fireplace design - the Grand Designs guide

Fireplaces: a buyer’s guide

Whether it’s a major structural piece or a simple retrofit model, go for a striking fireplace design

By Jo Messenger | 1 January 2018

Who can resist the attractive warmth, aroma and crackle of a real fire? But with so many fireplace designs and fuel options available, what’s the right choice for you and your home? First, do some research to find out which type is suitable for your property, then decide if it will be for heat, aesthetics or both.

Choosing the right fireplace1

This Kal-fire glass-fronted model from Bespoke Fireplace Designs comes in a natural gas or LPG format

Fireplace designs, functions and fuels

Most indoor fires require a chimney or flue. Open-flame ones are only 20% efficient, while wood burners, which are enjoying a renaissance with striking, updated designs, have 90% efficiency.

Both need to be cleaned out, but stoves are available with built-in boilers, so they can potentially heat your water and radiators as well. You will need to check what can be burnt where you live, as house coal and wood is not permitted in smoke-control areas. Check with your council to find out if your home is in one.

Many of the more contemporary versions are gas fuelled and available with various flue options, as well as flueless models, although these aren’t recommended for basements or bedrooms. Bioethanol fires (also known as gel fires) don’t require a chimney or vent either and, although they have very low emissions, they can have high running costs – up to 20 times that of a gas appliance with the same kW heat rating.

However, bioethanol is generally considered a greener fuel. Produced from common crops, such as potato or corn, it gives a great output with a long burning time. However, good ventilation is required, as burning bioethanol can cause condensation.

Whatever style you choose, make sure you are happy with how the fireplace looks when the flames are inactive, especially with the more contemporary designs.

Choosing the right fireplace1

The Rais Visio 3 from Robeys features a three-sided glass door and either a stainless-steel or black frame

Need to know

If you’re buying online, look out for the same after-sales and servicing support that you would from a showroom retailer, and check that a local installer is willing to fit the fireplace before ordering, as some will only work with their own products.

Alternatively, contact HETAS, the official body recognised by the government to approve biomass and solid-fuel heating appliances, fuels and services, as well as the registration of installers and serving businesses. It also has a list of registered chimney sweeps.

If you’re opting for a gas fire, your installer must be Gas Safe Registered and you may need to have your chimney lined. Although not always essential, it will make a traditional chimney safer and, by creating a smooth continuous surface, increase efficiency, along with preventing tar and smoke from leaking through cracks in the masonry. It will also improve the draw and help prevent carbon monoxide developing.

fireplace design - Burn logs in the Totem 4 Faces Suspendu. From £7,715, Diligence Fires

Burn logs in the Totem 4 Faces Suspendu from Diligence Fires

Check your chimney

Before fitting a fire, it’s vital to have the chimney swept and assessed to ensure it’s in good order and meets current regulations. If you’re renovating an existing property, the type of chimney or flue already there may affect your choice of fire, so discuss your options with a professional installer.

‘All internal and external work on flues, chimneys and fireplaces is subject to Building Regulations and inspection,’ says Phil Cleaver, editor at ‘If you hire a member of a competent-person scheme, such as NACE, OFTEC and HETAS registrants, they will notify the local authority that work has been carried out to the required standard. It’s also advisable to employ the services of a chimney engineer for specific work.’ Bear in mind that a chimney needs to be at least 4.5m tall to ensure it draws properly.

Ventilation is key: Always seek advice from a professional installer to make sure your fireplace has the correct ventilation and meets current Building Regulations. Solid fuel, wood and biomass-burning appliances are required to have a fixed, permanently open ventilator to provide their combustion air from outside the property.

Modern fireplace design:  Cocoon Aeris is ethanol burning, available in stainless steel or carbon black and rotates 360°

Cocoon Aeris from Wharfside is ethanol burning, available in stainless steel or carbon black and rotates 360°