The comfort from an open fire is hard to beat, but interior designer Jamie Hempsall explores some alternatives.

When struggling through a bitter winter, there is nothing more comforting that the flames of a warm fire. In this modern era of soaring energy costs a fire can also be a very cost effective method of heating your home.

Before installing, you need to check a couple of points – firstly the type of flue you have (see the panel for details) and whether you live in a smoke controlled or smoke free zone as these will effect what type of fire you may have, if any.

A traditional open fire is always wonderful (provided you have a well maintained chimney with plenty of draw), but not necessarily the most efficient method of heating your room.

In recent years, people have turned to stoves as an alternative. Traditionally wood burning, there are now an increasing number of multi-fuel options particularly useful in smoke controlled areas. Stoves can be up to 80% efficient (in comparison to a traditional open fire which is estimated to be only about 20-25% efficient) – meaning you get more warmth for less fuel!

There are plenty of classic stove designs around, but increasingly contemporary designs are being produced. With models that feature sleek lines, such as the Alpine by Chesneys you can see the immediate appeal (from £1,184 –; 020 7627 1410).


Alpine in Atlantic Blue with the Devonshire surround from Chesney

Paul Chesney, MD of Chesney’s, advises all buyers to ensure that the stove is the correct size for their room, as a fire that is too big will roast them. Paul says, “I think people like to see the stove on with a beautiful dancing flame so it’s no use buying something too big and turning it down because it is too hot and then just seeing a smouldering log”.

Wood is still considered the only carbon neutral fuel to burn, as trees can be replanted and replenished. For optimal results stove manufacturers recommend logs should be seasoned for two years or more to achieve moisture content below 20%.   This not only gives up to twice the output of freshly felled timber, but also helps avoid a build up of tar in your stove’s flue.

You will need to factor in storage for your fuel (both inside and outside the house) so plan carefully. The more area you have available, the greater bulk you can buy in (with a resulting better discount).

If you prefer a gas fire, there are plenty of fuel-efficient and attractive options. Many of these work particularly well in modern environments, but it is important not to rule out a contemporary design in a traditional home – a contrasting clash can actually work extremely well.

For example, a simple design like the Black Granite Ribbon Fire from CVO will compliment most interiors and the sleek surround ensures that this will definitely be a firm focal point (from £1,999 –; 01325 301 020).

Bordino Black Granite Hole in the Wall Fireplace from CVO

When installing from new or upgrading, you may want to consider a high efficiency gas fire, which retailers advise are up to 86% efficient. These feature a glass panel in front of the flame which is only a small aesthetic price to pay for gas savings of up to 57% against a traditional gas fire. Manufacturers such as Gazco have a wide range with prices from £399 (; 01392 261999).

Gazco Riva2 800 Fire

If you live in a property without a flue, all is not lost and some models could even be a cost efficient alternative to a traditional fire.

Moderno Flueless Gas Fire by CVO

For maximum flexibility consider a bioethanol fire; a renewable energy form made from feedstocks. The fires are often freestanding with a repository for the fuel. Some of the portable, wind-proof versions also make great external fire features for your patio in the summer.

Alternatively, if you are considering a permanent fixture, there are flueless fires powered by LPG or Natural Gas. Some models claim to be 100% efficient and could represent running cost savings of up to 70% against traditional fires. Bear in mind that these tend to have a smaller output and, therefore, may not be as suitable for large areas as a traditional stove if heat is a particular issue.

Whatever option you choose, always ensure your fireplace and equipment is fitted by appropriately qualified tradespeople and remember to factor this into your overall budget.


Not all flues are the same and the one you have will affect the choice of fires available to you – so ensure you know the type installed in your home, if any, before heading out to the shops.

A Class 1 flue is 7” in diameter and usually found in properties with conventional chimneys that at some point have had open coal fires. These are the most versatile and suitable for wood, solid fuel and gas fires.

A Class 2 flue is only 5” in diameter and is generally found in newer properties. These are only suitable for gas fires (note: some gas fires still need a Class 1 Flue).

Jamie Hempsall, SBID is a multi-award winning interior designer.