Burning Questions – A Gilded Guide to Choosing the Perfect Fireplace


There is nothing so magical and alluring as the warmth, smell and ambience of an open fire.  For those not fortunate enough have a natural wood burning fire in their home, gas units with realistic logs and flame effect run a close second for transforming an ordinary room into a cosy, inviting nest.

Selecting the perfect fireplace to suit a home can be a tricky business.  After all, the fireplace will be a substantial investment and will need to last the life of the home – that could mean a century or more of service!

For such an important installation, it makes sense to invest some planning and thought into the type, style and design of fireplace which will best suit your home and needs.

Design – aesthetic beauty

Selecting a fireplace design which complements the period and style of your home is pivotal to creating a stunning centrepiece which blends in with and enhances your home, increasing its value and appeal.

Victorian fireplaces are one of the most popular choices and fit into every decor. Less ostentatious than the French or Georgian styles, Victorian fireplaces can still be beautifully adorned with corbels, columns and carvings.

The surround opening which encompasses the firebox, are commonly arched or square.  The arched style is more homely and less formal, whereas the square is elegant and majestic.  The over mantel should be dramatic – after all, this is where the family heirlooms, photographs, artwork and showpieces will be displayed to best advantage.


Fireplaces unlike other home decor, must abide by certain rules surrounding their production and installation.  Surrounds are manufactured in a wide range of materials including:

  • Wood
  • Plaster
  • Marble
  • Sandstone
  • Brick

Unless you are using traditional fireplace materials such as the marble or sandstone, the surrounds can eventually degrade, warp or crack – subjected as they are, to intense heat over a long period of time.  Investing a little extra in a material which will stand the test of time is the economical choice over the long term.

The hearth or fireplace floor, will be exposed to direct heat and extends into the floor area of a room and therefore should only ever be constructed using natural stone.


If you are installing a fireplace from scratch, consider the size and location of the room you wish to heat.  Bedrooms will differ from open plan lounge rooms as to the size of the heating unit required.

A firebox is not simply a square hole.  It needs to be:

  • Pinched in towards back
  • Straight up the back wall for first 12 inches
  • Back wall must slope towards front for remainder of height
  • Width and height of opening is critical and can be viewed here
  • Smoke shelf up above fireplace must be sized correctly

Whilst the firebox needs to conform to specific dimensions to work effectively and not billow smoke everywhere, the fireplace surround can be tailored to suit your room and requirements.

Most homes will have a supplementary or main heat source such as ducted heating.  The size of the fireplace surround in those circumstances, should be dictated to by its proportions being aesthetically pleasing and fitting for the intended room.

Gas fireplaces

There has been a strong move towards gas fireplaces in recent times.  This is mainly due to their comparatively easy installation into existing structures compared to wood burning fireplaces which require chimneys.

The advantages of the gas fireplace is, you can still have the gorgeous decorative surrounds and mantels and yet they are:

  • Cleaner
  • More efficient
  • Emit more heat
  • Easier to control
  • Are greener (they give out around one third less greenhouse gases compared to an electric heater)
  • More reliable than an electric heater (think power outages)
  • They can mimic wood burning fireplaces with a realistic ‘flame effect’


Commonly seen in display homes, bioethanol fireplaces are all about the ‘look’.  Less effective at producing heat and more expensive to run than most other options, they make a sleek statement piece in homes which have an alternative main heat source.

There are a number of concerns surrounding the safety of bioethanol, including trepidation around the toxins contained in the gas the incineration process causes.

Caution also needs to be used when handling bioethanol as it is highly flammable.  The fuel comes in gel or liquid form and filling or lighting the unit needs particular caution to avoid spillage.  If you have children or pets, it is advisable to use a less volatile form of heating unit.

No matter what the season, the draw of a flame is alluring and irresistible – evoking memories and breathing romance. If you are considering installing or updating a fireplace, there has never been a better time to begin.

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