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fireplaces essential guide
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Fireplaces : An Essential Guide

Choosing a fireplace requires proffesional advice to ensure your choice of fireplace fully meets your requirements; you'll need professional advice regarding heat output, fuel sources and some advice from an interior designer may be useful, too. The fire surround size is important to ensure it fits well with your current decor and does not overpower the room or become insignificant. The size of the existing fireplace opening, chimney breast and flue may be a factor for the size of fire and surround that will be suitable for the room. If the chimney is sound and the flue in good working order, then you'll have the option to choose a fire that burns solid fuel or logs, or perhaps even a stove. For those wanting a less demanding fireplace with a real flame then a gas fire is your best bet, If there's no flue, or even no fireplace opening, there are still Electric fireplaces with 'real flame' flame effects that can create an interesting focal point in the room. There are also choices of flue-less gas fireplaces, where the waste gases are taken out of the room via a pipe that is ducted through an outside wall. As most homes are centrally heated, the fire doesn't have to be the primary heat source in the room, but if a significant heat output is required, look at models with either a heat exchanger or a glass front, as these will project more heat into the room.

Before choosing a surround and colour scheme, the most basic decision will be what sort of fuel you want to use. A decorative gas fire is a straightforward choice, and even if there's no gas supply point to the fireplace, it's a relatively simple task to run a pipe to the fireplace opening – this will need to be installed by a Gas Safe Registered fitter. Other options are solid fuel, electric, gel or log fires.
• If there isn't an existing working fire, then the state of the chimney will need to be checked. Brick chimneys, found in most older properties, are compatible with any sort of fire, but the chimney should be swept and checked for soundness before embarking upon any alterations or installations. Pre-fabricated and pre-cast flues are found in more modern homes, and most types of fire can be installed where there is a pre-fabricated flue, although a pre-cast flue will limit your choice to slimline designs – a fireplace specialist will be able to advise.
• Homes without a chimney can still have a working gas fire, but it will need to be a fanned or balanced flue model, and in most cases should be either sited on an outside wall or ducted to an outside wall. However, there are some new models that do not need an outside wall, such as the Mirror Fire Line from CVO Fire, winner of the Palmes d'Or Readers' Award at the Homes & Gardens Classic Design Awards 2006. CVO Fire claims it is the cleanest flueless gas fire on the market.
• Fanned flue models have a fan that expels the exhaust gases out into the open, so it will need a power supply to power the fan, which will produce some noise. However, fanned flue models have the advantage of being able to be fitted on to most walls; balanced flue models need to be installed on to an outside wall.
• Even if you are chimney-less, flue-less and don't have a suitable outside wall, there's still the option of an electric or gel fire. Although more suited to modern homes, they can be a practical, attractive choice in apartments where there's no scope to install a real or gas fire.

The important point to remember is that any fuel-burning appliance should be installed by a registered installer, otherwise Building Regulation approval will need to be granted via the local authority. The organisations to contact are Gas Safe for gas, HETAS (Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme) for solid fuel, and OFTEC (Oil Firing Technical Association for the Petroleum Industry) for oil. Gas appliances also need to be registered. Approved fitters and installers found via The National Fireplace Association will be members of the relevant bodies. Further information can be found on the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG), which was formerly the Office of the Deputy Prime Minster. All of the contact information is listed in Helpful Contacts on page 203.

• House coal can't be used in smoke-control areas, and you'll need somewhere to store it so that it can be brought into the house easily.
• Solid smokeless fuels must be used in smoke-control areas and, once again, storage is a consideration.
• Wood is convenient if the fire is only used occasionally, but it can't be used in smoke-control areas. Country dwellers can usually buy wood quite easily, though it needs to be dried before being used. Ideally, in the summer, wood should be stacked outdoors to dry.

A traditional or classically inspired fireplace is virtually guaranteed to look good in any type of home. The replacement of surround, fire and hearth, as well as the installation costs, are not insignificant, so many people opt for a simple, classic look rather than branching out into hi-tech modernism. As with front doors, windows and architectural or structural details, if you need to replace a missing or unsuitable feature, it's a good idea to try looking at similar homes nearby that still have their original fireplaces or surrounds for ideas. Even if you are considering a different style, the scale and size of the “original” is a good guideline to what will be most suitable for the rooms in question.

Architectural salvage and reclamation yards may offer the best chance of finding something appropriate, although there'll probably be additional costs for repair or restoration work on damaged or unfinished surrounds. If using a new version of an original style is an acceptable alternative, there are shops and suppliers that can provide beautifully detailed, authentic-looking historical reproductions. These include Chiswick Fireplaces, The Edwardian Fireplace Company or Chesney's, to name a few. Reproduction designs may be made from marble, granite, limestone and sandstone, or man-made materials such as reconstituted stone or cultured marble that can also give convincing hand-painted finishes. Traditional designs in light-coloured stones such as limestone and marble are popular at the moment, with less demand for the ornate Victorian-style surrounds in wood and cast iron that were popular a few
years ago.

• DGF or Decorative Gas Fires – Basket-type designs that hold ceramic logs or coals and can be used with existing fire surrounds.
• Convector or Inset Live Fuel-Effect Fires – Open gas fires with a heat exchanger directing heat back into the room.
• Gel Fires – These burn alcohol gel fuel and need no chimney or flue.
• Balanced Flue or Fanned Flue – Can be installed in rooms without a flue or chimney.
• Builder's Opening – The structural opening at the base of the chimney.
• Fireback – Lining in the builder's opening that protects the structure and reflects heat.
• Hearth – Stone or concrete that stops the fire's heat spreading into the house's structure.
• Fire surround – The mantelpiece or “surround” to the grate/firebasket/gas burner.

With a general trend for sleek, pared-down interiors with luxury details, today's contemporary fireplaces suit these schemes perfectly. Whether the fire is gas, gel or electric, many surrounds use sleek and minimalist modern materials, such as glass or polished steel. With some fires, such as the innovative styles from B+D Design, the fire basket and burner have been replaced with a handful of metal rods – still giving out heat and a warming glow to the room, but a million miles from an ornate coal- or log-filled period-style basket.

The biggest trend over the last couple of years has been for hole-in-the-wall designs, which do away with a hearth completely, and are often minus a surround, too. These fires are usually gas, and can consist of a burner providing a regimented row of flames, a firebowl, or a pile of driftwood or pebbles, as seen in the designs from Platonic Fireplaces. For a good selection of firebowls, along with interesting and unusually detailed surrounds, try CVO Fires. Hole-in-the-wall designs are suited to smaller rooms where floor space is limited. Many electric fires follow the hole-in-the-wall concept, but most can simply be hung on any wall and connected to an electrical supply.

Contemporary fires and fireplaces offer flexibility of scale and proportion, while traditional designs are restricted to heights and widths that are appropriate to the room. Modern hole-in-the-wall alternatives can be installed at varying heights; however, if a modern fire or surround is out of the question, a popular option is a simple stone or timber design, with a black or neutral stone hearth.

Fireplace STOVES
There's a good range of contemporary-style stoves available, so if the idea of an enclosed, freestanding appliance that will give out a good supply of heat appeals, you won't be restricted to old-fashioned, cast-iron designs with a black finish. Stoves have a flue, can be placed in a fireplace opening, or against an outside wall (in which case it will be a balanced-flue design) or there are some flueless models that can be positioned more or less anywhere. Choose from multifuel (coal, smokeless fuel or wood), gas (or LPG), oil or electric models. There are a few wood-pellet models on the market, fairly new to the UK but popular in the USA and Canada. One of the advantages is that the pellets can be loaded into a hopper that feeds the stove; up to three days' supply is usual. Another advantage is that because of the automatic feed system, the stove can be electronically controlled using a timer. Pellets are an inexpensive fuel, but the pellet stoves themselves tend to be more expensive than multifuel models.

Electric stoves are more of a decorative addition to a room rather than a serious heat source – they contain an electric fan heater and an electric flame-effect. However, they can be good for extra heat in a small conservatory. Gas-powered models can have ceramic logs or coals, and oil models burn in a similar way, with coal or log effects. Traditional stoves are made from cast iron, but enamelled and stainless-steel finishes are also popular, and many stoves are now made from steel rather than cast iron.

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This article was published on Thursday 16 June, 2011.
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