All About Fireplaces and Fireplace Surrounds

Looking to warm up your home with a fireplace? Learn about the various types of fireplaces and fire surrounds and find out how to choose the right fire type for your home.

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Several types and styles of decorative fireplaces are available. A fireplace can simply be a display area, or it may contain a solid fuel, electric or gas fire. Each fuel has advantages and disadvantages, and some regions have restrictions on burning particular types of fuel. The kind of fire you choose will be influenced by hearth size, and flue size and type.

Your options when changing to a different fuel type, or installing or renovating a fireplace, depend on your starting point. If you already have a chimney and fireplace, you can put any type of fire in the opening as long as the flue conforms to regulations, or you may prefer to close it up and decide on a wall-mounted design. If you don't already have a fireplace, you can install a wood stove, construct a false opening and install a "real-effect" fire, or choose a contemporary style.

Types of Fireplaces

If you have an original fireplace designed to burn solid fuel, it will be one of two types. The simplest is little more than an opening at the bottom of the chimney. Alternatively, the opening may have a fireback, which can be decorative and will often improve how the fire burns because the smaller opening (throat) creates a stronger draw of air up the chimney.

Basic Open Fireplace

This is simply an opening, often formed in brick or stone, that extends upward from the chimney or flue. The size of the opening may reduce at the throat of the fireplace as it enters the flue section. You should check that old fireplaces conform to current building regulations.

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©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Fireplace With Fireback

Firebacks sit in the opening of a basic open fireplace to reflect a greater amount of heat into the room. Firebacks are made of cast iron, fire-resistant bricks or concrete and usually come in two or more parts.

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©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Types of Fires

Your choice of fire types will be narrowed down by what fuels are available to you, the construction of your chimney, and whether it has a flue liner. If you have no chimney, you can install an electric fire, a flueless gas fire or a gas fire designed for use with a balanced or power flue.

Solid-Fuel Open Fires

A real fire burns wood or coal, or some can burn a range of solid fuels. The most efficient fires have a grate so that a good flow of air can get to the fire. Real fires may be in an open fireplace or one with a fireback. Canopies can be used over large fires that do not draw well. The canopy helps to direct combustion gases up into the flue.

Solid-Fuel Stoves

A woodburner or stove burns solid fuels. They are installed on the inner hearth of an open fireplace, or project onto the outer hearth. The flue may connect directly to a flue liner that either continues all the way up the inside of the chimney, or ends on the other side of a so-called register plate fitted across the bottom of an unlined flue.

Gas Fires

These are fuelled by natural gas or liquid propane. Running off the household gas supply, they are very clean and convenient. Manufacturers will specify flue requirements — they commonly use balanced or power flues, so a chimney is unnecessary.

Traditional and modern designs are available, including stove and open-fire styles. Contemporary designs that don't mimic real fires, such as fireplaces containing pebbles, are also available. Wall-mounted types are also popular.

Electric Fires

Real-effect electric fires can mimic traditional fires with a fireback, woodburner styles, and contemporary and wall-mounted designs. No flue is necessary.

Fire Surrounds

Traditionally, a fire surround is made up of a mantel, a back panel and an outer hearth. These items are sold separately or as part of a kit. Reclaimed antique and reproduction fire surrounds are popular, especially for older properties. Modern styles are also available. Existing surrounds may require refurbishing. For example, an antique cast-iron surround may need to be stripped of old paint layers, and its tiles, or the whole surround may need replacing. Although installing a new fireplace is a job for a professional, you can change a fire surround yourself.

Stoves in Fireplaces

A freestanding stove or woodburner positioned in a basic open fireplace provides a traditional look. Doors can be opened on most stoves, except for those with a balanced flue. With a real, solid-fuel burning fire, remember that the flue will require periodic sweeping.

Heat & Glo Cast-Iron Stove

Cast-Iron Stove

Freestanding Stoves

These often have a contemporary design. They are usually electric or gas, and are flueless. Those that are electric or flueless need not be positioned anywhere near a wall. Always install a carbon monoxide detector if operating any gas appliances.

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Photo By: Werner Stoffberg

Werner Stoffberg

Traditional Fireplace

Stone, cast iron and wood are popular materials for traditional fire surrounds. Traditional styles are available for all fuel and flue types. For use with "real" fires, reproductions of antique designs, as well as old reclaimed fire surrounds, are available.

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Photo By: Tom Prout

Tom Prout

Contemporary Fireplace

This type of surround is popular in modern homes, and used to update older properties. They are available for all fuel and flue types.

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Photo By: Jim Kruger

Jim Kruger

Wall-Mounted Fireplace

This is a modern, space-saving option. Electric and flueless types can be extremely thin and need no flue — they can be installed almost anywhere in the home. Other types need a flue and so are more complicated to install. Image courtesy of Napoleon Fireplaces

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