Sunday 24 April 2011
Nothing beats a fire - whether it's real or not. Before you shop, you'll first need to find out what type of chimney or flue your home has.
Traditional brick chimneys, which come complete with chimney stack and chimney pot on the roof, can be used for any type of fire.
Pre-fabricated flues, characterised by a metal flue pipe on the roof, are compatible with most gas fires.
Pre-cast flues, with no chimney breast, just a raised ridge tile on the roof, are usually found on modern homes. You should be able to fit a slim-line gas fire.
No chimney? No worries. If you've got a suitable outside wall, you can probably have a balanced-flue (these are sealed at the front so that gases don't escape into the room) or power-flue gas fire fitted (these use a fan to extract the gases).
No suitable outside wall? Then it's time to think about a gel or electric fire.
The real thing
For that authentic 'crumpets by the fireside' feeling, nothing can beat a real, or solid-fuel, fire. But in order to live this dream you must have a chimney and hearth in tip-top condition. And, just as important, you must check that you're not living in a Smoke Control area (to see where you stand on these rules take a look at www.uksmokecontrolareas.co.uk) - if you are, you won't be able to burn either coal or wood.
Opening up your fireplace
If you know that your home once had fireplaces that have since been concealed, don't despair. In many cases a fireplace will simply have been bricked up and then covered in plasterboard, all of which is easily removed. Once this is done, hold a lighted taper in front of the opening - if the flame is drawn inwards, you should have a clear chimney, but if it's burning outwards there is some kind of obstruction that must be cleared. From this point you will need to seek professional advice and practical help to ensure that you comply with the building regulations.
Like fires, stoves come in various fuel types (including electric, gas and multifuel), but by far the most authentic is a wood-burning stove. And, while they can blast out a tremendous amount of heat, they are becoming increasingly clean and energy-efficient (some as much as 90%).
Drugasar, a Danish company that has been making cast-iron stoves for over 100 years, has made particular advances, utilising the latest clean-burn technology to reduce smoke emissions. And, of course, burning wood is carbon neutral, so the amount of carbon monoxide produced is the same as if you just left it to rot in the forest.
It's essential to pick the right size stove for your room, to ensure it will meet your heating needs. Most companies, like Drugasar, will enclose a user guide that gives you plenty of maintenance tips that you'll need to get the best out of your stove and ensure its longevity. Some types of wood-burning stove can be used in smokeless zones, but it's worth checking your situation with your local authority (or go to www.uksmokecontrolareas.co.uk). It's also possible to fit some types with back boilers, to generate heat for radiators and hot water, too.
Stoves and boilers burning pellets made from waste wood currently have the greenest credentials. To find out more check out the Renewable Energy Association website, www.r-p-a.org.uk.