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Keep the home fires burning

Keep the winter cold and gloom at bay with a warming and welcoming fireplace


Nothing warms a home, literally and figuratively, quite like a flickering fire. While the flames create physical warmth, their orange glow creates a sense of comfort on a cold winter’s day. If you are thinking of installing one this winter, take into consideration the type of fuel you wish to burn, the size you want, the style and where you will position it.

Choose your fuel

Firstly, consider whether you want to use wood, gas or biofuel – the most popular options today. To help you decide, below is a list of the pros and cons of each:


* Wood

Pros: There is nothing to beat the romance of a crackling, wood-burning fire. Wood also produces excellent heat. Wood is a renewable energy source as new trees can be planted, and it is CO2 neutral as the CO2 emitted during burning equals the amount of CO2 absorbed by the tree during its life. Can be fuel efficient, especially with the new designs that use about half the wood of older fireplaces.


Cons: You need to buy a supply of wood and you need a place to store it to keep it dry. Wood-burning fireplaces also need to be cleaned after every fire. Fire in open units can be a hazard, and flying sparks can damage flooring. Wood-fuelled fires cause creosote to build up in your chimney, which needs to be removed regularly by a professional to prevent chimney fires


* Gas

Pros: A gas fire is very quick to light and convenient for the busy homeowner, requiring a flick of a switch to start a fire. There is no ash to clean up or wood to replenish and store, and no chimney is needed as it is smokeless. Gas fires are available in a variety of contemporary styles, with clean lines, ideal for the modern home. They have a high heat output.


Cons: It lacks the cosiness of a wood fire, but nowadays fireplaces with realistic looking logs are available. Gas fires contribute to global warming as gas is a fossil fuel and releases additional CO2 into the atmosphere.


* Biofuel (Ethanol)

Pros: An environmentally friendly option as it is a renewable energy and the fire burns cleanly. It is maintenance free, cost-effective and easy to use. No chimney is needed as no smoke is produced and these fireplaces are usually portable. 


Cons: Not as cosy as a wood fire, but ideal for the modern home.


Size considerations

The size of fireplace you need will depend on the size of the area you need to warm up. Measure the room in which the fireplace is to be installed and inform the supplier of your fireplace of the dimensions and ask for recommendations. “Take into account the height of the room; does the room have a double volume roof? Also, are there any windows, doors or open passages leading from the room?” advises Francois van Huyssteen of Megamaster.


It is also advisable to think of other factors, such as type of roof, proximity to valuables and children when deciding on the style of fireplace you want, and the type of fuel you want to burn. Choosing a styleAccording to Francois, there is a variety of fireplaces to suit the look, feel and size of any home. “These vary from conventional free-standing fireplaces, closed combustion free-standing fireplaces, built-in flue-less gas fireplaces and conventional wood-burning built-in fireplaces.”


* Wood-burning fireplaces 

Here you can choose a free-standing type or a more traditional built-in type. “These units are usually the most affordable and offer the opportunity of experiencing an open, wood-burning fire combined with a classic look,” says Francois.


* Closed combustion

 These fireplaces, or wood stoves, are very efficient with a high heat output. “Closed combustion free-standing fireplaces are among the most popular options when it comes to selecting a fireplace. They are far more effective than conventional fireplaces, and usually have heat resistant glass doors, giving the homeowner the ability to enjoy the ambience of open flames.”


According to Tony Jones of the Fireplace Warehouse, closed combustion fireplaces are rated at 70-80% efficiency, compared to open fires, which are around 10-35%. They also use about half the wood of an open fireplace.


Steel or cast iron units are available. Cast iron units heat up and cool down more slowly. “Cast iron units are the biggest sellers, though, as these units offer a classic look combined with everlasting durability,” reveals Francois. Steel units are available in more contemporary styles.


* Flue-less gas

These units offer you the ability to simply switch the fireplace on and off as you please. “These units tend to have high heat outputs and are very effective as no heat escapes through the chimney. These units burn a very clean flame and there is no smell of smoke in the room,” says Francois.


Stylish surrounds

Your fireplace is likely to become the main focal point in the room, so to make it really stand out with an attractive surround. The surround is installed after the fireplace installation and the wall and floor finishes are completed. The style and material of the surround you choose will depend on the room’s design. You can construct your own using bricks, tiles, stone cladding, or choose a ready-made surround made from stone, concrete, granite or wood.


Follow Tony’s guidelines when choosing a surround:

* Consider the size of the fireplace itself, as the surround needs to be in proportion to the fireplace.

* What type of fireplace is it? Some fireplaces, such as closed system fires, generate more heat than others and can affect nearby appliances. For example, if a flat screen television is to be installed above the fireplace, a mantle on the surround is a necessity.

* Where a chimney breast (the portion of wall that projects forward over a fireplace) exists, the width of the breast may limit the width of the mantle of the surround.

* Take note of the proximity of doors, windows and other fixtures. The height of the fireplace above the finished floor should also be checked if a hearth (horizontal base) is required.


Installing a built-in fireplace

“Although a DIY installation is not recommended, there are instruction manuals in each unit supplied by Megamaster to guide you through the basics of fireplace installation.


Installation should be done by a professional installer; fireplaces can pose a danger if not installed properly and can even lead to fires and serious injury,” advises Francois. Below are some installation guidelines from Megamaster for built-in fireplaces:


Step 1: Construct brick support walls for the unit to your desired height. Concrete lintels can be used for the base support. 


Step 2: Position the unit and cover the back, sides and top with insulation, and then brick in the unit. Any type of glass wool or ceiling insulation can be used.


Step 3: To allow for expansion, ensure a gap of 20mm between the back and sides of the body of the unit and the brickwork.


Step 4: It is recommended that one steel flue pipe is installed. The remainder of the chimney can be constructed from bricks. You can choose to use more than one flue pipe.


Step 5: The inner dimensions of the chimney must not be less than the flue outlet opening on the top of the unit, for example, 230mm x 400mm. The height of the chimney is important to ensure the correct draw of smoke. The height of the opening of the chimney should be at least 0.5m above the apex of the roof. If the horizontal distance between the chimney opening and the roof apex is more than 3m, the vertical height may be made less. Note that wind conditions in certain areas may affect the draw of the chimney and the vertical height may need to be extended.


Step 6: Steel flue linings provide a smooth surface for better draw and protect the brickwork against heat corrosion.


Step 7: Use standard flashing materials and procedures to waterproof the roof around the chimney.


Step 8: The flue can be offset to avoid obstructions, providing sufficient support to prevent sagging. You can usually find 45̊ bends from suppliers.


Step 9: A rotating cowl is necessary to prevent down drafts on windy days and will prevent rain from entering the chimney. The chimney and the cowl must be 100% level and the gap between the lowest part of the cowl and the chimney must be minimal. A bolt-on base can be purchased for the unit.


Step 10: After installation, paint all exposed parts of the chimney and rotating cowl with good quality, heat resistant, black enamel paint.


Step 11: Grease the rotating cowl axle regularly to avoid rust. The cowl is supplied with two stainless steel ball bearings to allow the cowl to rotate freely. Slide these two bearings into the hollow round tube of the base.


Step 12: Before having your first fire, a normal size fire must be made and burned until no paint smell remains. Open all doors and windows to allow the smell to vent properly.



Megamaster, 012 802 1515, 

Fireplace Warehouse, 011 794 6000, 

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