Winter’s coming – how to choose the right fireplace

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Winter’s coming – how to choose the right fireplace

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
 Woonkamer door Hugo Hamity Architects
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South Africa may be known for its warm climate and hot summers, but locals will agree that our country can also get quite freezing, depending on location and the season! And since winter has already started knocking on our doors for 2019’s visit, we’ve begun searching for ways to keep warm and cosy – and that includes the search for the perfect fireplace.

Just think of the lovely ambience a crackling fire adds to a space, whether it’s a living room, dining room or bedroom. Fortunately, the majority of newer homes have the provision for at least one fireplace, and some even have adequate space for two or three.

But just like any other fixture or feature under the sun, so too does a fireplace provide a wealth of options in terms of style, size, practicality, cost, etc.

But don’t worry – homify is here to help you choose the perfect fireplace!


1. The right formula for choosing the right size

A fireplace’s power outlet is measured in kilowatts (kW). Go with a fireplace that’s too powerful and you’ll end up roasting your possessions; go with one that’s too low and everyone will freeze and spend a miserable winter indoors. 

Have a look at this simple formula to help you choose right: Room’s Height (m) x Length (m) x Width (m) = room volume (m3) 

Multiply the cubic meters by the relevant insulation factor below:Poorly insulated room: 0.06Well insulated room: 0.035

The result, measured in kilowatts, is the minimum heat output required.


2. Choosing the right fireplace: Built-in or freestanding?

Should you already have a hearth or traditional fireplace in your house, an insert stove can be installed flush with the wall. An insert closed combustion fireplace can mean a gigantic improvement to a room’s heating as opposed to an open hearth, where only about 10% of the heat is reserved for the space. 

On the other hand, a freestanding fireplace is usually more efficient than an insert, even though it takes up more space. Freestanding fireplaces have similar restrictions in terms of where you can place them (remember the requirements for the chimney); however, inserts are the better option for small or narrow rooms, as they use way less space.


3. Choosing the right fireplace: Open designs

Nobody can deny the romantic atmosphere that comes from watching those dancing flames in an open fireplace, but more than half of the heat is wasted on the chimney. Open fireplaces use more fuel, meaning they are less cost-effective and less eco-friendly than their closed combustion counterparts.

And don’t forget the fact that they require more maintenance – cleaning out the ash etc. – which means even though they make a delightful focal point in a room, they are not the most perfect choice. 


4. Choosing the right fireplace: Ventless built-in options

Ventless built-in indoor designs are the easiest to install, as they don’t require a chimney or vent. With this option, the flame colour has a blue tint thanks to the burning gas. 

Just remember that even though modern designs make every effort to keep them clean burning, some contaminants may still enter your home.


5. Choosing the right fireplace: Ethanol-burning

Ethanol-burning fireplaces are considered the hottest option at the moment thanks to their ease in installation and contemporary design. In addition, they are clean and odourless and require minimal installation, if any. 

But remember that even though they are more environmentally friendly, they will probably not produce as much heat as a gas- or enclosed wood burning fireplace.

6. Choosing the right fireplace: Closed combustion

Wood- and coal-burning fireplaces are quite effective and efficient, as about 80% of the generated heat is sent into the room. That makes them easier on fuel and much cleaner to run. And whether you go for a steel or cast-iron design, you are sure to find the right traditional / sleek / modern look to complement your space. 

What’s more, they just about pay for themselves within a few years in what you save on electricity, even though they come with a bigger price tag than open fireplaces. 

7. What to consider: Emissions

Due to the emissions produced, burning wood compared to burning ethanol or gas requires different appliances. And it’s these emissions that can be responsible for health issues. 

In terms of severity, wood causes the most potent emissions, gas less than wood, and ethanol the least.

8. What to consider: Ventilation

Doesn’t matter whether you’ve chosen a wood-, gas-, or coal-burning fireplace, those emissions still need to be vented via a chimney. Here is where ethanol scores major points, for it is a very clean-burning fuel and does not require chimney. But just be aware of the ventilation issues with ethanol-fuelled fireplaces.

Also keep in mind that building codes govern the building of fireplaces and chimneys, therefore it is best to consult your local council before you start, as regulations may vary.


9. What to consider: Energy costs

The cost, availability, and storage of your fireplace’s different fuels must also be considered. 

Take wood – it is available from many sources, yet is bulky and requires plenty of storage space. Gas is also easy to buy and store, but you require access to gas mains or bottled gas. If you are on mains, your gas will be relatively cheap, but bottled gas will hike up your heating costs considerably. Once again, ethanol is the winner here, as it is the easier and cheaper option because renewable energy sources are becoming the popular choice thanks to everyone living in the green age. 

Want some more options to gawk at? Then feast your eyes on these 6 spectacular fireplaces right here in South African homes.  


Eigentijds wonen in een rietgedekte villa:  Huizen door Lab32 architecten

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