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Fireplace Efficiency – Guidance Notes

When considering fireplace efficiency, you need to consider the appliance type and the fuel you will use. Most high efficiency appliances use glass on the front to stop heat escaping from the room up the chimney or flue system. The alternative is a flueless gas fire, a bioethanol fire or an electric fire all of which are very efficient.

Stay green by choosing a high-efficiency fireplace that burns more efficiently and produces less air pollution.

The classic fireplace, with a blazing fire open to the room, is a traditional symbol of comfort and security. Many people include a fireplace among their “must have” features when planning for their dream home. On a more practical level, an open fireplace is notoriously inefficient as a means of heating a room. Its appetite for air, to keep smoke from the fire going up the chimney instead of out into the room, is what causes the inefficiency.

The enduring popularity of fireplaces combined with the choice many of us make to use renewable wood heat for our homes has prompted a number of changes in traditional fireplace design that attempt to address the inefficiency problem.

To be an effective heater, a fireplace must borrow some of the features perfected by woodstove designers over the last 20 years. These include gasketed, ceramic glass doors with an airwash system to keep them clean; firebox insulation and internal baffling. An adjustable combustion air supply also is needed to control the burn rate and, therefore, the output of heat.

Some fireplaces with all these features are on the market. The quick way to find them is to look for either factory-built fireplaces or fireplace inserts that are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as meeting the EPA smoke emission standards, which stipulate acceptable concentrations of air polluting emissions from freestanding woodstoves and fireplace inserts.

In designing these fireplaces to burn efficiently enough to meet the standards, the manufacturers have produced some beautiful units that also are able to provide significant heat to your home.

The consideration of what type of ‘focal point’ heating you choose often has more to do with creating the right feel to the living space rather than achieving the best efficiency or environmental impact. However, given an informed choice, there is nothing to prevent achieving both energy efficiency and an attractive centrepiece for your room.

Fireplaces in living areas can provide other benefits such as a quick boost of heat on spring or autumn evenings that are cooler than expected. Or, in winter, a fire will work in tandem with slower forms of heating such as underfloor. All in all it can provide improved economy.

Here we will guide you through the most important issues to consider. The main assumption that we will make is that a form of ‘living flame’ effect is desired, something that very few would do without, given the choice.

Open Fire or Closed Gas?

The first major decision is whether to provide an open fire or a closed glass-fronted one. Our opinion is that Open fires are best avoided for a number of reasons including very low fuel efficiency, high ventilation requirements, relatively incomplete combustion and high smoke emissions.

Inglenook fireplaces are often associated with open fires, but some homeowners install efficient glass-fronted woodburning or gas stoves within the inglenook to provide environmentally responsible heating instead. An open fire is often less than 20% energy efficient and the chimney constantly evacuates warm air from the living space even when the fire is not lit — so it is easy to see why they aren’t welcome in modern highly energy efficient homes.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and efficient open fronted gas fires – generally smaller 16” to 18” fires – can offer meaningful heat outputs and efficiencies. However the larger the open fire, the poorer the performance usually is. The recommendation from domestic heating experts is therefore consistent — use a modern, energy efficient, glass fronted fire or stove if at all possible.

Fuel Options:

Fuel choice is an important consideration at the outset — whether you are on or off the gas grid, changing fuel type can have a significant effect on running costs and it also helps define the realism of the flame effect you can achieve.

Woodburners tend to offer the most striking, impressive flame combined with high heat efficiency. Due to technical advancements, they also perform better than ever now.

Ventilation is required in new-build solid fuel installations which can seem counter intuitive when dealing with airtight new designs. However innovations in outside air connections are available to take care of this.

If you want a flame to look at but don’t want the effort involved in woodburning then a gas fire is the best option. There are many gas fires now on the market that offer very realistic log/coal fuel beds, and an instantly controllable flame that requires relatively little attention. Larger gas fires often have remote controls, whereas smaller models may have conventional manual or slide controls.

Gas fire designs range from freestanding to fully built-in, and span from the strictly traditional to the ultra-modern and anywhere in between.

Benefits of Gas and Woodburning Stoves:

A benefit of gas and woodburning stoves or fires is that they don’t rely on mains electricity. As long as you choose a control system that is manually operated or battery powered then a gas fire can also act as an essential heat supply in the event of mains power loss. This is excellent back-up as electricity outages can cause heating loss if your system uses electricity (such as heat pump).

If you do not have access to mains natural gas and do not want wood or solid fuel then the choice really narrows down to LPG gas, oil or electricity.

Oil is not a very popular fuel for secondary heating and although some stoves are available for oil, the controls usually require mains power plus the flame effects are often lacking in visual appeal compared to other options. Oil may be worth considering if you are going to be using an oil boiler but other choices can offer more flexibility and effectiveness.

Whichever option you finally choose, consider the options and make a choice early on in your project. You may need enough time to plan in a chimney or inglenook, and you will have to decide on a suitably sited fuel supply for the fire.

Electric Fires:

Let’s not forget electric fires. Today, electric fires and stoves can be up to 99% efficient and produce eye-catching, realistic flames.

Some highly efficient electric fires and stoves even offer a uniquely quiet fan operating system that only uses a row of fans to create heat and flame effect simultaneously, making these fires some of the quietest in the market.

Depending on the atmosphere you wish to create in your new living space, you can adjust the brightness and heat of your highly efficient electric fire or stove using a remote control and you don’t even need to leave your armchair! For those wanting to create a warm atmosphere during the summer months, your electric fire or stove can be operated and enjoyed without any heat output at all, so you can relax with the flame visuals on their own.

There are many benefits to electric fires:

• Easy to operate – Heat and flames are instantly available at the flick of a switch.

• Flexible & Versatile – Electric heating doesn’t require a flue or pipe-work, so there are no restrictions on building layout or design and no regulatory or planning issues associated with positioning of flues to restrict you. Electric heaters can also be installed virtually anywhere in the room, again aiding freedom of design.

• Safe, reliable Systems.

• Comfort and Control – There have been significant developments in electric heating in the last few years and modern electric heaters incorporate highly sensitive, integral thermostatic controls.

Whatever fireplace you choose here at Athena, we have something to suit everyone’s taste, style and needs.