I'm a chimney mason and sweep in coastal North Carolina, where I do restoration work on fireplaces and chimneys in historic structures. At the other end of the spectrum, I tear out a lot of old prefab wood-burning fireplaces every year and replace them with new ones.

A prefab fireplace is more like a kitchen range or other household appliance than a masonry chimney or fireplace, which can last for generations if it's maintained and repaired as needed. Prefab fireplaces have a definite and limited service life and are designed to be used up and periodically replaced. As a mason, I can't get enthusiastic about...

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