A grate improves the overall function and efficiency of your fireplace. With various options on the market, it is important to know what materials will serve you best.
Cast iron and steel are popular materials for fireplace grates. Both are great for indoor use, allowing your fire to burn efficiently. Single-piece cast iron is ideal for burning both wood and coal, while heavy-duty steel is optimal for burning only wood and can have the durability to last a long time.
There are a few key differences between using either cast iron grates or steel grates. So, let’s review the benefits of each and address additional considerations that may factor into a purchasing decision.
What Are The Benefits Of A Cast Iron Grate?
Cast iron grates are durable and inexpensive. They’re also versatile when it comes to fuel, as you can burn both wood and coal on them.
When comparing cost to functionality, cast iron gives you the best range of both versatility and longevity while still being cost-effective. But not all cast iron grates are equal in quality, though. It is important to note that single-piece cast iron is your best option in this category.
What are the key functions offered by this type of grate?
- The fuel versatility—you can use this style of grate to burn either wood or coal, unlike a steel grate, which is solely used to burn wood.
- The design—cast iron grates have bars that are closer together, which allows the grate to hold the wood or coal up and off of the fireplace floor. This improves cleanliness as the fuel is held above the ashes. One potential drawback to note is that, due to the narrower spacing between the bars, embers can be caught in the grate, which has the possibility of decreasing airflow into your fuel source.
- The durability—single-piece cast iron is a sturdy material, and when it is made of one piece (meaning the legs are not welded to the bars, but it has been constructed as one solid piece), it will be less likely to wear down at the points where the legs meet the grate bars. Cast iron is generally very heavy, making it durable, and with the proper care, this type of grate will last you a long time.
What Are The Benefits Of A Steel Grate?
Steel grates improve the overall airflow and allow embers to fall through easily. They’re also highly customizable with sizes for all fireplaces. They can also be designed in many different ways so they will fit any interior.
Steel is another prominent material for fireplace grates. This type of material is used only for wood burning and comes in various designs and styles. When it comes to steel grates, it is important to look for heavy-duty steel since the lighter options tend to be far less durable.
What benefits do you see from a steel grate?
- The airflow—spacing between the steel bars allows for the embers to fall through more easily, which improves the overall airflow to your fire. However, it is important to note that you do not want a grate with the bars spread too far apart as your wood will fall through.
- The aesthetic—heavy-duty steel grates have a variety of designs and usually have a modern, subtle look. Whereas cast iron grates have closer and thicker bars, giving it a heavy look, steel generally has a low impact, understated appearance.
- The versatility in function—the designed function of a fireplace grate can make a big difference in ease of use. You can find steel fireplace grates with taller legs, making it easier to light a fire with kindling beneath and allowing ample room for the ash to build up. You can also find a steel fireplace grate in various shapes and layouts that can offer additional benefits—for example, a self-feeding grate.
What Grates You Should Avoid Using In A Fireplace
When considering which grate is best for you, here are a few important factors to consider. You may want to avoid:
- Light weight grates—these have a short lifespan
- Steel grates with welding on the bottom, flat edge of the bars—these types of grates deteriorate faster at the joints
- Grates with bars that are too thin—this leads to faster deterioration
- Steel grates with a cheap or thin coating—again, faster deterioration
- Short grates—these are acceptable if you only plan on using the fireplace occasionally for short periods of time, but if you use your fireplace regularly, this creates a challenge with ash buildup, requiring you to clean out the ash regularly
Can You Use A Fireplace Grate Outside?
Fireplace grates can be used outside the same as they’re used inside. Heavy-duty steel grates are generally resistant to the outside elements and are weather-resistant, making them perfect for outdoor use.
If you like to sit or camp around a fire pit, then using a fireplace grate can improve the success of your outdoor fire. Just as you would use a grate indoors to improve airflow, doing the same outside means you could spend less time getting your fire to light.
A heavy-duty steel grate is ideal for both indoor and outdoor use because they are generally coated to be weather resistant. On the other hand, cast iron is typically not recommended for outdoor use because exposure to moisture and air can cause the element to rust.
Another consideration on fireplace grates for indoor and outdoor use is portability. Although the heavier grates are far more durable and less prone to deterioration, they are less portable.
While it’s probably not impossible to move a heavy grate from your indoors to your outdoors, it might not always be realistic. Especially if you decide to take one camping, a lighter fireplace grate is preferable.
How To Choose The Correct Size Grate For Your Fireplace
A grate for your fireplace should have three inches of clearance on all sides. This is for safety reasons, as a grate that’s too small could cause embers to fly out of the fireplace. Furthermore, a proper size grate also maximizes airflow and optimizes its use.
The most common recommendation is that you have three inches of clearance on all sides. Measuring and selecting the correct size is important to optimize air flow to your fire and protect your home from damage. If the grate is too small, then you run the risk of having the smoke not properly exit through the chimney.
However, if the grate is too big, then you run the risk of causing damage to the materials surrounding your fireplace. So, be sure to take measurements before you shop to ensure that you select a grate that is a good fit.