Change of hearth: Five fireplaces to warm up a winter’s day

Posted 31 December 2014 by Keith Osborne

A fireplace will add life to a room, giving it a focal point. So whether you have your heart set on a hearth filled with burning logs or a simple gas fire, read Richenda Oldham's suggestions.   

Fires offer both warmth and comfort, not to mention being the centre of attention in a room and even improving it. But what type of fireplace should you choose to cosy up to in the depths of winter?  First you should start by selecting the type of energy you want to use. 

  • Natural gas - if you want clean, no fuss instant heat, then gas is a good choice - it's also the cheapest form of heating. Always make sure you use a Gas Safe Register approved fitter.
  • Electric - these are simple to install and maintain – it's literally a case of plug in and go. The best electric fires have a flickering flame appearance to create the atmosphere of a gas or real fire.
  • Solid fuel - the different types of solid fuel used for domestic heating range from wood, biomass and biofuel pellets to coal or coke. Real fires and solid fuel stoves add atmosphere, but there will be ashes to clear up the next day and don't forget to get your chimney swept twice a year.    
  • Bio-ethanol - these eco-friendly fires have an adjustable real flame and give out no harmful gases, sparks or soot, making them ideal for houses or apartments without a chimney. The flame is caused by burning bioethanol, a renewable energy source made by fermented sugar and starch from plant by-products. They are an ideal alternative to electric fires and don't incur any installation costs. 

Knowing your flue

Brick chimney

A conventional brick chimney (also called a Class 1 Flue) with a chimney stack on the roof is easily recognisable and allows you to install most types of fire. 

Class 2 pre-fabricated flue

This is a metal flue box, which creates a false internal chimney breast. The box is connected to a series of metal flue pipes, which end in a terminal that passes through the roof. This flue can be used with multi-flue gas fires and electric fires. 

Class 2 pre-cast flue

Many new properties have rectangular pre-cast flues instead of chimneys. They run up through cavity walls and are made from hollow concrete flue blocks, ending in a ridge vent on the roof. You can use this flue with multi-flue gas fires and electric fires. 

Different types of fireplace

Open fireplace (classic)

An open recess in a chimney is known as an open fireplace. It can be complemented with different types of fire surrounds, from wood and stone to metal, usually with a mantelpiece. Always make sure your fireplace has a hearth, which should extend beyond the fireplace opening by around 300mm and 150mm on either side. You will also need a good quality fire basket to hold the logs or coal.  

Open fireplace (inglenook) 

Old fashioned inglenooks are one of the best known types of open fireplace and are ideally suited to traditional stoves, which are designed to burn logs and smokeless fuel cleanly and efficiently.  


Hole-in-the-wall fireplaces are becoming very popular and offer a stripped back to the basics look with no surround or mantel. They are literally just an opening in a wall with either a fire basket or a gas-fuelled fire bed.  



1. Inglenook fireplaces add character to a room, but are more practical if fitted with a wood-burning stove, Hunter inglenook stove, £1,399, 

2. Hole-in-the-wall gas fireplaces have a streamlined, minimalist appeal, with no hearth or surround, 

3. An eco-friendly Bio-ethanol fire will produce ambient heat that drifts across the room, Cocoon Vellum Bioethanol Fire, £2,100, 

4. For an open solid fuel fire use a simple freestanding fire basket to hold the logs and choose a surround that reflects the age and style of your house, Buckingham surround, £1,980, Cadogan fire basket, £594,  

5. Electric fires are convenient and can be highly sophisticated, complete with logs, flame and even smoke effects, 

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