How do I have a fireplace that is energy efficient?
Q: I am building a new house and I like the idea of a fireplace being a focal point in my living room. Is this efficient from an energy point of view and are there more efficient options?
A: A fireplace has been such an important part of the house historically, and up to about 50 years ago was the only source of heating for many people. However, if you are building a new house today, in order to comply with the building regulations, the walls, roof and floor will be very well insulated and your house will be air tight. (Air tightness stops the warm air inside your house leaking outside and it is an important part of making your house easy to heat.)
Well-designed houses today should not need very much additional space heating. A modern boiler or heat pump is going to be the most efficient way to heat your house, and, depending on the design of the house, you can even heat it through the ventilation system.
Having an open fireplace will suck more energy out of your house because 80pc of the heat goes up the chimney. Also research conducted by Ballymun Regeneration in 2005 showed that 80pc of people never used their fireplaces, 15pc of people lit them at Christmas and only 5pc used their fireplace regularly.
If you want to save money, energy and the environment, don't install an open fireplace.
However, if you do like a fire to be the focal point of a room, I have two suggestions:
Stoves come in a range of designs and can burn a range of different fuels. They are far more efficient than an open fireplace and they are even more efficient if you connect them to your heating system so whenever you light the fire, you are heating hot water as well. This is a good efficient solution.
Gas-effect fires give you the benefits of a fire but none of the hassle of lighting and cleaning it. There are a wide range of design options on the market, they provide a gentle glow of heat and you can even turn them on by remote control.
I don't recommend people to install an open fire in a modern house. They are inefficient, generally they are not frequently used and it will be difficult to comply with the current building regulations.
And don't worry, Santa has always found another way into my house at Christmas.
The RIAI is the Registration Body for Architects in Ireland and you can find a registered architect on riai.ie
Darragh Lynch is founder of Darragh Lynch Architects and the chair of the RIAI's Sustainability Task Force; darraghlynch.ie