity) to consider choosing a thermally broken unit, including condensation prevention and operability of the unit.

Condensation is a major concern in these cold climates. Without a thermal break, metal frames get just as cold on the inside as they are on the outside. When the frames become cold, the humidity inside the warm house can condense on the frames. Now, this might not be a huge deal to the homeowner who has tile or brick floors throughout their house. However, to the homeowner with wood flooring, condensation should be a concern, as it can run off the window or door and ruin the flooring.

The other major concern with metal frame windows and doors in cold climates is the operability of the unit throughout the winter. If it gets cold enough, non-thermally broken units can become so cold that the frames completely freeze and frost over. This obviously isn’t an ideal situation, especially in the case of a door.

On the other hand, in places that get extremely hot, like the Southwest, the heat transfer itself is the main concern. In fact, if it gets hot enough outside, frames without a thermal break will conduct the heat to the inside of the frame, which can potentially cause burns.

Though thermally broken units are highly recommended in these extreme climates, they can also be used in more mild climates as well and will prevent the same issues, such as condensation and heat transfer.

Thermal Breaks and Code Compliance

IECC code compliance can be a big hurdle to clear in many localities. Most non-thermally broken metal windows and doors will only be IECC code compliant in mild climates. However, as codes change from city to city, you should not expect to be able to use a non-thermally broken unit just because you don’t live in an area with extreme heat or extreme cold. Thermally broken units are much more likely to be IECC code compliant nationwide. Remember to check your local code to determine whether your desired unit is sufficient.

How much does a thermally broken unit cost?

For most manufacturers, thermally broken units are not the standard, which means getting one comes with a higher price tag. For example, while a standard 5’ (W) x 8’ (H) steel double door in the middle of our price range will cost around $10,000 (depending on the options chosen), the same door in a thermally broken profile will cost roughly 25% more.

Is a thermally broken unit right for me?

At the end of the day, deciding between a non-thermally broken unit and thermally broken unit comes down to a few factors. Typically, homeowners should consider these factors in the following order:

  1. Code compliance – if your local building code has stricter energy efficiency requirements, a thermally broken unit may be your only option if you choose to go with a metal frame door
  2. Price – typically the largest hurdle for some homeowners to overcome
  3. Climate – will your windows and doors function as expected over time based on the environment in which you live (as well as your tolerance for the environment’s effects on your windows and doors)

With these 3 factors in mind, you should be able to determine which type of unit is right for you.

How to Identify and Fix Common Smoke Draw Issues

Picture this: it’s a cold winter’s evening, so you decide to build a fire in your fireplace and snuggle up under a blanket, only to find that your whole house is filling up with smoke. Not a very appealing picture, and certainly not what you expect from your fireplace.

A fireplace that fills your house with smoke is not only a nuisance, but can be a safety hazard as well. Below are many common reasons you could be getting smoke in your house, how to identify the cause for your issue and how to fix it.

Closed Damper


The most likely reason that your house is filling with smoke when you light a fire is that the damper is closed. The damper should be fully opened when the fireplace is in use, and closed when it is not.

All indoor fireplaces have a damper that must be opened before you light a fire in your fireplace. A closed damper blocks off the chimney to keep rain and debris out of your house and to keep conditioned air (i.e., heated or cooled) in. When the damper is closed while a fire is burning, the smoke is blocked from exiting through the chimney and has nowhere to go but back into your house.

Your damper will be located in one of two locations – in the throat of the fireplace or at the top of the chimney. The operation of the damper depends on what type you have.

Throat Damper

The majority of dampers are cast iron throat dampers. This type of damper is a metal door located right above the firebox at the base of the smoke chamber. You can easily check whether it is open or closed by looking up into the chimney with a flash light.

Cast iron throat dampers are opened and closed using a handle that is attached to the damper door. To open the damper simply lift the handle, push it all the way forward, and pull back to latch into place.

If you forgot to open the damper before lighting a fire, use caution when opening it, as the hot metal damper can cause severe burns. We recommend using a fireplace tool to safely open the damper while a fire is going in the fireplace.

Top Seal Damper

The other type of damper you could have is a top seal damper. These dampers are located at the top of your flue and completely close of the chimney. They are opened and closed using a stainless steel cable or chain that runs down the chimney to a handle located inside the fireplace.

Chimney Blockage

If your damper is open and you’re still getting smoke in your house, it’s possible that you have a chimney blockage. These can take a couple different forms.

Creosote Build Up

If you have a wood burning fireplace, one of the most common and most dangerous chimney blockages is creosote. When wood is burned slowly, it produces tar and other organic vapors that combine with expelled moisture to form creosote. The creosote vapors condense during cooling while combustion by-products go up the chimney. This condensed creosote can then accumulate on the flue lining.

We recommend having your fireplace and chimney professionally inspected once a year (prior to the heating season) to determine if creosote build-up has occurred. If a significant layer of creosote has accumulated (1/8” or more) it should be removed to reduce the risk of chimney fire.

Bird Nests and Animal Blockages

Birds in Chimney

Critters, such as squirrels, birds, and bats, have been known to make their homes in chimneys. Their nests and debris can build up over time, causing blockage issues. Even spider webs in flues that haven’t been used for a long time can redirect air flow.

If all you have is animal nests and debris, contact a professional sweep, who can safely and effectively remove the blockage. If you have live animals causing a blockage, do not light a fire until you have had an exterminator remove them.

Too Small Chimney Caps or Chimney Pots

Many fireplaces are topped off with either a chimney cap or a chimney pot. These accessories are both decorative and practical, as they help keep rain and debris out of your chimney.

A chimney pot or chimney cap that is too small can cause smoke to reenter your house. The base of the chimney pot or cap often fits over the top of the flue, but should never be smaller than the flue. The top of the chimney pot shouldn’t be much narrower than the flue itself – “choking down” the diameter can cause smoke draw issues.

In general, tops and caps should have a combined opening that is four times the cross-sectional area of the flue itself. If your chimney pot or cap is too small, consider replacing it with a large unit to alleviate some of your smoke issues.

Pressure Differential

Pressure Differential

A well-functioning house will have close to neutral indoor air pressure and will work to keep the pressure natural. When a fire is burning in a fireplace, the fire is pulling a tremendous amount of air up the chimney. In order for the neutral pressure of the house to be maintained, the air that is escaping out of the chimney must be replaced with new “makeup” air.

Often times, when smoke is blowing back into your house, it means there is a downdraft and the room is too negatively pressurized. In other words, the easiest way for the makeup air to replace the air being lost or exhausted somewhere else in the house is down the chimney.

An easy way to test if pressure differential is causing the smoke draw issues is by holding a burning stick of incense in the throat of the fireplace. If the smoke goes up the chimney, pressure differential is not your culprit and you can move on.

However, if the smoke from your incense blows down and back into the room, that means your chimney has a downdraft. To solve this problem, you’ll need to find a way to neutralize the downdraft. You can do this by opening a window or door low in the house, turning off a fan or your furnace or closing upstairs windows. Try these things one at a time (while still using your incense to test) and give the air enough time (2-3 minutes) to reverse itself. See what it takes to control the indoor air pressure so that there is no downdraft in the chimney and the smoke begins to draw upward.

Please note, every home is different so what works for one may not work for all. A good rule of thumb is to think about reducing the air escaping high in the house and increasing the air coming into the house on the lower floors. Note, it may make a difference which window you open or close, especially in a breeze – when you open a window, check to ensure the outside air is actually flowing in.

Once you’ve gotten your pressure under control, you’ll want to test to make sure you have adequate airflow for the fire.

Adequate Airflow

New home under construction

Modern houses tend to be very tight (think spray foam insulation, house wrap, weather-sealed windows, etc.) and much more energy efficient than homes built prior to the 1970s. Because these homes are so tight, it is difficult for ventilation and combustion air to easily enter the home, meaning that there is not enough makeup air in the house for the fireplace to draw properly.

To test whether airflow is causing your smoke issues, you’ll need to simulate the air loss caused by a fire – this can be done by turning on a kitchen fan to create a downdraft. Once you’ve got the fan turned on, use your lit incense again to see where the smoke is going.

Then add ventilation air (opening a downstairs window that is blowing air into house, etc. as described above) until the cold chimney drafts up, even with the kitchen fan still on. Going through this process will help you determine how much air is needed for the fireplace.

While the quantity of combustion air required varies based on the type of fireplace, type of chimney and size of the fire that is burning, a general rule of thumb is 1 cubic foot per minute of make-up air per 1 square inch of flue area

Obviously, opening a window every time you want to burn a fire isn’t an ideal long term solution for every homeowner. For a permanent fix, you can install one of the following:


Because your fireplace’s flue runs up through the roofline and outside the home, external weather conditions can sometimes cause smoke to fill your house. Two of the most common weather culprits are extreme cold and cross drafting.

Extreme Cold

Snowy House

In very cold temperatures, an unused flue can fill up with high-density cold air that itself blocks the flow of smoke up the chimney. This is especially true if your chimney is located on the outside of the house. In these cases, take steps to "warm" your flue by building a small fire of newspaper at the back of the firebox. Continue to feed more newspaper until the smoke from the fire disappears up the flue.

*Note: A masonry chimney will take considerably more time to "warm" than a metal chimney.

Wind or Cross Drafting

Wind can cause smoke issues a couple of different ways. The first way is known as Dynamic Wind Loading. This is caused when wind blows on one side of the house, causing a high-pressure zone on that side of the house and creating a corresponding low-pressure zone on the other side of the house. This causes a pressure differential, which can be solved by opening a window on the windward side of the house. For a more permanent fix, you’ll want to tighten up the leeward side of the house (negative pressure side) and install an outside air kit

Wind can also cause turbulence at the top of a chimney, not allowing the smoke to escape, or can even blow the smoke back down the chimney into the fireplace. This is especially common if there are tall roofs or trees nearby. You can fix this by replacing your rain cap with a draft inducing cap.

Stack Effect

Stack Effect

The stack effect describes the movement of air into and out of the building, chimneys, stack, etc. In most homes, there is typically a neutral pressure level about halfway between the ground floor and the roof, meaning everything above that level is positively pressurized (air will leak out) and everything below is negatively pressurized (air will leak in).

In older houses and oftentimes tall houses, the negative pressure rarely exceeds 8 Pascals, which is about the difference in pressure in 10ft. of altitude. Furnaces and fireplaces usually perform well pulling against a negative pressure of up to 8 Pascals.

Modern houses, however, tend to be more tightly built using spray foam insulation, caulked windows and sealed doorways. They also tend to be full of powerful kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, so the neutral pressure level may be higher in the house (if it exists at all). This means the negative pressure in the lower areas of the house can far exceed 8 Pascals, causing a downdraft in a chimney.

You can help reduce stack effect in your home by stopping air leaks in the uppermost parts of your house, including attic access hatches, ceiling light fixtures, and poorly fitting windows. However, you can’t really change the kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans that blow air out of the house. In this case, the stack effect can only be corrected by adding as much air to the house as is being blown out of it, i.e. opening a window or adding an outside air kit.

Poor Construction Practices

If you’ve followed all the troubleshooting tips above and nothing has stopped smoke from blowing back into your house, it is possible that your fireplace was constructed incorrectly.

Chimney Height

Chimney height Diagram

When a house is taller than the chimney, the house has a “taller effective stack” and can act as a better chimney than the chimney itself, pulling air in through the flue and pushing it out through cracks/leaks higher in the house. Chimney height can also create a downdraft situation if the chimney does not extend high enough into air with a low-enough density to create an ambient updraft. In general, a taller chimney will typically draw better.

If your fireplace smokes because your chimney is too short, the problem is likely worse when the wind blows. Not only is a too short chimney unlikely to vent properly, it may also be a serious fire hazard, risking setting the roof on fire.

While not universally true, we recommend following the 2-10-3 rule – a chimney must be 2ft. taller than any structure within 10 ft. and stand 3 ft. taller than the point at which it penetrates the roofline. That said, if you are constructing a chimney, we always recommend consulting a professional as well as checking local building code.

Too Tight Throat or Smoke Chamber

A throat or smoke chamber that is too tight for the size firebox will create smoke draw issues. The throat front and back should fit well at the top of the firebox and not restrict the opening air space. If you have a throat damper, ensure it does not restrict the throat opening either. Check to see if firebrick or other material has been added to the back of the throat, which would reduce the throat opening area and should be removed. Feel around for smooth, streamlined surfaces with no obstructions that would restrict or redirect air flow.

Inappropriate Flue Size

For a fireplace to draw well, you need to be sure the flue size is adequate for the amount of smoke that can be created in the firebox. A good rule of thumb is that the fireplace opening be no more than 10-12x the area of the flue. A smaller flue simply can't process the amount of smoke, causing some to spill back into your home. For metal chimney systems, we recommend at least a 14” flue for 36” and larger boxes.

Flue size should be matched to firebox size in accordance with Section R1003.15.1 or R1003.15.2 (IRC 2015).

However, there are some exceptions to this rule

And remember, bigger is not always better. Your flue should be the appropriate size for your fireplace. If a flue is too large, the amount of heat produced by a small fire might not be enough to drive the draft upward.

Competing Flutes

Competing Flues

A house that has multiple flues sharing one chimney chase may transfer smoke to one another when one is burning and the other is not, causing smoke to reenter the home.

When you light a fire in one fireplace, you are creating a negative pressure inside the house. If the house is fairly airtight then the easiest way for the fire to get air is through the open flue of the other fireplace –in other words the smoke goes up the chimney and gets sucked back down the other flue along with the necessary fresh air.

To fix this, you can extend the height of the flue that is causing the smoking to make one flue higher than the other. This allows the smoke to escape without getting pulled back down with the fresh air. A minimum of an 8-12” height differential is recommended. If adding height to the chimney is not an option, you can also consider adding an outside air kit (also called a fresh air kit) to the fireplace that is causing the smoking.


Smoke spillage can be caused by a variety of different factors, some of which are easier to fix than others. The most common causes of smoke entering the home are:

However, this list is not exhaustive of all possible scenarios, nor can it be – other potential influences include:

If you have a fireplace that is filling your house with smoke and you can’t determine the cause, or you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, seek the help of a licensed professional who can help pinpoint the issue and offer viable, long-term solutions.

Installation Considerations When Building a See-Through Fireplace

FireRock-See-Through-FireplaceWe get a lot of questions about installing our See-Through pre-engineered fireplace kit. While the installation fundamentals are the same, the See-Through has a slightly trickier installation than the rest of our fireplaces. There are multiple special installation steps that must be considered for the proper installation of a See-Through fireplace, including:


4 Backyard Projects You Can Complete This Winter

Just because winter is almost here doesn’t mean that the backyard you worked on all summer has to go dormant. There are still plenty of projects you can do throughout the colder months that will make your garden functional and beautiful through the winter while prepping for next summer. Below are a few of our favorite projects to work on in the off season.


Living Room Focal Points - What Are They and How Do I Create One?

What is a Living Room Focal Point?

The living room (or den) is most often the central hub of your home. Between fun nights with friends, holiday gatherings with families, or just unwinding at night, your living room gets a lot of use. But a great living room is more than just a few sofas and chairs. It needs a focal point, which is a decoration or feature that helps define the space and provides a central location to design the rest of the room around. Without the right focal point, the room can feel drab and unorganized.


3 Reasons to Choose an Outdoor Fireplace Over a Fire Pit

When considering adding a fire feature to their backyard, a lot of people end up trending toward installing a fire pit. And the reasons make sense – fire pits are easy to come by (you can often pick them up at a big box store), they’re normally pretty affordable, and they’re fairly easy to install. Though these 3 reasons make a good argument for choosing a fire pit, we think that in the long run, an outdoor fireplace is the better investment for the savvy homeowner. Here are 3 reasons to choose an outdoor fireplace over a fire pit.


Designing the Perfect Fall Patio

Fall weather has finally made an appearance, which means it’s the perfect time of year for hanging out in the backyard on a crisp night. But to get the most out of those fall evenings, you should really think about updating your summer patio and make your outdoor space last well into the new season. Check out our favorite tips below for bringing your patio from the summer into the fall.


Planning a Pool Patio: Sizes and Materials

The hardscape surrounding a pool is referred to by a variety of different names: pool patio, pool deck, pool decking, and pool surround, just to name a few.

Whatever you call the space around your pool, odds are, you’ll spend more of your time on the pool patio than in the pool! Whether you’re throwing a pool party or just lounging in the sun, your pool deck is likely to see the most action. That’s why making the right decisions when it comes to size and material of your pool surround are critical to your overall enjoyment of the area.


If you’re building an in-ground pool, you’ve probably already dropped a pretty penny on the labor that goes into it and are looking to cut costs elsewhere. If you want to get the most out of your pool, fight the urge to save money by skimping out on the pool surround.

For a lot of pool owners, their number one regret is that they underestimated how much time they would spend poolside (but not actually in the pool) and didn’t make their pool patio big enough.

If you’re wanting to surround your pool with furniture, that takes up space! And if you’re planning on having friends or family over, you need to leave enough room for people to maneuver.

Here are a few good space estimates to keep in mind when planning your pool deck[1]:

Based on those numbers above, a 12’ x 24’ rectangular pool with a seating area, a small dining area, and a couple chaise lounges, you’re looking at needing a patio somewhere between 1,080 square feet and 1,430 square feet. That gives you plenty of space to lounge poolside!

Now if you’ve run the numbers and found that your dream pool deck is just not in the budget, don’t get discouraged. It’s possible to tackle your pool patio in stages if it’s planned for in advance.

Whether you’re building the whole kit and caboodle now, or you’re building it in phases, it’s important to know just how much space you’ll need for your pool deck.


Once you’ve determined how large your pool patio needs to be, you’ll need to decide what material you want to use.

Choosing a material isn’t just pure aesthetics. There are variety of criteria to consider, including:

Below, we’ve broken down the most popular materials according to cost and their pros and cons.

Poured Concrete

Pool Patio - Poured Concrete
"Oak Tree | 1303 Saint Andrews Edmond OK" by Bill Wilson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Poured concrete is one of the most popular pool decking materials due to its cost-efficiency. It comes in a variety of neutral colors and can be finished a number of ways (including smooth, brushed, or with aggregate) to match your personal preference. Concrete can also be stamped with designs to give more flair, if you’re wanting something other than a smooth surface.

Cost: Poured concrete is the cheapest option on our list, in terms of materials. It’s also highly cost efficient if you’re pouring a large pool patio. However, bear in mind that unless you’re an expert DIY-er, a concrete pool surround should be poured by a professional, which adds to the final cost.




Pool Patio - Brick

Brick (or clay pavers) have been around for centuries, are a beautiful, durable material for a pool deck. They are great for achieving a consistent or patterned look, and have wonderful color retention, so they won’t fade quickly.

Cost: If you’re going with true brick, which is made of clay, expect a higher price tag (clay pavers can cost 15% to 20% more than a similar looking concrete paver). Brick is among the more expensive options on our list.



Concrete Pavers

Pool Patio - Concrete Pavers

Concrete pavers are extremely popular for hardscapes due to their variety of sizes, colors, and patterns to suit your personal preference. They also come in a variety of price points, depending on manufacturing method, making it easy to find a solution that fits your budget.

Cost: Paver costs are largely dependent on whether you purchase a dry cast concrete paver (like the paving stones you can pick up at a big box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot) or a wet cast concrete paver (like FireRock’s concrete pavers). Dry cast concrete pavers tend to be on the lower end of the scale, whereas wet cast concrete pavers tend to be closer to the price point of natural stone.



Natural Stone

Pool Patio - Natural Stone
"Rose Creek Estate" by Caviness Landscape Design is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Natural stones, such as flagstone, bluestone, and travertine, have long been a popular choice for hardscapes and offer a beautiful, natural look for your pool patio.

Cost: Natural stone tends to be among the pricier of pool patio materials available. Bear in mind that the price of using a natural stone paver will vary based on a few options, including type of stone and whether you a natural or more uniform look.




Whether you’re building a modest pool for your own enjoyment or want an extravagant pool where you can entertain friends and family, you’ll need to put the time and effort into thinking through the size and materials you want for your pool patio. And if you’ve done your job right, you’ll be able to enjoy your pool in the water and on the deck.

[1] Jason Hughes. “How Much Swimming Pool Patio Do I Need?,” River Pools, June 1, 2009,