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Choosing a fireplace

Melanie Whitehouse / 20 October 2016

Open fire, woodburning stove or electric? We take a look at the options when it comes to choosing a fireplace for your home.

Open fire
Open fires look beautiful, but only 15% of the heat they generate goes into the room

A fireplace is a focal point in a room, and particularly in a living room. A place to gather around, in time-honoured style, to talk and warm yourself, it spells welcome and good cheer on a cold or dismal day.

Before fitting a fireplace, it’s best to get professional advice. The size and style of the fireplace you choose depends on the size of your room and how much heat you need, what kind of flue you have and the size of your hearth. 

If your chimney is in good condition and the flue is working well, you can choose from a fire that will burn logs or coal. Most fireplace showrooms will talk you through what is suitable for your home, and can also recommend a fitter once you’ve made a final decision.

Many new-build flats have no fireplaces, yet people want character in their homes and environmentally-friendly heating from carbon-neutral fuel like wood. 

Adding a fireplace is said to increase your home’s value by up to five per cent, so it’s worth doing. Woodburners are the current favourite and sales have soared in the last five years with manufacturers are coming up with ever-more sleek and contemporary designs. They can even be installed where there isn’t a fireplace by adding in a twin-wall flue system, although this can be even more expensive than the stove itself.

Read our tips for getting a fire going

What are the fireplace options?

Open fireplaces

Nothing beats the romance of an open fire, but they aren’t usually the most practical choice. 

‘Open’ basically means the fire is basically burning in the air of the room, not behind doors, and only 15% of the heat generated goes out into the room – the rest disappears up the chimney. 

However, open fireplaces come in many styles, traditional and contemporary, cheap and expensive, and those enigmatic, flickering flames may well be too tempting to resist.

Woodburning stoves

Up to 80% of the heat generated by a woodburning stove goes into the room, and it continues to radiate heat after the fire has gone out, so you will stay warmer for longer than with an open fire. However, you will need an expert to calculate the draw of air on your flue – usually, the straighter your flue, the better the draw - as that will determine what type of woodburner you can have in your property. 

You can also buy multi-fuel burners, and stoves that can heat your water and radiators and come with built-in boilers. A plumber should always be used to connect the system to the pipe outlets at the rear.

Modern fireplaces

A modern, hole-in-the-wall fireplace is a viable choice for houses without a flue. The waste gases are removed via a pipe that runs through an outside wall. They usually consist of a firebasket that may not give out much warmth but contains pebbles faux logs or ceramic coal that give a flickering flame effect. You can also get versions for outdoors.

Electric fires

Coal and log-effect gas or electric fires can be a very realistic alternative to open fires or woodburning stoves and are mess-free. 

They come in a number of styles (the more expensive have more features and their flames tend to be more realistic) and some even draw air from the room and heat it, adding to their output.

Safety first

When fuels like coal, wood, gas and oil are burned, they can produce carbon monoxide, so make sure you stay safe by fitting a carbon monoxide detector in the room where you have your fire. Find them at your local DIY store or online at Amazon.

Find out more about carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide detectors


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.