From The Sunday Times, November 1 2009 © Dara Flynn
Choosing a new fireplace, these days, leads us to think of the other “F” words: “fossil” and “fuels”. The traditional open hearth has had its status relegated from must-have to fuel-efficiency fiend. In these eco-aware times, a touch of open-hearth surgery was inevitable.
The hottest trend in fires is the flueless fire. Yes, they look as good as the average coal-guzzler, but in an entirely different way. Most are modern and sleek in design. However, their eco-friendly rather than aesthetic qualities are the main appeal.
The majority run off bio-ethanol fuel, a denatured alcohol produced by the fermentation of sugars from renewable agricultural and forestry products. It also burns cleanly, leaving no ash and producing no smoke, making it virtually maintenance-free. The initial outlay can be expensive, but the fuel is relatively cost-effective and the long-term impact on the environment represents a vast improvement on the coal-fired model most of us have grown up with. Doing away with a flue means the manufacturers have been able to push the boat out in terms of design. It also means that the fireplaces are versatile, and can be put almost anywhere in a room, provided that there is adequate ventilation.
The Germans are streets ahead in this domain. Conmoto the fireplace manufacturer, has been producing its signature Balance range for a few years. Each fire is attractive, albeit in a stark, contemporary way.
The Balance mobile fire is an open, smoke-free and flueless fireplace fuelled by liquid bio-alcohol. In a modernist take on traditional hearth seating, the wall-hung version of the Mobile has a built-in bench in steel or wood (¤4,446, from Mary Ryder Designs in Dublin). A stand-alone version (¤3,565) with a stainless-steel base is also available.
EcoSmart Fires makes of the most diverse ranges of bio-ethanol fuel fires on the market, despite having its roots under the hot Australian sun.
The EcoSmart Oxygen is a rectangular fireplace that takes its place as a freestanding piece of furniture made of stainless steel with a low-line CaesarStone shelf. It comes in a wide palette of colours and costs an astonishing £7,205 (¤7,939), from Genersys Ireland. Installation costs are almost zero and the fuel is highly cost-effective — it is estimated that an EcoSmart fire costs just over ¤1 an hour to run.
A similar model at the same price is the EcoSmart Vision, which is double-sided and encased in toughened glass to give a see-through effect. It makes for a dramatic room divider without hindering the free flow of space and, as with its counterparts, is a portable work of art that can be positioned anywhere.
The Chimo eco-friendly fireplace by Blomus, meanwhile, is a wall-mounted bio-ethanol fire, finished in stainless steel that looks as good lit as unlit and is one of the more affordable fires of this genre, costing £1,081 (¤1,191) from Bombero, the Northern Ireland-based website which delivers free to southern Ireland.
A hallmark of the bio-ethanol fire is its relatively low heat generation. This varies according to maker and model, so be careful about choosing one if your plan is to rely on it entirely for space heating. Basic flueless bio-ethanol fires work best in well-insulated houses that already have other forms of heating.
Running a stove off the gas mains is another option, and while it loses marks for energy-efficiency and the results of over-use will appear on the bill, it’s a decent alternative to carbon-emitting, energy-guzzling fuels, and modern versions are easier to regulate than ever.
Belle Cheminee on Dublin’s Capel Street, is one of the Irish stockists of Faber fires, which offer attractive, modern free-standing and built-in stoves for modern homes.
The Faber Hestia Nostalgic gas fire costs ¤3,895, not including installation. Turn things up a notch with the Faber triple gas fire, which summons the cosiness of the traditional hearth, and costs ¤4,095, excluding fitting.