How to choose the right fireplace for your home

How to choose a fireplace

Compare fireplace heating options to ensure that your home stays warm and cosy all winter long.

Almost every Australian home needs a convenient heating option to stay snug and warm on a cold winter’s night, and nothing beats the romance and rustic charm of a fireplace. But which fireplace is the best option for your home?

From traditional open fireplaces to gas fireplaces, corner fireplaces and a range of funky modern designs, there’s a huge range available when choosing how to heat your home. Let’s compare the available options to see which one is right for you.

Issues to consider before you choose

Before we take a look at the myriad fireplace options available, it’s important to take a number of issues into account to work out exactly what you want from your fireplace. These include:

  • The area you need to heat. Consider the size of the space you need to heat, as this will not only influence the type of fireplace you choose but also the size.
  • Looks. A fireplace doesn’t just provide heating; it can also act as a design feature and focal point of your home. With this in mind, consider where the fireplace will be located and what look you want to achieve.
  • Emissions. In today’s environmentally-conscious world, it’s vital to consider the emissions your home heating will release and the effects it will have on the environment. This means the type of fuel you choose becomes a critical decision, with wood being the least “green” option and ethanol the clear winner in this category.
  • Energy costs. The next thing you need to consider is what fuel you will use for your fireplace. For example, wood can be sustainably sourced and is sometimes free, but it’s also quite large and requires plenty of storage space, not to mention a bit of hard work to chop it up. Gas is cheap to buy and easy to store, but will be much cheaper if you have access to mains gas instead of bottled gas.
  • Ventilation. Fires fuelled with wood, gas or coal need a chimney or flue for ventilation. You won’t need a chimney or flue if using ethanol, but these fireplaces do have their own unique ventilation requirements.
  • The style of fireplace. There are inbuilt or standalone fireplaces, single or double-sided fireplaces, corner units and even companies that specialise in turning the humble fireplace into a beautiful design feature. The right one for you will depend on the space you have to work with, your personal style preferences and your budget.
  • Your budget. Work out how much money you are willing to spend before you start. For example, you will generally have to pay more to purchase a gas fireplace than you would for a wood fireplace.

Fireplace options

Wood

There’s nothing like the look, smell and feel created by a wood fireplace. Wood fireplaces create a cosy, warm and inviting atmosphere like no other option, which is why they remain the first choice for many Australians.

The most basic choice for a wood fireplace is an open hearth, which is the image most people think of when picturing a wood fireplace. However, despite the beautiful atmosphere they create, these are the least efficient option, heating only a small area and also creating a lot of pollution.

The next wood heater option is a metal fireplace insert. These can be inserted into an existing fireplace to improve its efficiency, allowing air to circulate around the insert and back out into the room you are trying to heat. This means they provide both radiant and convective heat, and can reach efficiency levels of around 25% (as opposed to 10% for an open hearth). However, you will need to install a flue.

The third main option is a slow combustion heater, which is often simply referred to as a wood heater. These modern units control the amount of oxygen available to the fire, using features such as baffles and vents to maximise the fire’s efficiency. Slow combustion heaters can reach efficiency levels of between 50% and 70%, providing both convective and radiant heat.

Every wood heater sold in Australia must comply with the Australian/New Zealand Standard 4013, which ensures that its smoke emissions are within safe limits. Check the back of any heater you are thinking of buying for the compliance plate, which provides details of the testing of the unit and its efficiency. There are also regulations surrounding the installation of chimneys and flues, so read up on these before making your final decision.

Wood heaters can range in price from around $800 up to $4,000, and you’ll generally pay more for an insert heater than a standalone unit.

Gas

Gas heaters run on natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). There are flued and unflued gas heater models available – unflued units can be portable, but their use is restricted in some areas due to problems with indoor air pollution. Gas heaters emit water vapour and carbon dioxide, so proper ventilation is needed to ensure safety, while the risk of a gas leak is always enough to discourage some homeowners.

Unlike wood heaters, which need to be flued vertically, gas heaters can be flued horizontally, allowing installation in apartments and a wide range of other locations. Gas fireplaces also come in a wide range of stylish designs, allowing you to mimic the rustic look and feel of an open log fire.

Gas is a cleaner fuel than wood and is a great choice if you’re hooked up to mains gas. However, gas heaters can be quite expensive if you need to purchase bottled gas.

Gas fireplaces and gas log fires typically cost anywhere between $2,500 and $7,500. Make sure to check a product’s energy-efficiency rating before you buy.

Ethanol

Ethanol fireplaces are a relatively new arrival to the world of home heating. Ethanol, sometimes also referred to as bio-ethanol, is a natural fuel sourced from the fermentation of sugar.

The main advantage of this renewable energy source is that it burns cleanly, so ethanol fireplaces don’t need a flue or vent. The fuel is easy to handle and these types of heaters require minimal cleaning and maintenance, while you won’t need to worry about a gas or electrical connection.

There’s also an extensive range of ethanol fireplaces to choose from, including everything from fireplace inserts to fireboxes, standalone units and designer products. We recommend browsing the range of products available to get a better idea of the beautiful look and feel you can create with a stylish ethanol fireplace.

However, ethanol heaters do create carbon dioxide and water vapour, so adequate ventilation is required to reduce these issues.

Prices start from around $3,000 and can head to $10,000 and above for fancy designer options.

Which fireplace is right for you?

The right fireplace for your home varies depending on a wide range of circumstances. You’ll need to consider your budget, heating needs, the look you want to achieve and the pros and cons of each type of fuel before you can make your final decision.

The key is to do your research before you buy. This will help you gain a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of wood, gas and ethanol fireplaces, and decide which one is the best fit for your home.

Tips when choosing a fireplace

Keep the following tips in mind when selecting a fireplace for your home:

  • TV over the fireplace. Want to mount a TV over the fireplace to create a focal point that draws the eye twice as much? This is easier than ever before thanks to the advent of lightweight flatscreen TVs, and your TV/fireplace combo will be the centre of attention in any room. It also frees up floor space, but just make sure that burning the fire won’t damage your TV (check its technical specifications regarding recommended temperatures), and that the TV is still installed at an acceptable viewing height.
  • Insulate. The better insulated your home is, the warmer it will be throughout winter, requiring less heating. This can in turn result in reduced energy costs and fewer emissions.
  • Eliminate draughts. Make sure your windows are completely draught-proof, allowing you to maximise the efficiency of whichever heating option you select.
  • Seal in the heat. To minimise heat loss, shut doors between the heated and unheated areas of your home and close curtains at night.

Images: Shutterstock

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