A soapstone fireplace is one that is designed and built using soapstone for the facade and the liner. Often called a surround or a mantle, the soapstone fireplace uses no materials other than the mined and cut soapstone to finish the fireplace. Soapstone comes in many different colors and styles depending on where it is mined and the different minerals present in the earth.
An advantage of the soapstone fireplace is that it stores the heat longer than a traditional brick or steel version. The soapstone provides a soothing, radiant heat that is considered comfortable for the user. A soapstone fireplace will actually store the heat from a fire in the stone itself. Often the soapstone fireplace will radiate warmth hours after a fire has gone out. Unfortunately, the soapstone tiles used to line conventional brick or steel fireplaces do not offer the heat retention qualities of a pure version.
There are different types of soapstone fireplace designs to choose from. There are cast iron inserts that use soapstone as a surround or a facade and there are 100 percent genuine soapstone masonry styles. This type of fireplace is assembled on site from soapstone and uses no other materials to complete it. The pure soapstone fireplace offers the high heat retention that soapstone is famous for while remaining touchable — the exterior does not become too hot — and it retains heat at approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius).
The cast iron type of fireplace insert that uses soapstone for the surround does not possess the heat retention qualities of the pure soapstone unit. The soapstone tiles of the cast iron type retains a minimal amount of heat, but the warming characteristics of this design come from the fireplace heating the air. Once brought up to temperature by burning a wood fire inside of the soapstone fireplace, the stone will continue to give off heat for many hours, often overnight depending on the home and its insulation qualities.
The soapstone unit is very heavy and should only be installed on a cement slab. Homes with basements should not attempt to install a soapstone unit without first contacting a professional installation technician. The soapstone units vent out of the lower rear of the fireplace and should be connected to a standard six-inch flue. While the fireplace can be assembled by a homeowner, it is recommended that the flue connection be finished by a certified installer.