Open fire or stove?

img_3486Many people are now opening up these old chimneys to install stoves or open fires.

One common mistake is people buy a fire or a stove before they get professional advice. That is very risky as the appliance you buy may not be suitable, or even fit, your opening.

For instance, stoves need to be positioned a certain distance away from both brickwork and any combustible material (such as wood) for it to conform with Building Regulations. They also need adequate sweeping access.

Any installation work should be done by a competent person in accordance with current Building Regulations.

I strongly recommend that you contact a HETAS-registered fitter before buying any stove or fire, as they can advise you on the options available to you.

Once you’ve done that, and start looking for  fire, the range on offer can be mind-blowing.

Each type of fire has its pros and cons, so here’s my broad take on each…

Open Fires

Open fires have their detractors. Yes, they are inefficient when compared to stoves, yes most of the heat will disappear up the chimney and yes they do need a bit more attention.

But for the sheer visual effect alone, I love them.

One plus-point of an open fire is that, unless you are in a Smoke Control Area, you are not restricted to the type of fuel you can use.

Open fires do tend to burn wood fairly quickly, so most use coal as it retains heat for longer.

To  conform to current Building Regulations, you will also need an air brick. The size of the air brick will depend on the size of your fire.Your HETAS-registered fitter will be able to advise you on this.

You will also need a fireguard, as open fires do spark and you don’t want a burn hole in your wooden floor or carpet. Ash from the grate does have a habit of spilling onto the hearth, particularly when the wood or coals move.


These are very popular and for fairly obvious reasons. They give out a lot of heat and are enclosed, meaning sparks don’t fly out. Also, it means any ash is kept within the stove.

Some stoves will burn both wood and coal (known as multi-fuel stoves), while others can only be used for wood. As with open fires, what you can burn depends on whether you live in a Smoke Control Area or not (check with your local council to confirm).

With stoves, you do pay for what you get. Some will be cheap, but they won’t last very long.

Most stoves come with a Baffle Plate, which is a piece of metal on the underside of the firebox. This stops the flames from going straight up into the chimney, thus retaining the heat. These should be cleaned regularly – check the manufacturer’s instructions.

I would always recommend that a live chimney is lined but, if you decide against this, you need to ensure there is sweeping access. Usually, this comes in the form of a soot door on the Closure Plate (the sheet of metal on at the top of the stove pipe which ‘closes’ the chimney off from the living room).

As with open fires, I would strongly recommend that you use a HETAS-registered fitter to carry out installation work.

And once it is installed and you’ve been using it for a while, you need to ensure that it is swept regularly!