Choosing a Fireplace

Information & Advice

For many people buying a fireplace can be a daunting proposition but it can and should be one of the most exciting purchases for your home. Bearing in mind that it will be a fixture and not easily changed, the fireplace chosen should be appropriate in every respect. To achieve this goal Amazing Grates has drawn up a guide that takes you systematically through the necessary decision-making process. There are a number of important considerations to explore which are:


(i) The chimney
In order to install a functional solid fuel fire you will need a sound flue of at least an 8” diameter (class1): This applies to open gas fires but for these there are now appliances that will work with 5” and pre-cast flues. The flue size can be established by a chimney sweep and it is essential that all chimneys are swept at the earliest opportunity to establish that they are not capped or blocked and are in a sound condition. Chimney sweeps will normally open up a bricked in fireplace and can smoke test to identify any flue leakages and give a written report. The flue is the most essential element for a fire and if the area of the fireplace opening is more than eight times the area of the flue it may not draw correctly. Without proper smoke or fumes uptake into the chimney they can overflow into the room. There are many other contributory factors but the warmer and longer the flue the better. If you do not know a recommended sweep in your area, contact the National Chimney Sweeps Association on 01785 336555. Amazing Grates can help with this.

There are many possibilities for dealing with chimney problems and we are very happy to discuss the various options available with you at Amazing Grates.

(ii) The chimney breast
You may or may not have a chimney breast in your property. If you do, its width will dictate the maximum shelf length possible for your fireplace. Indeed use the maximum width if you have a narrow breast in a sizeable room but never allow the shelf to be wider than the breast.


Solid fuel fires require a non-combustible sub-hearth of 500mm(20”) to the front and 150mm(6”) either side of the burning area. Regulations state that the superimposed hearths needs to be only 300mm (12”) to the front, Amazing Grates recommends at least 40-50mm (15” – 18”) for practical purposes of safety. The regulations also require the hearth to be set at a different level than the surrounding floor space to clearly define and mark the safe area. For gas coal effect fires the superimposed hearth requirements are the same as above but with a finished level of 50mm above finished floor level.

Fenders serve as a practical barrier to the fire and are a very useful addition. If using solid fuel we also recommend that hearths should be sectional to avoid heat cracks.
Stoves have some other considerations as if they have been tested and shown not to raise the
temperature of the upper surface of the hearth in excess of 100C the stove can be placed
on a non combustible hearth of only 12mm.
Both carpets and wood flooring – whether existing or proposed- require careful consideration regarding dimensions and timing of fitting.

Amazing Grates can advise here and also on various materials which can be used for hearths.

(iv) Room size
The initial tendency by many people is to underestimate the size of the fireplace which is suitable for a particular room. High ceilings and large pieces of furniture affect the impact of a fireplace and it is surprising how a seemingly large fireplace blends in to the balance of the room.


Having determined the physical limitations you can focus on the aesethic aspects.

(i) Personal Taste
This is obviously the most difficult aspect on which to advise. One person’s treasure is another’s horror – and who can say who is right or wrong. Therefore, it is essential that you are comfortable with what you buy, and are at ease with your decision.

(ii) Fashion
Fashions change and earlier designs may be re-cycled or modified, and new styles emerge. A fair generalisation would be that the more bizarre and extreme versions are less enduring – as exemplified by the now generally disliked brutalism and austerity of Sixties design. With the advent of central heating many fireplaces were ripped out or boarded over, but very quickly they returned as excellent centrepieces giving warmth, light and character to a room.


(i) Listing
Many buildings are now listed – Grade 1 being the most stringent, grade 2 less so. Listing brings legal obligations which restrict the ability of the owner to freely remove, alter or replace the original fabric of the building, including fireplaces. If your house is listed you need specialist advice, such as that offered by Amazing Grates in deciding the appropriate treatment of existing fireplaces or the suitability of proposed replacements.

(ii) Faithfullness to period
The main fireplace eras, stylistically, are Tudor, Georgian, WilliamIV, Victorian and Edwardian. The others are very restriced in terms of examples (eg Queen Anne, Jacobean etc.) It may be ideal to choose a setting faithful to the period of the house but many designs have been re-cycled and re-interpreted through time and there are usually several suitable options. There are lots of interesting books which can help you in your search, and this is an aspect which most people find exciting and informative. There has of course - in recent years - been a lot of interest in contemporary interiors and energy efficient fires and in this respect Amazing Grates has invested a lot of thought in choosing items that we feel are both durable in design and function.


(i) Solid/smokeless fuel – The Clean Air Act restricts the burning of non-smokeless fuels in many cities and it is necessary to check whether your home lies within one of these areas. This information is readily available on the internet or with your local council.. Since smokeless fuels burn very hot and have a higher sulphur content they can burn out cast iron firebacks more rapidly. Firebrick backs although less decorative are longer lasting.

The Clean Air Act also restricts the burning of wood. Modern technology has however given us a variety of both traditional and contemporary appliances which are so clean burn and efficient that they have been passed to use in restricted areas. As a carbon neutral fuel wood is becoming more desirable to use as it is also renewable. Wood has always remained popular in rural areas especially for stoves and inglenook fireplaces. A natural fire brings liveliness and atmosphere to your home, however, spitting and sparking are a particular hazard requiring the use of sparkguards.

(iii) Ventilation
All heating appliances and open fires need air to work efficiently and safely. An appropriate permanent air supply may be required into the room where the fire is situated. The consequences of this must be discussed before the final decision is made for the type of fire.

(iv) Gas Fires
Historically the open solid fuel fireplace was the source of heat and then with the Clean Air Acts in the 1950s central heating became more affordable and radiators replaced the fire. It was however very quickly found that even for the busy city dweller that a fire was part of home life and their widespread use returned. Modern gas fires now give both the efficiency and the pleasures to be had from a fire as a clean, safe and instant alternative. There are stringent legal requirements governing the installation and usage of these appliances and the ventilation to the room concerned. It is necessary to use a Gas Safe registered gas installer for any gas related work. Gas fires can be for either mains or bottled gas.
(v) Bio fuel

Biofuel is a fuel that is produced through contemporary processes rather than the very slow geological activity involved in the formation of fossil fuels. It is made from plant or algae material
or animal waste so as it can readily be replaced it is considered a source of renewable energy.
Burning bioethanol fuel creates a beautiful lively dancing orange flame and because these fires don't need a flue or chimney you can now enjoy an open fire more easily than ever before. They are 90% efficient and like all fuels must be contained and used in a safe and controlled manner.
(vi) Electricity
Many people are drawn to electric fires as more of this energy is being produced in ways that are not harmful to the environment. Like all fires they give light and give warmth usually through a fan system. No chimney is required and they are now available in many forms.


(i) Budget
Most people have an intended budget and the right approach is to explore all the aforementioned aspects first. Having dovetailed the fireplace to your own particular needs, you should then select the best available option within your price range.

(ii) Investment
A glance at estate agents particulars will confirm that fireplaces constitute a noteworthy feature which both enhances the saleability and desirability of a property. A properly selected and installed fireplace will handsomely repay the investment with both pleasure and increase the value of your home.