How to choose a gas fireplace

Heat, ambience and beauty at the touch of a button – what’s not to love about gas fireplaces?  

The popularity of gas is something Malcolm Burton, manager at Stoke Fireplace Studio Auckland, has seen grow in recent years. With the advancements in fireplace technology and efficiency, it’s easy to see why.

“Their looks have come a long way, the fuel beds are more authentic and busy urbanites are finding them a practical solution that looks good too,” he says.

Looks are only part of the gas fire equation though; there are lots of other aspects to consider when buying a one. With so many different ones on the market, how do you choose the right fire for you?

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The frameless DS1400 gas fireplace by Escea takes centre stage in this refined Australian home. Design by Paul Tilse Architecture and Vanessa Hawes. Image by Rodrigo Vargas.

TYPE

There are three basic installation types – freestanding, inserts and inbuilt. “Freestanding fires work well when your space is limited, and are easy to install. The flue is exposed and the gas fitter simply installs it through your roof,” says Malcolm.

“Insert fires are great for homes that already have an existing fireplace you want to replace. You simply slide in the new insert fireplace and add the new flue system,”

Burton adds that this type of installation keeps cost lower, especially if you are sticking with your original surround. “Even refreshing old brick surrounds with a new lick of white paint can make the world of difference!”

The third type, the most ambitious one, is the inbuilt gas fire. The difference with inbuilt fires is that you build the surround around the fire, creating an enclosure for the wall fireplace and flue. “These are the wide, sleek, often frameless fires that are contemporary but really suit any style home.”

To choose the best type for you, Burton suggests measuring your existing space, your budget and your desired end result-look, then bring it all in-store to discuss. 

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An inbuilt gas fireplace sits upon a concrete hearth flagged by bespoke joinery in this modern home renovation. Design by Studio [R]. Image by Tom Ferguson Photography

HEAT OUTPUT

It might sound obvious, but the bigger the gas fireplace, the more flame, so a bigger fireplace is going to produce more heat.

“Although you might like the look of the ultrawide fireplaces, if your room is too small they will generate too much heat and you won’t turn it on as much,” he says.

Similar to heat pumps, you want to get a fireplace with the right kWs for your space. “As a guide, we say you need 1kW of heat per 10 square meters. So that means a 200sqm home would need 20kW of heat. But that’s a simple equation that works for a well-insulated new-build, and not so well for a drafty villa with high ceilings.”

Layout is something else that Burton says comes into consideration.  “If your dining room is adjacent to your living room a great option is a double sided fireplace, it looks amazing and splits the heat between the two spaces.”

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A double sided fireplace acts as an interior room divider, creating intimate spaces within, without compromising on style or serenity. Design by Chris Stewart Builder.

WHAT ABOUT EFFICIENCY?

One of the biggest surprises to Burton’s customers is how much gas fires cost to run. “There’s a misconception that gas fires come with high running costs, but gas (especially natural gas) is one of the cheapest forms of energy available. You just need to buy an energy efficient gas fireplace to go with it!”

Burton says there are a couple of things to look for to ensure you’re getting an efficient one.

First, look at the star rating - the more the better. “Many have 5-star efficiency ratings and these cost about the same as a wood fire to run.” Secondly, go for a glass fronted gas fireplace, not open fronted.  “Glass fronted fires are more efficient because they are sealed units, the warm air from the room cannot escape back up the chimney.”

Lastly, Burton suggests looking at the appliances' flue system (chimney).  “Go for a ‘direct vent system’ as these units use a fan to both bring air from outside into the firebox and expel exhaust back out. Direct vent systems can make a fire up to 95% efficient (compared to an open fronted fireplace at around 45%).”

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The new MODE Peninsula gas fireplace in Queenstown's Mi-Pad downtown Hotel. Image by Ray Tiddy.

CONSIDER YOUR BUDGET

Burton recommends working out your budget at the beginning to make the decision process easier. “The cost of the appliance is just the first part, there’s also the installation cost. These vary, depending on the finishes and design you’re going for. Because it can involve a few different tradespeople there can be a lot of hidden costs,” he says.

Burton also advises going with a retailer that provides a full service, from buying to full installation, to save you the hassle of project managing the install, and to also help you stick more to the budget.

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Find your local Stoke Fireplace Studio here.

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