Want to beat the chills? Tips for choosing the perfect fireplace

Winter has South Africa in its grip, and many homeowners may be considering installing a fireplace to keep the cold at bay. A fireplace not only warms your home and creates ambience, but also adds value to your property.

However, when choosing what kind of fireplace to install there are a number of things that you need to consider - such as what style suites your home, the best size and location, what type of fuel the fireplace will require, if there is an existing chimney or place for the new fireplace to go which will allow it to vent directly outside, and if you need permission from your body corporate before installing a fireplace, says Orlando Luis, CEO of family-owned hardware chain, Brights Hardware.

Luis offers the following advice for people considering installing a fireplace:

Built-in versus freestanding

The first decision to make is whether you want to install a built-in or a freestanding fireplace. Built-in fireplaces do require some additional thought about the installation process and renovation expenses, but a beautifully designed wall-mounted fireplace can alter any room, and unlike the old-fashioned fireplaces of days gone by, contemporary fireplaces are available in a variety of styles and materials.

Freestanding units take no more than a few hours to install as they do not need any renovations other than the flue pipes running through the ceiling and roof.

While they do take up more space than a built-in fireplace, these types of units are cost effective to install and are also available in a variety of shapes and styles to fit most interiors.

Luis further advises that one can also position a freestanding fireplace against an exterior wall, meaning that you can opt for a direct venting system that goes out through the wall rather than through the ceiling and roof.

A direct venting fireplace can be installed in practically any room with an exterior wall.

Burn baby burn - fuel considerations

Another consideration is what type of fuel you would like your new fireplace to burn.

When it comes to fireplaces, there are a variety of different fuel sources that one can choose from:

1. Wooden it be nice

There is nothing that can really compete with the visual aesthetics and ‘snap, crackle and pop’ of a real wood-burning fire.

These fires also give off excellent heat, especially with the modern fuel-efficient fireplace designs.

Modern closed-combustion wood-burning fireplaces or stoves are extremely safe and efficient.

These convert as much as possible of their fuel source into heat, while generating only a minimum amount of ash. Wood is also a renewable resource.

2. Give it gas

According to Luis, gas fireplaces allows you to avoid the mess and bother of burning logs, and can be direct vented or vented through a chimney. Vent-free gas fireplaces are also available.

Gas fireplaces are growing in popularity. Probably the number one reason why they have become so popular is the convenience factor that they offer - with a gas fireplace, all you need to do is to flick a switch to turn them on.

Top-end models even come with a remote control so that you don’t need to leave the comfort of your couch, bed or bath to enjoy the benefits of a roaring fire.

3. No need to vent

Ethanol fireplaces are the simplest fireplaces to install and are vent free, do not require a flue pipe connection, or any construction.

Since they run on the fuel that you pour directly into the fireplace they can literally be placed in the middle of the room, and once the ethanol is burnt there is nothing to clean or clear.

It is attractive to consider a vent-free fireplace, especially when you are adding it to an existing home as there is no need to have a chimney, or even an exterior wall for a direct vent. There is also no heat loss to the outside, because there is no vent.

However, Luis cautions that vent-free fireplaces should not be installed in small, confined spaces, should only be used for less than four hours at a time, and should generally not be the only source of heat.

4. Waste not, want not

Pellet fireplaces are highly efficient heating systems that burn wood pellets as fuel. Pellets are produced from off-cuts and waste material from the local timber industry and are the cleanest burning solid fuel. They are very economical, easy to handle and store, and they produce a high heat output.

Pellet burners can be set to automatically heat at programmed times, and some models can be controlled remotely by a mobile phone app so that you return to a warm, inviting home.

Pellet burners do require an electrical connection to operate, but can be vented directly to an outside wall, whereas wood-burning stoves require a chimney.

5. Fire up the electricity

An electric fireplace is another possibility to explore. Modern electric fireplaces are efficient, but the cost of electricity is obviously an important factor to bear in mind.

Electric fireplaces are easy to install, because they need no venting system. With some units, you can simply take it home, plug it in and it’s ready to go. An electric fireplace may be the best option to use in apartment buildings or in a townhouse complex.

Luis cautions that people keen to install a fireplace must not do it themselves, but must rather make use of the services of an expert.

“Incorrect installation could result in the emission of dangerous fumes, or in a fire hazard. It’s best to consult a professional,” says Luis.


Whichever option you decide on, there are a myriad of styles, designs and features in modern-day fireplaces that make them extremely appealing, safe and efficient.

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