When one talks of houses having ‘character’ or ‘period features’ the subject of fireplaces usually follows. This is because houses in the UK would historically have relied on fireplaces for the main source of heating and up until the second part of the 20th century, when central heating became far more standard, most rooms would have had a fireplace. Nowadays the fireplace is generally a feature in a reception room and its use is mostly for recreation rather than the necessity of heating the room. As a result a lot of older houses still retain the original fireplace which, along with skirtings, covings and ceiling roses etc make up the character of the house. If you’re thinking of replacing or redesigning your fireplace, the following will enable you to make the best choice.
Open fire versus log burner
The modern trend is to opt for woodburners instead the traditional open fire and they certainly do have a lot of advantages, such as:
- safer with children and pets
- no need for spark guards, simply close the door
- no need to wait for the fire to die down before nightime
- can be left unattended when the door is closed
- no need to worry about smoke entering the room
The main disadvantage is the initial cost to purchase as these are not generally cheap, and some argue that an open fire is more cosy, but there is nothing to compare with the warmth and crackle of real fuel and if you can possibly have either of these in your home it will be a bonus.
If real fire is not possible, or doesn’t float your boat then you can consider a gas or electric fire, which gives off heat and has some kind of visual feature giving the appearance of flames . One major advantage of this type of fire is that the heat is usually instant, with no need to bring in a pile of logs, use kindling to get the fire to light, then have to keep stacking it up to keep it going. There are hundreds of this type of fire available and your choice will probably be dependent on a number of things such as the character of house, and your budget to name just a couple.
Fire surrounds tend to be seen in older style properties and generally consist of 2 legs with a mantelpiece over the top, made from timber, plaster or brick and filled in with a façade of brick, stone, tile or marble and range from plain to very ornate. In contemporary style houses these are non-existent and the trend is for free standing, exposed flue wood burners, in a breath-taking array of designs. The traditional mantelpiece, displaying a dust-trap of out-moded ornaments or photos of sentimental value to the owner but nobody else is disappearing also as a result! That said, if you are needing to replace your old surrounds with new there are still plenty to choose from, and not everyone embraces the ‘all things modern’ image, the traditional still has its place and a lot of new houses are built of traditional style, fireplace and all!
Older properties would have needed chimneys to allow smoke to exit the building, and where these are still in existence they can generally be used for their purpose – if a chimney has not been used for quite some time then be sure to have it checked out and at least swept prior to using it. In modern buildings you may find a fireplace complete with surround but no chimney as the fire is gas or electric and requires no venting, or possibly just a vent straight out of the wall. In such cases you cannot have an real fire of any type. In the case of renovating an older property and removing old fireplaces you must make sure you know what you are doing. The chimney must be dismantled from the top down, you cannot remove a chimney breast in, say, a bedroom, without removing the part in the roof and above the roof. Sometimes the chimney breast / fireplace reveal can be used for something else, rather than removing it, such as a cupboard, or housing another appliance for example an AGA or even the TV.
And if you are wanting to add a stunning feature to your home, new or old, why not build a brick fireplace into your patio area? This will make your outside eating area usable for a lot more of the year, and really impress your guests!
Yes, the bit in front of the fireplace on the floor, that you stub your toe on when approaching! Well, I decided to have mine flush with the floor for that very reason and the tiler could not get his head around it!!! These were originally designed to catch the sparks and bits from the fireplace, but with modern wood burners and the like the hearth is hardly necessary any more. If you want a bit of an area to sort wood etc. then its probably not a bad idea but it doesn’t need to be raised, and could blend into the flooring around. If your whole floor is tiled you could continue the flooring right through but you must be sure the flooring can take the heat. Your flooring supplier should be able to help you decide this.
And when you come to hang your Christmas stocking on your mantelpiece just give a thought to all the folks who live in modern houses who are scratching their heads and wondering how to tell Santa about the new arrangement!