‘The stove you select depends not only on the type of build and level of insulation of your home, but on the type of fuel to be used’
Q: My wife and I have just purchased our first home and it comes with a space for a fireplace stove but it has been left to us to choose and install. What are the options available and are there any other decisions and issues to consider?
A: Fire in the home has been a ‘must have’ since the dawn of mankind. The need for heat, light and the mesmerising flicker of the flame has always drawn us to fire, especially at this time of year. However, the once simple decision to install a fire has never been so complicated, particularly when energy efficiency and our carbon footprint are considered.
The open fire has all but been extinguished in new houses, and the accepted norm more often than not is its room-sealed or glass-fronted cousin. The stove you select depends not only on the type of build and level of insulation of your home, but on the type of fuel to be used. Different considerations will apply to a new build versus a retrofit and to gas versus solid fuel.
Location is the first decision to make. Your investment needs to deliver not only warmth but that ”wow” factor. Selected and placed correctly, a stove can transform a room. It can provide a missing focal point or open up the potential of a neglected corner. However, put it in the wrong place or size it incorrectly and it may compete with a television for attention, and often provide too much or too little heat.
The next decision is to choose the type that is right for you and your lifestyle. While chimneys may be great for Santa, they are equally great for unwanted heat loss and draughts. With modern new house constructions being reliant on insulation and air tightness, this is a challenge that a room-sealed appliance can overcome.
Solid fuel versus gas is the next conundrum. Often you will have no idea what type of house you want, but be in no doubt that you want that house to have a log stove. A log stove will certainly give the best heat output and is more eco-friendly than gas but it comes with baggage.
Firstly, you will need a good supply of quality kiln-dried firewood and plenty of dry storage space close to the fire and elsewhere. While you might be imagining a wonderful crackling fire, don’t forget the labour involved with ash removal. In a modern insulated home, the output from a log fire can easily overheat a room and, generally, it can’t be turned down or off – the real effect of modern insulation and airtightness are often overlooked.
On the other hand, gas is less labour-intensive and you can exercise a greater degree of control with lower heat outputs. Gas also has the benefit of a balanced flue that can use a chimney or go horizontally out through a wall like a boiler. This means that it can often be located away from an external wall and freed of the constraints that come with a chimney which requires height for a good ‘draw’. The range of styles and models to choose from are also extensive – for example, freestanding or built in. However, as gas is a fossil fuel, it does nothing to help the environment or your carbon footprint. Bio-ethanol and electric flame-effect fires are also low heat alternatives to solid fuel or gas and do not require a flue or chimney. The most important consideration, though, is safety. With air-tight buildings, the requirement for ventilation becomes vitally important. Fires need oxygen and will starve a room unless provided with a direct air supply or dedicated room vents.
Equally, a carbon monoxide alarm is essential. Solid fuel fires also require non-combustible hearths to protect against sparks, just as a traditional fire does. Current building regulations take all of the above into consideration and your chosen installer should take this into account and provide certification of safe installation on completion. A full survey by a specialist supplier will advise on these issues in advance to give an accurate quote for the works before proceeding.
Finally, and to recap, choose the type of stove to suit the location, your lifestyle and the level of heat needed. Engage the technical advice of a specialist and think safety.
Alan Burns, MRIAI, is a registered architect and co-director of Bright Design Architects; brightdesigns.ie
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.