So now it’s really cold. And those radiators just aren’t very welcoming. Isn’t it time you thought about opening that old fireplace back up? There’s nothing more welcoming than huddling round a real fire, or even a gas one come to that, on a winter’s evening.
Paul Chesney, owner of Chesneys, which sells reproduction and antique fireplaces, says: “It’s a primeval urge isn’t it – to sit round a fire? I don’t think people mind if it’s real or gas, the effect is the same.”
“A fireplace can be a really strong architectural feature in a room. Even when it’s not lit, you can sit and admire it.”
So, it obviously doesn’t matter what type of fire you have – as long as you have one, to paraphrase Henry Ford.
The question is, what sort of style do you have? Chesney says: “Unless you are determined to ensure that the fireplace you select is absolutely historically correct for the property, don’t become too concerned about period. If you live in an Edwardian house it is unlikely that you will restrict your choice of furniture to pieces from that era. Generally speaking people choose things because they like the look of them and the same should apply to fireplaces.
“Architectural styles of fireplace from the 18th and early 19th centuries are versatile and work well with most interiors. The clean strong lines of these pieces will suit both minimalist and more cluttered interiors. It is also possible to mix contemporary and period details very successfully by combining a period style surround with a modern fire grate.”
When it comes to size, Chesney offers the following advice: “There are no hard and fast rules about the correct dimensions for a chimneypiece within a room, but there are some useful guidelines. The mantel shelf should not reach the half-way point to the ceiling as this cuts the wall into two halves and produces a very clumsy look to the fireplace. The mantel shelf should never over sail the edges of the chimney breast; ideally it should sit in a little from the edges of the breast.”
And, if you’re thinking of selling your house, then now’s the time. Richard Gayner, of Savills Country House division, says: “The most important thing when selling a house is timing and if your house has real fires in it then now is the time to sell. At this time of year, people walk into a house and notice if it is warm. A leaping fire will add to that. In summer, the first thing they do is walk over to a window and look out at the garden so there’s no question that if you have a fire, you must light it.”
Anne Sourtry, of John D Wood’s Fulham office, says that while many people have already put back their fireplaces, the real value comes from taking out the chimney breasts at both ends of a knocked through reception and installing one central fireplace.
“It isn’t done that often, but obviously London has a lot of houses where the front and back have been knocked through with a fireplace at each end. Installing a central fireplace unifies the room and the removal of the other chimney breasts creates more space. When I see that I rub my hands with glee.”
So you’ve decided to put a sledgehammer through that bit of plasterboard or rip out that 1970s monstrosity. What do you do next?
First call the sweep. Now you might have thought that getting the chimney swept was the final stage, before setting a match to the kindling, but in fact you need to call him in earlier than that. A sweep will tell you the condition of the existing chimney and whether you can continue without the expense of installing a flue liner. This is can cost anything up to £2,000 and might put you off going any further. Make sure he is from the National Association of Chimney Sweeps and not a mate of that dodgy builder you called in last week.
If you do need a new liner, you need to call a Gas Safe registered plumber for a gas fire or a HETAS registered installer for a real one. They can run the appropriate tests and issue the required certification, as well as installing your new fireplace both safely and legally.
Tristan Rowe, sales manager of Chesney says that if you have a fire, you should have it swept and checked once a year for gas and at least double for a real fire.
“There are two tests – BS5871 for gas and the more stringent BS6461 for real. A gas fire goes up to about 250 degrees – much like an oven – but a real fire can get up to 1,300 degrees over the whole area.
“The other point that many people fail to take into account is that chimneys often go through the children’s bedrooms. You cannot take risks with that and you need to maintain your chimney.”
When it comes to choosing between real or gas, it’s a simple question of preference.
“There’s no doubting the convenience of being able to push a button and have instant heat and the look of a fire, as opposed to having to wait an hour for heat and then having to wait until it has gone out before you go to bed. Of course nothing competes with the crackling logs on a real fire, but you have to take peoples’ lifestyles into consideration,” says Rowe.
Yes, what about those crackling logs? In most major cities, you are supposed to burn smokeless fuel. The less said about how many people actually do that the better. If you are burning logs, in the country obviously, they must be three to five years seasoned or they will spit. Look at the cut grain across the end for splits, which shows that the wood is properly dry. Even if it has been rained on overnight, the presence of the cracks shows that that is surface water that will burn off. Otherwise you will end up with a lot of white smoke, which is basically steam.