As the daylight hours grow shorter, boilers and central heating systems are awakened from their summer sleep. Room sensors and thermostats detect the changing weather and temperatures and automatically command heat to provide comfortable living conditions for house occupants.
All done silently and efficiently.
The popularity of domestic central heating was born on the availability of cheap energy. Cleaner and more efficient than the dirty, smoky coal fires that it replaced, gas and electric central heating systems were heralded as the ethical and social innovation to improve air quality in towns and cities.
In addition, of course, coal was expensive in comparison with gas and electricity. Most of the energy and heat disappeared up the chimney as cold draughts replaced the lost warm air.
As a result, old fireplaces were boarded up and new properties were built without the familiar extending chimneys that had for centuries crowned the building, and whose rising smoke indicated the occupancy of a dwelling.
Although central heating systems have been perfected to the point where they are almost completely self-regulating in their operation and require little manual intervention, they are by design, unobtrusive and unseen.
Today, many of us yearn for the nostalgic warmth of a real fire. The dancing flames and glowing coals of a focal point around which a family can sit, rosy cheeked, and enjoy its radiant heat. But of course, bring back the dust and ash, the fuss and palaver trying to light the thing and the acrid smoke billowing into the room with each chimney downdraught and the nostalgic dream soon evaporates.
However, there is an alternative that can bring back the enchantment of a living flame fire without the hassle of burning solid fuel. Modern gas fires have come a long way from their earlier fire clay element counterparts. Today’s gas fires can provide the illusion of a coal or wood burning grate, or an enclosed stove heater, without the mess usually associated with the real thing.
Regardless of which gas-heating appliance the householder is drawn to, gas still remains the cheapest and most efficient fuel for heating a domestic property.
Modern gas fires are now made in a variety of styles and formats and are designed to accommodate any existing chimney vents or dedicated wall ventilation systems for dealing with the removal of combustion gases.
For purely decorative effect with very limited heat production, open fire, gas log effect appliances can be installed directly into an existing chimney system.
These fires can be up to 50% efficient and produce around 3.5 kilowatts of heat output. These fires require a 100 cm ventilation provision direct to the outside air.
There are flue-less gas fires that can be installed which are ideal in situations where a chimney or conventional flue access might be problematic. These types of gas fire are relatively cheap to buy and install and can be fitted onto any wall in the room, providing that there is a suitable gas supply. They cannot however be installed in bedrooms or bathrooms. The room size must be at or above the minimum area as stated in the manufacturer’s installation instructions and a trickle vent must be provided to ensure adequate room ventilation. These gas fires can also produce up to 3.5 kilowatts of heat output, and are 100% efficient due to the absence of a flue. Some models contain catalytic filters to remove by-products of combustion, but as these fires also have oxygen monitors, which will cut off the gas supply if air quality deteriorates, they are very safe to use. The only drawback is the level of condensation that is produced which can be a problem during extended use.
For gas fires that are required to produce high heat output, glass fronted balanced flue or power flue appliances offer very efficient performance. Both these types of systems offer around 85% efficiency. A balanced flue system requires a dedicated flue, which can be expensive to install in the absence of an existing chimney. The installation cost will vary depending on the length of new flue required. Power flue systems can be installed anywhere and the flue pipe-work is narrow enough to be installed under the floor if necessary. The biggest problem with these gas fires is that the heat output can be too great for a well insulated home. As with any heating appliance, it is a good idea to think carefully about the size of appliance required and the heat output that is likely to be delivered.
Before considering installing a gas fire, particularly one which is intended to fit into an existing fireplace, it is important to obtain a survey to ensure that the correct appliance is installed. Smoke tests will evaluate the capabilities of a chimney to provide legal requirements of flue gas removal. Old chimneys can sometimes have protrusions or voids, which can interfere with airflow. Shared chimneys can also be problematic. Many older chimneys that pre-date the 1960’s are brick or concrete lined. Where a coal fire might have been used in previous times, corrosion of the chimney interior is likely to cause problems.
This situation can be remedied by installing an aluminium or stainless steel chimney liner. The chimney liner will also overcome any problems associated with an over-sized flue.
Although gas fires incorporate safety devices to prevent dangerous gases escaping, it is important not to overlook any faults that might occur after installation. Sometimes a drop in gas pressure created by another device operating can cause the fire to cut out. Excessive chimney draw can lift the pilot light off the thermocouple causing frequent cut out. If a problem is detected, the appliance should be switched off and not used until it has been checked by a qualified engineer and any contributing inefficiency rectified.
The practicalities of installation are generally quite straightforward. However, installation must be correctly carried out in accordance with the appliance manufacturer’s instructions and with regard for relevant legislation in respect of Gas Safe and Building Regulations. The installation should be carried out by a competent person. Any gas connections and commissioning procedures must be performed by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
Any home that utilises gas-burning appliances should have CO and smoke monitors installed. Battery monitors must be regularly checked to ensure continued operation. The best monitors are connected to the electricity mains supply to ensure reliability in the event of a problem occurring.