Lake Tahoe Home: From new-age to old-school, fireplace options abound

Kayla Anderson
Special to the Sun-Bonanza
The DaVinci looks like an aquarium with flames in it. You can touch the glass, as it doesn't emit any heat. 
Photo: Kayla Anderson |

Top 3 tips

Tom Just of Mountain Home Center in Truckee offers these top 3 recommendations for someone who doesn’t know much about fireplaces:

1: Determine if you want gas or wood burning, and whether or not efficiency is important.

2: Determine what kind of budget you have to put into the project.

3: Take pictures of what you have and visit a local fireplace shop to talk about all the options.


Read more in Lake Tahoe Home

This story has been adapted from the February/March edition of Lake Tahoe Home, a quarterly magazine produced by the staff at Tahoe Magazine and the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Tahoe Daily Tribune newspapers. Click here to read a digital copy of the magazine, which is available now on newsstands throughout the greater Truckee-Tahoe region.

TAHOE-TRUCKEE — It takes a special kind of person to live in the mountains, where the temperatures tend to be a bit cooler and there’s always the chance that a big winter storm rolls through and you get snowed in.

However, living in Lake Tahoe also gives you a chance to show off your fireplace during those long skiing weekends and keep the house cozy when it’s cold outside. A fireplace is part of the home, part of a family, and there are a lot of unique and original options on the market for your Tahoe home.

Tom Just, owner of Mountain Home Center in Truckee, says that home-buyers do not hinge their purchasing decisions on energy-efficient fireplaces. Although some of the most efficient fireplaces are gas stoves with glass fronts, most people want a grand-rock-adorned, mountain-esque looking fireplace.

However, Mountain Home Center sells all sorts of heat sources, from fireplaces encased in pyro-ceramic glass, convection/sand system stoves, high efficient burner and log sets, and more.

“It’s all over between open burning inefficient fireplaces to high-efficiency inserts. People have free-standing gas stoves; there’s a full gamut here,” says Just.

The most high-efficient fireplace systems are gas stoves with glass in front of the flame/heat output.

“Part of the efficiency is it’s pulling in outside air for combustion through a direct vent, as opposed to pulling air and taking out through the chimney,” Just says.

Just notices that newer homes like the ones at Martis Camp don’t really have wood burning stoves; they’ve switched over to gas.

“You either love burning wood or you hate it, and it depends if you want a great-looking unit that’s efficient or not,” he adds.

As far as how often a fireplace needs to be inspected, it all depends on what you have and how often you use it.

“Lawyers recommend an annual inspection and service, but the reality is that most gas fireplaces go 5-10 years without being serviced,” says Just. “Preventative maintenance is what keeps it working longer. If you neglect a wood-burning fireplace, it will either quit working or cause a chimney fires, so maintenance on that is a must.”


Nick Deiro, owner of Maranatha Chimney Sweep in Truckee, adds that for wood-burning fireplaces, there are many different opinions about when to get them inspected, but personally, he thinks it depends on how often you use them.

“Wood burns at low temperatures, but wet or green wood can create a lot of smoke, which leaves residue on the walls of the chimney. That’s what creates a chimney fire,” says Deiro. “Burning a good hot fire is best for keeping it clean.”

When installing a fireplace, the first thing you want to ask yourself is what you want to accomplish. Do you want burning wood as a heat source or do you want to burn conveniently with gas? What do you currently have and what do you want?

Just also says that it depends on your budget — after all, a new gas/wood insert can be installed for around $4,000-$6,000, and a building permit to go along with it costs $100-$200.

Similarly, whereas gas fireplaces tend to be more efficient and low maintenance, there are some people who just love burning wood.

“Burning wood is a lifestyle, it’s a lot of work. It’s time-consuming and a process,” says Just.

Deiro, who’s been in business for 25 years, has personally swept over 100,000 chimneys in his career.

“I see lots of wood stoves and fireplaces and some gas-converted stoves. People heat with wood, because natural gas used to be so expensive,” says Deiro. “In the ‘80s a lot of people would burn 10 cords of wood a season.”

He adds that wood stoves project a lot more heat, but it’s a different kind than what comes out of a fireplace or gas stove.


There are a lot of different types of fireplaces on the market, including the Dimplex electric stove with opti-myst burners (which is like a small heater/humidifier in one), and the aquarium-looking DaVinci, where instead of looking at fish, you are peering at gas-burning logs emitting pretty flames.

At Mountain Home Center, fireplace specialist Price Samuel says some of the top sellers include the FPX 564 HO gas fireplace, the 4415 Linear and the FPX 44 Elite Wood.

“The FPX 564 HO gas fireplace is perfect for a 1500-sq. ft. home because it’s at a good price, quality, and heat output. They are easy to work on, get parts, and are well-tested at high elevations,” says Samuel. “The 4415 Linear is efficient and you really feel the heat. Ideal for a modern, contemporary home, this gas model comes with a driftwood log set and clean ledgestone fire back.”

The FPX Elite Wood features grandiose rock framing. The maker of it, Fireplace Xtrordinair, calls it “perhaps the finest wood fireplace ever created”.

“There are two different lifestyles between wood and gas. It’s knowing what’s involved as your primary heat source,” says Samuel.


Deiro has not only seen a lot of gorgeous mountain homes (probably more than any real estate agent) in what he calls the North Tahoe “triangle” of West Shore to Truckee to Incline Village, he has seen a few interesting things as well.

On one notable occasion, Deiro found a Krugerrand gold coin underneath a wood stove.

“I gave it to the lady, and she just acted like it was no big deal,” he said.

Another thing that he sees every so often are contractors who’ve never finished building a chimney.

“It’s like they took a lunch break and never got back around to completing it, and no one found out about it for the next 20 years,” he says.

In talking to Deiro, it’s obvious he enjoys what he does and holds a true appreciation for wood fireplaces — “I think fireplaces and wood stoves are fantastic. I love stone and granite frames.” — and he shared that he owns a granite fireplace and enjoys the fact it’s the same material he plays on in the summer while hiking, biking and climbing around the granite on the Lake Tahoe beaches.

“It’s not always easy living in the mountains; some things you need to embrace. Burning wood is one of them,” he says. “But fireplaces are timeless — you’ll never see them go out of style.”

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