Fireplaces conjure so many comforting images — cuddling up against the cold outdoor air, toasting marshmallows with family, and the slow sizzle and smell of a traditional fire. This winter, we speak with some industry leaders to find out how to choose the perfect fireplace

Jeff Collins
from Real Flame, Collette Frankland of Woodpecker, Nicholas Agnew, managing director of Agnews Fireplaces, and Demi Brown, general manager of the Australian Home Heating Association Inc, discuss wood heating and slow-combustion fireplaces.

What kinds of fireplaces are out there?

Jeff Collins The range is quite large. They start from simple burner models that can be installed into existing working fireplaces. Then there are purely decorative fires that can be used as an architectural feature. The next level of fires are still open-fronted fireboxes, but supply a reasonable amount of heat while retaining the ability to be “dressed” in a number of finishes, allowing the client to create their own individual feature. Finally there are glass-fronted gas log fires that are still stunning to look at, but supply a large amount of heat at a very efficient rate, many having star ratings of 4 and above.

Collette Frankland There are many different open fireplace inserts out there on the market today. Sizes vary from a small Edwardian cast-iron insert with antique-style tiles to double-sided units that are 1.5 metres wide. Contemporary or traditional, it’s all available.

• There are open fire inserts that have an encasing surrounding them called a zero clearance, which allows you to build them into a plaster wall and surround them in all manner of materials such as stainless steel, tile, stack stone etc. They are now as versatile as their gas counterparts.

• The combustion wood heater (an insert with a glass door) is still the most efficient way to maximise wood heating, with some models heating up to
35 squares.

• There are enclosed gas fireplaces and open gas fire inserts, which can give you the look of a real fire in either a log or coal effect.

• For those of you who live in apartments and thought that owning a fireplace was just a dream, there are ethanol fireplaces such as the Planika. They run on ethanol, burn clean and require no fluing.

Demi Brown Consumers can choose from a variety of models, which include freestanding slow-combustion, radiant and in-built models, as well as heat-circulating fireplaces. All the information on these can be found on the “consumer fact sheet” on the home page of our website: (Demi notes that open brick fireplaces are inefficient and have been banned in some areas of Australia.)

Nicholas Agnew There are two main forms of fireplaces: open-flame fireboxes and sealed fireboxes, where the flame is contained behind a glass panel. Both forms are available in gas-fired or wood-burning formats, and both can be had in many different sizes.
Once the decision about open-flame or sealed firebox is made, it becomes a decorating decision. There is a terrific array of fireplace furniture available, mantelpieces in timber and stone, hearths, grates, fascias — the list
goes on.

Is it easy to upgrade/renovate a current fireplace?

Jeff Collins Yes! As there are so many different models available, it is rare that one cannot be found to bring an existing fireplace to life with a gas log fire.

Collette Frankland Most fireplaces are easily renovated depending on what you wish to do. You may want to have an open fire insert, a glass-door combustion heater, an open gas insert, or an enclosed gas insert unit fitted. You will need to ask some questions:

• Check the state of your chimney — is it in good condition?
• Is the chimney straight up or does it have bends through it?
• Can gas be easily lead up to the fireplace and how far away is it from your gas line?
• Take measurements of the opening — will it be big enough?
Take this information to a dealership and it will help in your investigation as to what options are available for you. Bricks can sometimes be removed to make an opening larger but generally you do not want to remove the
Lintel bar.

Demi Brown Open brick fireplaces, while providing ambience, are not an efficient heating source as most of the heat is lost up the chimney. An alternative is a heat-circulating open fireplace insert, which can be fitted into an existing open brick fireplace. Inserts allow you to keep the charm of a fireplace, but are a much more effective source of heating. Fireplace inserts are an ideal alternative to an open brick fireplace, while maintaining all the charm, atmosphere and character of an open fire.

Nicholas Agnew It can be if people plan the project, get expert advice and use the correct materials. Renovating a fireplace isn’t different to any other home improvement project. Agnews helps with fireplace renovation projects every day. For the traditional purists wanting to return their fireplace to original splendour, Agnews has a big selection of historically correct reproduction fireplace components.

More often than not, home improvers are taking a casual approach to refurbishing the fireplace and blending contemporary themes with classic forms and we are seeing some very exciting fireplace settings result.

People shouldn’t be daunted by their fireplace project. It needn’t be complex and it needn’t be expensive. But it should be part of their planning from the beginning of the home improvement project.

The fireplace setting will have a strong impact in the space it occupies and really should be a central component in developing their vision for the room.

Quick tips on looking for a fireplace

Jeff Collins

“The most important aspect to look at is the safety of the fireplace. For a gas log fire to operate correctly and safely, the fireplace should be ‘working’, which means it must draw properly, be structurally sound and not have any cracks or gaps.”

Collette Frankland
“You should consider where the fireplace is going to be situated; if your home is insulated; if it is surrounded by windows or other areas that allow heat to escape; how the heat will be dispersed; if it is your primary source of heating and if so, how much heat out will you need and how much will it cost to run. These are just a few questions you need to consider. Fireplaces can be effective when used in conjunction with good design, effective insulation and with heat dispersions such as overhead fans or heat transference systems.”

Demi Brown
“Our Consumer Fact Sheet on the home page of our website will provide all the information you will need for this. Most importantly, consumers should ensure the unit they purchase has been tested to Australian Standards and has a current certificate of compliance.”

Nicholas Agnew
“If heating is your only objective, then the selection process is pretty easy. Find a system that delivers the best performance, fits comfortably into the space available and complements the décor of the room. If you are trying to create a feature of your fireplace, then heating performance has to be considered together with a number of styling factors such as: size and appearance of the firebox, appearance of the flame pattern, and the ability to achieve the desired decorative effect with a surround and hearth.”