Title:
FIREPLACE FRONT PANEL INTERIOR ACCESS AND REMOVAL SYSTEM AND METHOD
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An exemplary fireplace glass panel system is configured to facilitate access to the interior portion of a glass panel in a direct vent gas fireplace. The fireplace glass panel system comprises: a fireplace; a firebox, having an opening, disposed within the fireplace; a panel configured to cover the firebox opening; an actuation mechanism configured to permit the panel to pivot about a pivot axis on one side of the panel, the actuation mechanism further comprising a linkage configured to guide the rotation of the panel about the pivot axis and to stop the rotation about the pivot axis at an open position; wherein the actuation mechanism is configured to facilitate access to the interior portion of the panel without removing the panel from the firebox; and a securing mechanism configured to secure the panel in a closed position when access to the firebox interior is not desired.



Inventors:
Hills, Douglas Ernest (Cloverdale, CA)
Mah, Andy (Vancouver, CA)
Application Number:
11/682149
Publication Date:
10/11/2007
Filing Date:
03/05/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
126/500
International Classes:
F24C15/04; F24B1/18
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SUERETH, SARAH ELIZABETH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SNELL & WILMER L.L.P. (Main) (PHOENIX, AZ, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. An improved fireplace system for facilitating access to the interior of a firebox in a direct vent gas fireplace, the fireplace system comprising: a fireplace having a firebox; wherein said fireplace is a direct vent gas fireplace; said fireplace and said firebox each having an opening configured for viewing a fire in said firebox, wherein said openings are at least somewhat aligned with each other, wherein said fireplace further comprises a fireplace housing configured exterior to said firebox; wherein one or more fireplace controls are disposed between said fireplace housing and said firebox; and wherein said firebox further comprises: a surround disposed within said firebox; a log set and grill; and a gas burner; a glass panel configured to cover said firebox opening, wherein said glass panel is transparent, wherein said glass panel further comprises a frame that is configured to hold the glass panel with minimal impact on the view of the interior of said firebox; and a panel access system comprising: an actuating mechanism, wherein said actuating mechanism is configured to facilitate pivoting of said glass panel about an axis; wherein said actuating mechanism further comprises a linkage that is configured to guide the opening or closing of said glass panel as it pivots about said axis, wherein said linkage is further configured to cause said glass panel to pivot no further than 45 degrees before stopping; and wherein said actuating mechanism facilitates access to said firebox interior without lifting said glass panel; a securing mechanism configured to secure said glass panel in a closed position when access to said firebox interior is not desired.

2. The fireplace system of claim 1 further comprising a temperature sensor associated with said fireplace and configured to determine whether the temperature of the fireplace is above a predetermined temperature; and wherein said securing mechanism is configured to prohibit a user from opening said glass panel when the temperature of the fireplace is above said predetermined temperature.

3. The fireplace system of claim 1 wherein said linkage is configured to allow the glass panel to be completely removed from the fireplace after it has been opened, and wherein the removing can be performed without use of any tools.

4. The fireplace system of claim 3 wherein said actuating mechanism comprises tabs and wherein said linkage system comprises a slot configured to receive a pin.

5. The fireplace system of claim 1 wherein said linkage further comprises at least one of a hydraulic, spring, and pneumatic device that is configured to provide resistance to the lowering of said glass panel as it is being opened and to provide a soft stop when said glass panel has reached the open position.

6. The fireplace system of claim 1 wherein said actuating mechanism is configured to transfer the weight of said glass panel to said fireplace thereby reducing the effort by a user to manipulate said glass panel into the open position to obtain access to an interior portion of said firebox.

7. The fireplace system of claim 1 wherein said panel access system is further configured to provide access to said one or more fireplace controls located between said firebox and said fireplace housing.

8. The fireplace system of claim 7, wherein access to said firebox provides access to a firebox access panel which provides access to said one or more fireplace controls located between said firebox and said fireplace housing.

9. The fireplace system of claim 1, wherein said glass panel further comprises a gasket configured to create a seal at the interface of said glass panel and said firebox, wherein said glass panel comprises a transparent portion, and wherein said transparent portion comprises at least 90% of the surface area of said panel.

10. A fireplace glass panel system for facilitating access to the interior portion of a glass panel in a direct vent gas fireplace comprising: a fireplace having a fireplace housing, wherein said fireplace is a direct vent gas fireplace; a firebox disposed within said fireplace housing, said firebox further comprising: a surround disposed within said firebox; a gas burner configured to generate flames within said firebox; a log set positioned within said firebox; and a firebox opening configured to facilitate an aesthetically pleasing view, from a vantage point exterior to said fireplace, of a fire within said firebox; one or more fireplace controls disposed between said firebox and said fireplace housing; a panel configured to cover said firebox opening, wherein said panel is configured to facilitate an aesthetically pleasing view of a fire within said firebox; an actuation mechanism configured to permit said panel to pivot about a pivot axis on one side of said panel, said actuation mechanism further comprising a linkage configured to guide the rotation of said panel about said pivot axis and to stop the rotation about said pivot axis at an open position no greater than 45 degrees of rotation from the closed position; wherein said actuation mechanism is configured to facilitate access to the interior portion of said panel without removing said panel from said firebox; and wherein said actuation mechanism also facilitates access to said one or more fireplace controls; and a securing mechanism configured to secure said panel in a closed position when access to said firebox interior is not desired.

11. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10 further comprising a temperature sensor associated with said fireplace and configured to determine whether the temperature of said fireplace is above a predetermined temperature; and wherein said securing mechanism is configured to prohibit a user from opening said panel when the temperature of the fireplace is above said predetermined temperature.

12. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10 wherein said linkage is configured to allow said panel to be completely removed from said fireplace after it has been opened, and wherein the removing can be performed without use of any tools.

13. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 12 wherein said actuation mechanism comprises tabs and wherein said linkage system comprises a slot configured to receive a pin.

14. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10 wherein said linkage further comprises a hydraulic device that is configured to provide resistance to the lowering of said panel as it is being opened and to provide a soft stop when said panel has reached the open position.

15. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10 wherein said actuation mechanism is configured to transfer the weight of said panel to said fireplace thereby reducing the effort by a user to manipulate said panel into the open position to obtain access to an interior portion of said firebox.

16. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10 further configured to provide access to said one or more fireplace controls disposed between said firebox and said fireplace housing.

17. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 16, wherein the access to said firebox also provides access to a firebox access panel which provides access to said one or more fireplace controls disposed between said firebox and said fireplace housing.

18. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10, wherein said panel further comprises a gasket configured to create a seal at the interface of said panel and said firebox.

19. The fireplace glass panel system of claim 10, wherein said panel comprises a transparent portion, and wherein said transparent portion comprises at least 90% of the surface of said panel.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to provisional patent application having Ser. No. 60/743,409, filed Mar. 6, 2006, which is herein incorporated in its entirety.

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present invention relates to fireplaces. More particularly, the present invention relates to a system and method that allows for simple access to the interior of, or removal of a fireplace front panel.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

In various fireplace systems, typically gas burning fireplaces, many manufacturers employ a fireplace front panel to either limit or altogether seal off a firebox from a room's environment. Generally, this fireplace front panel is a glass panel or other similar transparent material panel. Although most fireplaces use only a single glass panel to cover the front fireplace opening, some fireplaces may use multiple panels, as for example in a three sided fireplace. Many of today's gas fireplaces have a heat exchange/vent system that warms room air much like a furnace. Therefore, there is less of a need for heat to be transferred directly to the room through the firebox opening, and glass front panels have increased in popularity. The viewable front panel permits an aesthetically pleasing view of the burning fireplace, facilitates control of the combustion conditions, improves the safety of the fireplace, and serves other purposes.

For various reasons, however, the front panel has typically been constructed to be mechanically inoperable. Stated another way, the front panel can only be removed with significant difficulty and effort. Indeed, most fireplace manufacturers that incorporate such front glass panels, provide extensive, detailed, time consuming, multi-step instructions in their respective manuals as to how to remove the front glass. These steps can often involve the use of wrenches, screw-drivers, and other tools. Other manufactures require that a factory authorized representative be called to remove the glass.

It is desirable, from time to time, to remove the front glass panel to clean the glass of soot and smoke, or to access the interior of the fireplace and/or its controls. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult task with existing gas fireplaces. Therefore, there exists a need for the ability to access or remove a fireplace front panel in a simple fashion.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, a fireplace glass panel system is configured to facilitate access to the interior portion of a glass panel in a direct vent gas fireplace. In accordance with one exemplary embodiment, the fireplace system comprises a fireplace having a firebox, a panel configured to cover a firebox opening in the fireplace, an actuating mechanism that allows manipulation of the panel, and a securing mechanism that latches or locks the panel in the closed position.

In accordance with various other exemplary embodiments of the present invention, the fireplace glass panel system comprises: a fireplace having a fireplace housing, wherein said fireplace is a direct vent gas fireplace; and a firebox disposed within said fireplace housing, said firebox further comprising: a surround disposed within said firebox; a gas burner configured to generate flames within said firebox; a log set positioned within said firebox; and a firebox opening configured to facilitate an aesthetically pleasing view, from a vantage point exterior to said fireplace, of a fire within said firebox. The fireplace glass panel system further comprises: one or more fireplace controls disposed between said firebox and said fireplace housing; a panel configured to cover said firebox opening, wherein said panel is configured to facilitate an aesthetically pleasing view of a fire within said firebox, wherein said panel comprises a transparent portion, wherein said transparent portion comprises at least 90% of the surface of said panel; an actuation mechanism configured to permit said panel to pivot about a pivot axis on one side of said panel, said actuation mechanism further comprising a linkage configured to guide the rotation of said panel about said pivot axis and to stop the rotation about said pivot axis at an open position; wherein said actuation mechanism is configured to facilitate access to the interior portion of said panel without removing said panel from said firebox; and wherein said actuation mechanism also facilitates access to said one or more fireplace controls; and a securing mechanism configured to secure said panel in a closed position when access to said firebox interior is not desired.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The exemplary embodiments of the present invention will be described in conjunction with the appended drawing figures in which like numerals denote like elements and:

FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary fireplace panel in the closed position in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary fireplace panel in the accessible, open position, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary fireplace panel in the accessible, open position, in accordance with another exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary fireplace having multiple panels in the accessible, open position, in accordance with yet another exemplary embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 5 illustrates an exemplary fireplace having an interior access panel, to access various fireplace controls and/or operating elements, in accordance with an aspect of the present invention;

FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary fireplace and fireplace panel in a close-up view of an exemplary actuation mechanism and sealing gasket, in accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 7 illustrates, in accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, a close-up view of a linkage assembly;

FIG. 8 illustrates, in accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, an exemplary securing mechanism;

FIG. 9 illustrates another exemplary fireplace panel in the accessible, open position, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 10 illustrates yet another exemplary fireplace panel in the accessible, open position, in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention may be described herein in terms of various functional components. It should be appreciated that such functional components may be realized by any number of hardware components, electrical, mechanical, gravitational, magnetic, and the like configured to perform the specified functions. In addition, the present invention may be practiced in any number of fireplace panel access system contexts and that the fireplace system described herein is merely one exemplary application for the invention. Further, it should be noted that the present invention may employ any number of conventional techniques for the simple operation and manipulation of fireplace panels for access, and such general techniques that may be known to those skilled in the art are not described in detail herein.

In accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, a fireplace panel access system and method is configured to facilitate an easier and/or less time consuming manner in which to enable cleaning and maintenance of a fireplace front panel, and in general to facilitate access to the interior portion of the fireplace. In general, the fireplace system comprises a fireplace having a firebox, a panel configured to cover a firebox opening in the fireplace, an actuating mechanism that allows manipulation of the panel, and a securing mechanism that latches or locks the panel in the closed position.

A user desiring to access the inside portion of the front panel may disengage the latch or unlock the securing mechanism, and by function of the actuating mechanism, manipulate the panel into a position to facilitate access to the inside portion of the front panel. The user then performs the necessary operation upon the panel, such as cleaning. Additionally, the user may use the opportunity when the panel is in the open, accessible position, to likewise access the various interior fireplace elements to, perhaps, clean and perform maintenance to, for example, the grates, flues, log set, surrounds, burners, and like elements of the fireplace. Additionally, this simple access system may likewise facilitate a user's access to various controls of the fireplace that are configured behind and/or hidden among the interior firebox combustion chamber panels.

Upon concluding the cleaning and/or maintenance to the front panel, interior fireplace elements, and/or other interior panels and fireplace controls, the user manipulates the front panel, aided by the actuating mechanism, back into the closed position and secures the panel into place by engaging the latching or locking mechanism.

With reference now to FIGS. 1-3, in accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, a fireplace (105, 205, 305) comprises a firebox. The firebox may comprise a top, bottom, and sides. The firebox may be rectangular, trapezoidal, have rounded features, or any other aesthetically pleasing or functional shape. The firebox may be formed of discrete components that are fixed together or may be an integral formed structure. The firebox is configured to contain/display the fire when the fireplace is in use, and may thus have any shape or configuration that is configured to contain/display the fire. The firebox may further include a surround located within the firebox.

Also, the firebox may further comprise an opening. This opening is typically configured to facilitate viewing the fire and/or log set in the firebox. As noted below, the firebox may have more than one opening. In addition to the firebox opening, the fireplace comprises a fireplace housing configured to at least partially surround the firebox, and the fireplace housing itself comprises an opening through which one may view the fire and/or log set in the firebox. In some embodiments, such as those illustrated in FIGS. 1-3, the size and location of the fireplace and firebox openings are coextensive. In yet other embodiments, and as illustrated in FIG. 10, the firebox opening is set back from the front face of the fireplace and may be a different size than the fireplace opening.

In accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention, the fireplace may comprise a direct vent gas fireplace. In various exemplary embodiments, the fireplace is may be configured to bum gas, such as natural gas or propane; however, the fireplace may be configured to burn other fuels such as wood, pellets, and/or the like. In further exemplary embodiments, the fireplace may be a fireplace insert, freestanding stove, and/or the like. Furthermore, the fireplace may comprise louvers or may be configured as a “clean front” unit w/o louvers. The fireplace may also be configured as a direct vent fireplace, natural vent fireplace, vent free fireplace, and/or the like. Furthermore, the fireplace may be any suitable fireplace having an opening covered by a viewable panel.

In one exemplary embodiment of the present invention, fireplace (e.g., 105, 205, 305) further comprises a fireplace panel access system (e.g., 100, 200, 300), which comprises a fireplace panel (e.g., 110, 210, 310), a securing mechanism (e.g., 120, 220, 320), and an actuating mechanism (e.g., 140, 240, 340). Fireplace panel 110 is connected to the fireplace and/or firebox at or near the fireplace and/or firebox opening. This connection is made by securing mechanism 120 and actuating mechanism 140.

While the various exemplary embodiments described herein are directed towards the front panel of fireplaces, the panel access system may be incorporated into various other configurations and other products. For example, some fireplaces include not only viewable front panels, but many include viewable side panels. Also, some fireplaces are configured as “pass-through” fireplaces where the fireplace is generally set in the middle of an environment, such as a living room, and the fireplace has viewable panels on various sides. Thus, although described herein as a front panel access system, the description may be equally applicable to any panel access system regardless of the orientation or number of panels, be it front, side, back, and/or the like.

For example, and with momentary reference to FIG. 4, an exemplary multiple panel access system 400 may comprise a front panel 410 and a side panel 460. One or both panels may be configured to include one or more actuating elements 440 and latching and/or locking mechanisms 420. Other exemplary embodiments, not shown, may include a fireplace having a three panel access system, or a panel access system that completely surrounds a fireplace. Moreover, each of the access panels may operate similarly or by any combination of functions as provided for by the present invention.

In one exemplary embodiment, front panel 110 may comprise a viewable portion and a non-viewable portion. For example, front panel 110 may comprise a wide metal frame surrounding a glass panel. In other embodiments, front panel 110 may comprise a 100% or nearly completely viewable surface area, such as when front panel 110 comprises only a thin frame or no frame. In various exemplary embodiments, front panel 110 is configured to be minimally intrusive, such that its presence is less noticeable. In this embodiment, the frame (if any) is minimized and the placement of front panel 110 is selected to de-emphasize the presence of the glass and/or hide the frame. In this regard, the area of front panel 110 may be defined by the face area of front panel 110, and the viewable area may be any portion thereof that is transparent or not blocked by a frame or the like. Thus, another exemplary embodiment comprises decorative side, top, and/or bottom panels that are configured to conceal the thin frame around the glass panel. These decorative panels may further be configured to match the surround such that the surround appears to flow through the glass panel.

In yet another embodiment, the front panel may be completely opaque. For example, a user may wish to enjoy the heating benefits of a fireplace, but for various reasons may choose not to view the fire. As such, in one embodiment, front panel 110 may comprise any opaque material that can function to conceal the internal operation of the fireplace from the external environment, as well as the view of the fire.

Thus, front panel 110 may be made out of any suitable materials, such as glass, polymers, Plexiglas, synthetic plastics, metals, and or the like. Front panel 110 may comprise a generally rectangular panel; however any suitable shape of panel may be used. In various embodiments, front panel 110 may be any suitable panel that is configured to facilitate a user enjoying the visual aesthetic of a burning fire in the fireplace and/or appropriately separates the interior of the fireplace from the room environment. Furthermore, the front panel may comprise “dual panes” and be configured such that each pane is separately operable or operable together.

Furthermore, front panel 110 may comprise one or more gaskets. In accordance with various exemplary embodiments, and with momentary reference again to FIG. 6, front panel 610 further comprises gasket 625. Gasket 625 is suitably configured to surround the perimeter of front panel 610. Gasket 625 may comprise synthetic or natural materials, such as black graphite impregnated textured fiberglass, ceramic fiber, and/or the like. Moreover, gasket 625 may comprise any material that may function to seal the perimeter of front panel 610 to the fireplace/firebox at the opening. The material and method of use of gasket 625 are both configured to prevent soot, heat, smoke, and/or gases from escaping the firebox to the environment surrounding the fireplace. Thus, gasket 625 is configure to seal any gaps between front panel 610 and the mating surface of the fireplace around the opening that front panel 610 covers. FIG. 7 likewise displays another view of gasket 725. In another exemplary embodiment, gasket 625 forms part of the fireplace/firebox and is configured to interact with front panel 610 for the same purposes as described above.

In yet another exemplary embodiment, a user may select an appropriate front panel from among several front panels 110. Thus, a user can choose between a panel that allows visual perception of the internal operating fireplace and a panel that does not. In this manner, front panel system 100 may be configured to comprise interchangeable front panels.

In accordance with yet another aspect of the present invention, actuating mechanism (e.g., 140, 240, 340) is configured to facilitate the opening of front panel 110. In one exemplary embodiment, actuating mechanism 140 comprises hinges. However, in other exemplary embodiments, actuating mechanism 140 comprises, either alone or in various combinations: pins, keyholes, hooks, ball and sockets, pistons, rods, tabs, sleeves, bearings, rollers, chains, wires, gears, cogs, belts, grooves, brackets, motors, sensors, and the like.

In one exemplary embodiment, illustrated in FIG. 2, actuating mechanism 240 comprises hinges. The hinges 240 are connected to the fireplace/firebox at the bottom edge of panel 210. Hinges 240 are configured to facilitate the opening of panel 210 in a ‘swing-down’ mode. Similarly, the hinges 340 of FIG. 3 are connected on the side of panel 310 and are configured to facilitate opening of panel 310 in a ‘swing right-to-left’ mode.

With reference again to FIG. 6, another exemplary actuating mechanism comprises one or more tabs 613 connected to front panel 610 on its bottom edge. Tab 613 is suitably configured to engage a bracket 615 that forms a part of the fireplace/firebox. Thus, the bottom portion of front panel 610 is held in contact with the fireplace/firebox by the interaction of tab 613 and the fireplace/firebox. In other embodiments, the fireplace/firebox may have a slot formed therein that is configured to receive tab 613. Thus, in this example, the actuating mechanism in part comprises tab 613 which operates as a hinge about which front panel 610 may swing open and closed. Furthermore, actuating mechanism 140 may comprise any device or combination of devices that are configured to pivot the front panel about an axis to provide access to the interior of the firebox.

While the various exemplary embodiments shown in the various Figures and described herein, show a front panel suitably pivoted about the perimeter of the fireplace opening, for example, at the bottom or the side, the front panel may likewise pivot about various other points or axis of the fireplace opening. For example, the front panel may be configured to pivot about an axis running horizontally through the middle of the front panel, or any other region.

In yet another exemplary embodiment, panel system 100 may be configured such that panel 110 is pulled directly out away from the closed position against the fireplace or firebox, with or without pivoting. In this exemplary embodiment, the fireplace is configured with guides (not shown). The guides may be attached to the panel at the top, middle, bottom, and/or the like. The guides may comprise ball bearings, slid able surfaces, and/or the like. The guides may be configured to facilitate the displacement of the panel straight away from its closed position, facilitating access to the interior portion of the panel. In some exemplary embodiments, the panel system is further configured to pivot the panel after its linear displacement. For example, the panel may be configured to be linearly displaced in the horizontal direction five inches, and then pivot about the bottom to further facilitate access to the interior of the panel. Any suitable displacement and/or pivoting distances/angles and/or combinations may be used in various exemplary embodiments.

In accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, and with reference to FIGS. 2, 3 and 7, front panel system (e.g., 200, 300, 700), may further comprise a linkage (e.g., 245, 345, 745). Linkage assembly (245, 345, 745), in accordance with various exemplary embodiments may comprise one or more of the following devices: a slot and pin assembly, hooks and chains, rods and pistons, hydraulic devices, belts, pulleys, wires, motors, and/or the like.

In these exemplary embodiments, the panel swings on hinges (e.g., 240, 340) or tabs 740 and is further guided or retained by linkages (e.g., 245, 345, 745). Thus, linkage 245 and hinges 240 are configured to act together as an actuating mechanism that allows front panel 210 to be manipulated in a smooth manner from the closed position to the open, accessible position.

For example, FIGS. 2 and 3 illustrate linkage assemblies (e.g., 245 and 345), that are configured to connect one end of each linkage to either side of the front panel, and the other end of each linkage to either side (or the top/bottom) of the fireplace opening. In accordance with another exemplary embodiment, linkage 745 comprises a slot 748 that extends longitudinally along the body of the linkage. A first end of linkage 745 is moveably connected to panel 710. A pin (not shown) is attached to the firebox. Linkage 745 is further configured to receive the pin in slot 748. Thus, linkage assembly 745 is configured, to allow the linkage to slide back and forth as panel 710 opens and closes, thereby guiding the actuation of front panel 710. When the pin reaches the end of slot 748, the opening of panel 710 is stopped.

In accordance with various aspects of the present invention, the front panel access system may comprise mechanical elements that are configured to assist in supporting the front panel as it is actuated into the open position, and/or to limit the travel and rate of travel of the front panel as it is opened. Such element provides additional front panel support and prevents the panel from “falling,” prevents damage to the front panel that might occur were the panel dropped, provides additional support to the front panel, and/or limits the travel of the panel.

In various embodiments, the panel may be configured to be completely removed from the fireplace. For example, the panel might be opened, and then disconnected from the linkage assembly to be lifted away from the fireplace.

As mentioned above, in accordance with various exemplary embodiments of the present invention, front panel system (e.g., 100, 200, 300) further comprises securing mechanism (e.g., 120, 220, 320). The securing mechanism is configured to secure the front panel when it is in the closed position. In one exemplary embodiment, securing mechanism comprises tabs, slots, hooks, pins, keys, fasteners, clips, catches, clasps, springs, snaps, bolts, and the like, either alone or in various combinations. Furthermore, the securing mechanism may also comprise electrical, magnetic, motorized, gravitational, and/or the like latching and/or locking embodiments.

With reference to FIG. 8, a portion of an exemplary latching mechanism is displayed. Front panel access system 800 comprises front panel 810 and latching mechanism 820. Latching mechanism 820 comprises a tab slot 822 located on the outside perimeter portion of front panel 810, and a tab 824, respectively located on the inside perimeter of the fireplace opening. Tab slot 822 is suitably configured to latch with a tab 824. As front panel 810 is actuated back into a closed position, tab 824 suitably engages or snaps into tab slot 822, thereby latching front panel 810 into the closed, secure position.

Additionally, the fireplace system of the present invention may further comprise a temperature sensor associated with the fireplace. The temperature sensor may be any mechanical, electrical or other type of temperature sensor. The temperature sensor may be located within the firebox, between the firebox and the fireplace housing surrounding the firebox, external to the fireplace, on the front panel, or the like. The temperature sensor may further comprise logic that is configured to determine whether the temperature of the fireplace is below a predetermined temperature. That predetermined temperature may be any temperature that has been determined to be low enough to allow safe operation of the glass panel. In this exemplary embodiment, the securing mechanism is configured to prohibit a user from opening said glass panel when the temperature of the fireplace is above a predetermined temperature. Although in some embodiments, the sensor, the logic, and the securing mechanism may be separate components, in other embodiments, the securing mechanism could incorporate all these functions in one mechanical device.

In accordance with various exemplary embodiments, actuating mechanism 140 is configured to actuate front panel 110 into an open, closed, or part way open position.

Furthermore, actuating mechanism may comprise any device or combination of devices that are configured to facilitate the moving of front panel 110 from an open to a closed position and vice versa. The open position may also be described herein as the “accessible position,” and the closed position may also be described herein as the “fireplace operation position.”

Thus, actuating mechanism 140 is configured to facilitate access to the inside of the glass of front panel 110. Actuating mechanism 140, moreover, is configured to significantly reduce the force exerted to obtain such access. In prior art fireplaces, even after exerting significant time and effort detaching the glass from the fireplace, one would have to lift an often heavy glass panel. Actuating mechanism 140, however is configured to transfer the weight of glass panel 110 into the fireplace structure through, for example the hinges and/or linkages. In various embodiments, a person lowering the glass would experience less than half the weight of the glass. In other embodiments, actuating mechanism 140 is configured to reduce the forces exerted to support the panel during opening by 20% to 80%. Similarly, the linkages are configured to guide the opening and closing motion, reducing lateral forces and assisting with alignment of the panel.

Furthermore, actuating mechanism 140 may be configured to limit the amount of rotation of panel 110. For example, actuating mechanism, and in one embodiment, linkage 745, is configured such that the panel could never fall more than 45 degrees from vertical. In other embodiments, the degree of travel may be anywhere from 20 degrees to 90 degrees. Other embodiments may comprise hydraulic, pneumatic, magnetic, spring based, other mechanical devices, or other such devices that prevent a hard stop in the event that the panel is “dropped” during opening or closing. For example, friction, counter-balanced weights, or some other resistance creating device may be used to slow the rate of decent of panel 110 during opening. These, and similar devices are configured to provide a soft stop when panel 110 reaches the limits of travel. Thus, front panel system 100 is configured to make access to the interior of a fireplace possible without tools, without lifting the front panel, and in an ergonomically friendly way.

As described herein above, the front panel access system allows a user in a simple fashion to access the interior portion of a front panel to provide cleaning and maintenance. However, the simple access system also allows a user to access the interior portion of the fireplace as well. In accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention, and with reference to FIG. 5, the front panel access system provides access to an internal access panel (or firebox access panel) that facilitates access to additional fireplace elements and/or controls. The controls may comprise gas flow controls, shut off valves, electric controls, and/or the like. For example, internal access system 500 is configured to provide access to an interior volume 570 covered by a side interior access panel 510. In this exemplary embodiment, access panel 510 comprises an actuating mechanism 540 and a latching and/or locking mechanism 520. Internal access system 500 may be configured in any number of ways and with various components that are configured to facilitate access to an internal volume, such as internal volume 570. Although access panel 510 in this exemplary embodiment is shown as a side access panel, access panel 510 may also comprise a back panel, other side panel, bottom panel, top panel and the like.

In accordance with another aspect of the present invention and with reference to FIG. 9, access system 900 comprises a front panel that is suitably configured to not only enclose the front fireplace opening, but may additionally comprise attached panels configured to enclose adjacent volumes. For example, access panel 910 actuates to enclose the interior volume of the fireplace, but also comprises side panel 972 that, once panel 910 is “pushed” back into the closed position” suitably encloses interior volume 970. As can best be seen by FIG. 9, the fireplace opening is set back from the front face of the fireplace, resulting in a front ledge portion 985. As panel 910 is actuated into the open position, a user can likewise access interior volume 970 between the front face and the set back location. Side panel 972 may either be fixed relative to panel 910, or be configured to be moveable. For example, panel 972 may be configured to pivot about axis 974, to slide off of panel 910, and/or the like.

In accordance with further exemplary embodiments, and with reference again to FIG. 10, a fireplace access system 1000 comprises a fireplace 1005 having an outer housing, a firebox, and a front panel 1010 configured to cover the front opening of the firebox. The firebox is located within fireplace 1005 in a position set back such that front panel 1010 is recessed as compared to the front housing of fireplace 1000. In this embodiment, side and bottom trim panels may be used to provide the allusion of the fireplace surround flowing from inside the firebox through the glass and out to the front of the fireplace housing. Although illustrated in FIG. 10 with the linkage passing through the side trim panels, fireplace access system 1000 may be configured, for example, such that the trim panels are removed before the front panel is opened, and the trim panels thus are configured to hide the linkage and the edge of front panel 1010. Front panel 1010 is configured to pivot about an axis at the bottom of the fireplace, for example, as described elsewhere herein.

The present invention sets forth simple fireplace front panel access systems and methods that are applicable to various fireplace applications. It will be understood that the foregoing description is of exemplary embodiments of the invention, and that the invention is not limited to the specific forms shown. Various modifications may be made in the design and arrangement of the elements set forth herein without departing from the scope of the invention. For example, the various components and devices can be connected together in various manners in addition to those illustrated in the exemplary embodiments. In addition, the actuating, latching, or locking mechanisms can be configured to actuate, latch or lock in any other securing arrangement, shape and configuration, in addition to the exemplary embodiments, for actuating and securing a front panel. These and other changes or modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the present invention.