Everything You Need to Know about Fireplace Firebacks

A Liberty Foundry Co. fireback installed in a burning fireplace with a screen in front of it

Fireplaces are great for adding a bit of extra warmth and ambiance to your home. As you use your fireplace over time, though, it’s presented with two constant challenges:

  1. Loss of efficiency
  2. Loss of structural integrity

Ash, soot, and creosote buildup can cause a fireplace to become less efficient. As you burn wood over time, more and more heat ends up dissipating up your flue pipe instead of into your home.

At the same time, most fireplaces are made of brick. When subject to large temperature fluctuations over years of use, this chimney brick can crack and crumble, leading to expensive repairs.

A fireback can help to mitigate both of these problems, resulting in a longer-lasting fireplace and chimney system that maintains its heating efficiency.

But how do these firebacks work? How do they preserve the structure and function of your fireplace? And if you decide to get one, which size should you get?

We manufacture thousands of firebacks a year at HY-C, and in this guide, we’ll answer all those questions and more for you. We’re going to cover everything you need to know about firebacks.

By the time you’re finished here, you’ll understand what a fireback is, how they work, what size you’ll need, and even how to install one in your fireplace.

What is a Fireback?

While there are many types of antique firebacks with intricate designs, HY-C’s Liberty Foundry Co. firebacks are straightforward and functional. At their core, they’re a simple sheet of metal on a stand. They sit against the back wall of your firebox (behind your fireplace grate) and they serve two purposes:

  1. To maintain the integrity of your brick firebox
  2. To reflect heat back into your home

The fireback acts as a shield, insulating the brick walls of your firebox from the heat of the burning logs on the fireplace grate. A well-made fireback can protect against up to ⅓ of the heat emanating from a fire, resulting in a longer-lasting firebox that’s less prone to damage.

Firebacks also deflect radiated heat back into your home. Instead of contacting the brick firebox and traveling up the chimney flue, heat that touches the fireback makes its way out of the firebox and into the house rather than up the flue.

This is largely due to the material from which the fireback is made.

Cast Iron Firebacks vs. Stainless Steel Firebacks

While we’re no stranger to cast iron hearth supplies at HY-C, all of our firebacks are made out of 14 gauge stainless steel rather than cast iron. The reason for this comes down to a few differences in the properties of both metals.

While stainless steel and cast iron are exceptionally durable, cast iron is more durable than stainless steel. This means that cast iron firebacks tend to offer better protection for the firebox than stainless steel firebacks. They are, however, more expensive as a result.

Stainless steel, while less durable than cast iron, is still durable enough to function well as a fireback material. It’s also cheaper, allowing us to price our firebacks very competitively. Stainless steel firebacks reflect heat better, too — but they don’t protect fireboxes quite as well as cast iron.

Fireback Sizes

Ten Liberty Foundry Co. firebacks — five black on the top and five stainless steel on the bottom — all arranged from smallest to largest size against a white background

Different manufacturers make their firebacks in different sizes. At HY-C, we have 5 sizes of firebacks that we make. We settled on those 5 sizes based on the common dimensions of fireplaces across the country.

Each size is available either in untreated stainless steel or with a black powder coat finish. Here’s a look at the sizes we offer (in inches):

  • 15” x 15”
  • 16” x 18”
  • 20” x 20”
  • 24” x 24”
  • 27” x 27”

To find the right size fireback for your fireplace, measure the length and height of the back wall of your firebox. Choose the fireback size that covers the most surface area without obstructing your flue or encroaching on your fireplace grate.

Here’s a quick look at our five fireback sizes in terms of percentage manufactured (to give you an idea of which sizes are used most, least, and everything in between):

  • The 15” x 15” size makes up 15.88% of the firebacks we manufacture
  • The 16” x 18” size makes up 32.43% of the firebacks we manufacture
  • The 20” x 20” size makes up 21.23% of the firebacks we manufacture
  • The 24” x 24” size makes up 18.98% of the firebacks we manufacture
  • The 27” x 27” size makes up 11.48% of the firebacks we manufacture

How to Install a Fireback

A stainless steel Liberty Foundry Co. fireback installed in a fireplace behind a grate full of logs

Installing a Liberty Foundry Co. fireback takes just four simple steps.

To start, remove everything from your fireplace. Take out (and clean) your fireplace grate, scoop out any ash and charred wood, and clean the walls of your firebox, while you’re at it.

Next, place the two slotted bases of the fireback into your fireplace close to the back wall of the firebox. The slots in the bases are designed to allow you to place the fireback in one of three positions:

  1. Straight up (90°)
  2. Leaning away from the back wall of the fireplace (65°)
  3. Leaning toward the back wall of the fireplace (65°)
A close-up of the base of a Liberty Foundry Co. fireback demonstrating the three angled slots
The slots in the base of a Liberty Foundry Co. fireback allow you to position the fireback in one of three positions

The direction you’d like the fireback to face depends largely on the design of your fireplace and firebox. Experiment with all three positions as you use your fireplace to see which delivers the most heat into your home.

After you’ve decided on the position of your fireback, simply insert it into the appropriate slots in the bases. Push the bases and the fireback as close to the back wall of the fireplace as possible.

Finally, put back any accessories, screens, or grates. Now your fireback is installed and your fireplace is ready to use!

Should You Get a Fireback?

Before now, you may not have even heard of firebacks, let alone understood what they are and how they work.

At this point, though, you should have a good idea of why you may need a fireback, how they enhance your wood burning experience, how to find the right size, and even how to install one in your own fireplace.

The question remains, though — should you get a fireback?

Frankly, a fireback is an accessory that is not entirely necessary. You can enjoy your fireplace without one, and — depending on how often you burn wood — your fireplace may never experience damage, even without a fireback.

But if you want to increase the efficiency of your fireplace while protecting it from potential damage that comes with repeated use, a fireback is an easy, relatively inexpensive solution.

And while there are plenty of options out there, Liberty Foundry Co.’s stainless steel firebacks are one of the most cost-effective options you can find. Just find your size, install it properly, and experience maximum efficiency and peace of mind.